top of page

Grain Whisky Distilleries of Scotland - The Unsung Heroes

Updated: Jun 21


grain man standing in a glass of whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Scotland has almost 150 active single malt distilleries, but many people are unaware of the other distilleries that mainly produce whisky for blends. So, we decided to investigate the often-overlooked Scottish grain whisky distilleries. Although grain whisky is commonly consumed, it is not often recognized.



Active and closed Scottish grain distilleries timeline

Image by The Whisky Ardvark - Grain distilleries timeline



 

Distilling Grain Whisky


Two Column Still/ Small Modern Column Still

Images by The Japanese Bar - Two Column Still/ Revival Stillworks - Small Modern Column Still


During the 1970s, 13 distilleries were producing grain whisky. Although a total of 19 distilleries have been established, only 8 of them are still operational today. These distilleries are quite large and could be more accurately referred to as plants. It's worth noting that some single malt distilleries have made grain whiskies in the past but aren't considered in this article due to their current status.


The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are the largest single malt distilleries and have the ability to produce up to 21 million litres of alcohol per year. On the other hand, Loch Lomond is the smallest grain distillery with a production capacity of up to 20 million litres of grain whisky per year. However, this changed in 2020 when a small 50,000 litres per annum grain distillery, Reivers, was established. The largest grain plant, Cameronbridge, has the capacity to produce 150 million litres per year. Although distilleries normally produce less spirit than their maximum production capacity, the difference in scale between the two types of distilleries is evident.


In 1905, it was mandated that Scotch whisky may only be made from malted barley and distilled with a pot still. After three years of negotiations and protests by grain whisky producers, grain whisky was legally granted the status of whisky in 1908. According to the legal definition of Scotch grain whisky, it can only be made with four ingredients: water, malted barley, whole cereals, and yeast. Moreover, it must be matured in Scotland in oak casks that do not exceed a capacity of 700 litres for at least 3 years.


Grain whisky is less expensive to produce and is made using a column still, also known as a Coffey still, which was patented in 1830. This faster and more efficient still revolutionized the alcohol industry, making spirits more affordable and allowing larger quantities to be produced at a time. After the Spirit Act of 1860, many producers began creating blended whiskies with a high grain whisky content, causing blended malts to be overshadowed for over a century.


Detail differenced of single malt whisky and grain whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



Column stills are a more cost-effective option in the long term when compared to copper pot stills. While both stainless steel and copper can be used to make stills, Scottish whisky-making law only allows copper to be used in pot stills. The lifespan of copper still is around 25 years due to the abrasion of the material, whereas a column still made from stainless steel can last much longer. In Scotland, massive two-column stills are used, which require a lot of space and make the distillery look more like an industrial setup. Additionally, there are large warehouses used to store the distillate and silos to keep the grains on hand.


Cameronbridge grain whisky plant Scotland

Image by Whiskyphiles - Cameronbridge plant


Grain whisky is much more affordable than other types of whisky due to several factors. The type of still used is one of the major factors. Another important factor is the type of grain used in the production process. While malting grain is a time-consuming and costly process, grain whisky is usually made from unmalted barley. Sometimes, a small amount of malted barley is added to aid fermentation due to higher sugar levels. Other cereal grains used in the production of grain whisky include wheat, rye, and corn.


To be called Scotch whisky, the distilled spirit has to be matured for at least three years. While many single malts are aged for over ten years, most grain whisky used for blends is only aged between three to five years. This shorter ageing period allows for a faster turnover.


Grain whiskies have a sweeter, lighter, and softer character than single malts, making them an essential ingredient in blends. Although some people dislike the industrial behemoths known as grain plants, it is ultimately the flavour that matters. Old grain whiskies, such as Caledonian 'The Cally' 40yo and Compass Box Hedonism, are some of our personal favourites of all time. They are also reasonably priced when compared to single malts.


The Cally 40 year old and Compass Box Hedonism

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


 

The Magic 8


There have been several grain distilleries in the Lowlands region of Scotland, some of which are no longer operational. The location of these distilleries is advantageous due to their proximity to bottling plants and good transportation links, making it easy to transport goods. Although the Lowlands region is not renowned for producing single malt whisky, it has always been a prominent location for grain whisky production.


