Ruins found in Scottish forest could be illegal distilleries

Archaeologists working on behalf of Forestry and Land Scotland have said that two 19th century ruins found near Loch Ard could have been used to illegally distill whisky.

Wee Bruach. Image: Forestry and Land Scotland

Hidden in Loch Ard forest, the remains of two farmsteads have been uncovered by representatives of Foresty and Land Scotland after a local history society flagged up their existence.

Called Wee Bruach Caoruinn and the Big Bruach Caoruinn, the buildings both have large corn drying kilns. Their dimensions were mapped out by laser scanning, creating a 3D model of the site, before a careful felling operation was conducted earlier this year to remove the trees.

Archaeologists believe the evidence points towards their use as illicit whisky distilleries, possibly supplying Glasgow with illegal spirit.

Following the Excise Act of 1788 which banned the use of small stills with a volume of less than 100 gallons, a number of illegal, small-scale operations sprung up. Often built in remote locations in order to avoid detection, the distilleries were able to use higher quality malted grain (without paying tax) as opposed to unmalted raw grain, used by the large commercial distilleries to cut costs and avoid the high rate of tax.

As the illegal spirit was made with better quality ingredients, after it had been smuggled to lowland markets, it fetched a higher price than spirit made from licensed distilleries.

An artist’s impression of Wee Bruach. Image: Alan Braby

Both buildings were abandoned in the 1840s, and 20 years later they had fallen into ruin. The team excavating the site said that the buildings have remained in surprisingly good condition, owing to the protection from the trees.

Archaeologist, Matt Ritchie, who led the team investigating and recording the site, said: “The surviving narrow buildings are unusually long, and are associated with two large corn drying kilns.

“Set in a relatively inaccessible area yet close to Glasgow, in close proximity to water and with strong associations with a number of the important families in the district, it is possible that the site was a hidden distillery, producing illicit whisky in the early 19th century.”

“You can malt grain in a corn-drying kiln, and the long narrow buildings would have been perfect for fermenting and distilling whisky. I wonder if there had been illicit whisky being made at Bruach Caoruinn on an almost industrial scale. There is no surviving evidence, bar historical whispers. But is this really surprising?”

Ritchie was assisted by the Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group, AOC Archaeology, Alan Braby and Mairi Stewart.

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