The majority of the whisky produced in these distilleries is used for blends. Although some distilleries have attempted to introduce their own branded single-grain whisky, many of these attempts have failed. The distillery names are often only seen when bottled by independent bottlers. However, grain whisky is now making a comeback, and it is gaining popularity.


There are currently eight grain whisky distilleries in Scotland that are operational. Let's take a closer look at each of them.

Scotland grain whisky distilleries map

Both Images by The Whisky Ardvark - Operational Grain Whisky Distilleries in Scotland

Scotland grain whisky distilleries specifics


 

Cameronbridge

Owner: Diageo

Established: 1826

Capacity: 150 million litres per annum

Region: Lowlands

Brands: Haig Club Single Grain, Cameron Brig (discontinued)

Website: www.haigclub.com/en-gb no official distillery website


Cameronbridge is currently the biggest and oldest grain whisky distillery in Europe. The distillery has a rich history that dates back to the Haig and Stein whisky families, which began distilling before the 19th century. John Haig, the eldest son of John Haig and Margaret Stein, founded the Cameronbridge distillery in 1826.


The distillery's production grew rapidly with the introduction of new methods, including the Stein still, which was invented by Robert Stein, John Haig's cousin, in 1826. Aeneas Coffey later modified the Stein still, and his design was patented in 1830, resulting in a better still. By the late 1800s, the distillery housed two Stein stills, two Coffey stills, and a pot still. The last Stein still was removed in 1929.


In 1877, the Cameronbridge distillery was one of eight grain whisky producers that formed the Distillers Company Limited (DLC), which later became Diageo. After Port Dundas distillery closed in 2010, Cameronbridge became the only grain distillery in Scotland that is solely owned by Diageo. The distillery can produce up to 150 million litres of alcohol per year, including spirits for Smirnoff vodka, Gordon's, and Tanqueray gin.


Cameronbridge discontinued its single-grain brand, Cameron Brig, in the late 2010s. This was due to the success of the Diageo/David Beckham collaboration with the litresHaig Club brand, which was launched in 2014. However, it was reported in March 2023 that the shared venture would end because Beckham wanted to start his own spirits brand.


Cameronbridge grain distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



 

Girvan

Owner: William Grant & Sons

Established: 1963

Capacity: 115 million liters per annum

Region: Lowlands

Brands: Girvan Patent Still range


According to legend, the journey of the Girvan grain distillery began with a dispute between William Grant & Sons and DLC over a TV commercial for the Grant's Standfast whisky brand. DLC was supplying grain whisky for Grant's blend at the time and disapproved of the advert, leading them to stop providing grain whisky to the company. However, William Grant & Sons did not let this hold them down. They built the Girvan distillery in just nine months in 1963, and that same year, they also launched the first ever Glenfiddich Pure Malt, which was a way of giving DLC a response.


Video by Huntly Archives - Is this the advert that divided the two?


The site where the Girvan Distillery is located has been home to other distilleries in the past. From 1965 to 1975, the Ladyburn malt distillery operated on the premises. Since 2007, the site has been home to Ailsa Bay's multifunctional distillery and the Hendrick's gin plant.


In 1985, Girvan attempted to release their single-grain Black Barrel, but the demand for whisky declined in the 80s and the expression was soon discontinued. Since 2014, the Girvan Patent Still range has been bottled at the distillery.


Girvan grain whisky distillery Scotland

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


 

Invergordon

Owner: Whyte & MacKay

Established: 1961

Capacity: 36 million liters per annum

Region: Highlands

Brands: A component in Shackleton Blend + other Whyte & Mackay brands


The Invergordon distillery marked its 60th anniversary in 2021. It was built in 1961 near the Glenmorangie and Dalmore distilleries, located in the Highlands. Despite being an unusual location for a grain distillery, Invergordon was built there due to the availability of local crops and easy transportation via a nearby deep water port.


In 1993, the distillery was acquired by Whyte & MacKay, the current owner, to complement the nearby Dalmore distillery, resulting in a cluster of sites in the area dedicated to the company's spirit production.


The Invergordon 10-year-old was the only single grain bottling, launched in 1990, but it was later discontinued.


Invergordon grain whisky distillery Scotland

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



 

Loch Lomond

Owner: Loch Lomond Group

Established: 1993

Capacity: 20 million liters per annum for grain whisky

Region: Highlands

Brands: Loch Lomond Single Grain + Several Single Malts including Inchmurrin, Loch

Lomond, and Inchmoan


Loch Lomond is often excluded from lists of Scottish grain distilleries because it was not originally built for producing grain whisky. It was established in 1966 by Duncan Thomas, who owned Littlemill distillery and Barton Brands, during the distillery boom.


However, over the years, Loch Lomond has evolved into a multipurpose distillery. It was built to accommodate unconventional Lomond stills, which were a modified version of the copper pot still invented in 1955. In 1993, the distillery was equipped with two continuous stills to produce grain whisky from 100% malted barley. Today, Loch Lomond produces 11 different types of whiskies under one roof, ranging from heavily peated to light grain.


Loch Lomond whisky distillery spirit types

Image by Malt Review


Loch Lomond Group is the current owner of a Scottish distillery which was founded in 2014 by ex-Diageo executives. Since then, Loch Lomond has become one of the most innovative distilleries in Scotland, with a complex production process and endless expressions showcasing the wide range of what it has to offer. What sets Loch Lomond apart is its ability to produce multiple different types of whisky, including single grain, single blend, and single malt whisky, making it the only malt distillery in Scotland with this capability.


It's worth noting that the bottle states 'since 1814', which is the year when a distillery called Loch Lomond was located nearby, although the year of its closure is unknown. It's unclear how Loch Lomond Group cleared the rights to use this year on their bottles instead of 1966, which is when the current distillery was established. Perhaps they are leveraging the fame of the previous distillery by association.


Loch Lomond single malt and grain whisky distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



 

North British

Owner: Lothian Distillers - 50/50 ownership with Diageo and Edrington Group

Established: 1885

Capacity: 70 million litres per annum

Region: Lowlands


The North British grain distillery was established in 1885 by three businessmen who were involved in blending and selling whiskies. Their objective was to challenge the monopoly of DLC's grain whisky production. During the 1960s, it became the largest grain plant in Scotland, albeit for a brief period.


Over the years, the distillery changed hands several times. The current owner, Lothian Distillers, was created as a joint venture between International Distillers and Vintners (DLC's successor, which later merged into Diageo) and Robertson & Baxter (Edrington Group's predecessor) in 1993. Ironically, North British has now become a part of the very company it was established to compete against.


The distillery has released nine limited edition bottlings of official North British single grain whiskies, which are usually bottled at cask strength and aged between 15 and 58 years.


North British grain whisky distillery Scotland

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



 

Reivers

Owner: Mossburn Distillers

Established: 2020

Capacity: 50,000 litres per annum

Region: Lowlands


Mossburn Distillers, who are known as an independent bottler and the owners of Torabhaig distillery on the Isle of Skye, established Reivers distillery in the Scottish Borders region in 2020. This small grain distillery is unusually small for its purpose and features a single 18-plate column still and a copper pot still. Although the facility has already produced genever, it has chiefly been distilling rye whisky since its inception, which is due for release after reaching an age between seven and eight years.


Despite being operational for some time now, the distillery has maintained a very low profile and is not open to the public. However, some resources suggest that the distilling equipment will be relocated to a site in Campbeltown, which will house two distilleries, a blending and warehousing facility, a visitor centre and a retail store.


Reivers grain whisky distillery Scotland still room

Image by Marussia Beverages - Reivers Distillery



 

Starlaw

Owner: Glen Turner Distillery Ltd under La Martinquaise

Established: 2010

Capacity: 25 million litres per annum

Region: Lowlands


The Starlaw grain distillery, also known as the Glen Turner distillery, was designed by French company La Martinquaise to produce a light-style grain whisky that is suitable for easy trading. This whisky is a significant component in the Label 5 blend.


Construction of the advanced distillery began in 2007, and distillation started in 2010. In 2008, the company acquired the Glen Moray malt distillery in Speyside, expanding its Scotch whisky portfolio.


After facing opposition from residents of Livingston and Bathgate, the distillery obtained permission to build 21 new warehouses in early 2022.

Starlaw Glen Turner distillery grain Scotland

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


As an interesting fact, the distillery, also known as Glen Turner, has its title displayed outside the compound. However, since Starlaw is a single grain distillery, the single malt named Glen Turner is not produced there. According to La Martinquaise, the whisky inside the Glen Turner brand is distilled in an unspecified Highland distillery. It may contain Glen Moray single malt (Speyside) or a malt that Starlaw has exchanged their grain for. Regardless of the origin of the whisky, the old Glen Turner design is strikingly similar to the best-selling single malt in the world, Glenfiddich, although they're not the first ones to do so. This could be the reason why Glenfiddich recently rebranded its range - to prevent others from using their design for their own benefit. www.glen-turner.com


similar label design Glen Turner and Glenfiddich whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



 

Strathclyde

Owner: Chivas Brothers under Pernod Ricard

Established: 1927

Capacity: 39 million liters per annum

Region: Lowlands

Website: www.chivasbrothers.com No official distillery website


The Strathclyde distillery located in Glasgow was established in 1927 by Seager Evans, a Londoner who intended to produce neutral grain spirit for gin-making. However, in 1936, Evans purchased the blended whisky brand Long John and expanded the distillery's production to include grain whisky. From 1957 to 1975, the distillery site also housed a single malt distillery named Kinclaith, which was owned by Schenley Industries at the time.

In 1989, Allied Distillers got involved in the distillery, which was later acquired by Pernod Ricard. By this time, Strathclyde whisky had already become a significant grain component in Ballantine's and Teacher's blends.


Strathclyde grain whisky distillery Scotland

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



 

The Lost 8


During the golden age of grain whisky, which lasted from the early 1960s to the 1970s, there were 13 grain distilleries that were operational. However, in the 1980s, many of these distilleries closed down due to overproduction, along with 15 single malt distilleries that followed the same fate. Although these grain distilleries have shut down, their current owners or independent bottlers still release bottlings from some of these distilleries.


We have also included Glenochil and Kirkliston in our list, even though they were lost before 1929. It's interesting to note that the Ben Nevis distillery produced single-grain whisky for 26 years, from 1956 to 1982.


Closed grain whisky distilleries in Scotland map and details

Image by The Whisky Ardvark - Closed Scottish Grain Whisky Distilleries


Caledonian - Operated a single column still - Demolished in 1998


Cambus (AKA Tullibody) - The distillery has been demolished, but the site is still used by

owner Diageo as a cooperage


Carsebridge - Housed a converted pot still column still - Distillery demolished in the 1990s - Site still used for bottle filling and warehousing


Dumbarton - Site was also home to Inverleven and Lomond malt distilleries - Used maize as grain - Housed American-style stainless steel columns and 3 Lomond stills - Now a housing complex


Garnheath (AKA Moffat) - Moffat distilling complex also housed single malt distilleries, Glen Flagler and Killyloch, but all closed before 1985 - Had 5 continuous stills - The site is now owned by Inver House with a blending facility and offices


Glenochil - Formerly known as Dolls and West Dolls distillery - Housed 2 Coffey stills - After the closure was used as DLC research laboratory and testing centre - The site demolished


Kirkliston - Established as Lambsmiln distillery - Housed Stein stills from 1825 to 1855 - After closure used to make yeast for brewing and distilling - 2006 the site was developed for other purposes


Lochside - Malt distillery from 1957 to 1992 - Grain whisky produced from 1961 to 1964 - Site demolished in 2005


North of Scotland (AKA Strathmore) - The name North of Scotland was used for grain whisky made in the Strathmore distillery - Buildings were demolished in 1993


Port Dundas - Started making grain whisky in 1845 - Housed 3 Coffey stills - Was closed by Diageo to concentrate grain whisky production in Cameronbridge


Closed grain whisky distillery bottlings

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

 

Enjoyed our article? Let us know by leaving a comment below or by using #thewhiskyardvark #whiskyardvark



288 views0 comments

コメント


bottom of page