It was last used when whisky was measured in hogsheads and production of the water of life was moving from an often-illicit farmyard enterprise to a thriving national business.  

Now the secrets of whisky production from 200 years ago are being uncovered by archaeologists probing the remains of a distillery which ceased production in 1824. 

Fire pits which would once have heated copper stills, tasting glasses, bottles and the timber-lined vats which held gallons of the amber nectar have all been unearthed at the National Trust dig on the old site of the Glenlivet distillery. 

During the past two weeks the archaeology team investigated the site of the former distillery on Speyside where The Glenlivet’s founder, George Smith, risked life and liberty to become the first legal whisky distiller in the area, producing his single malt whisky legally in a landscape of illicit distilling in 1824. 

Discoveries included three fire pits that would have been used for the copper stills, timber lined vats and receivers.  

HeraldScotland:

Some of the artefacts uncovered

What would have been whisky tasting glasses were also discovered, meaning archaeologists could see the full whisky making process.  

They estimate a site this size could have been producing around six hogsheads of whisky per week which is equal to 1,530 litres. 

HeraldScotland:

Fire pits and glassware 

The site was found to be incredibly well preserved, despite the fact it would have been dismantled when the distillery was moved to its current location down the hill. 

 The team also discovered a range of other finds, including a George III silver shilling dating from around 1816 – 20, just before the 1823 Excise Act came into force. 

The work was carried out as part of the Pioneering Spirit project - a partnership between the National Trust for Scotland and The Glenlivet, which began in 2020. 

National Trust for Scotland Head of Archaeology, Derek Alexander said: “Despite the site having been intentionally dismantled when the distillery was relocated in 1859, we have been surprised by the level of preservation of some of its structural elements.   

“It is still possible to trace the main activities within the still house and there were even some wooden elements surviving that must be around 200 years old.

“The old site at The Glenlivet forms a really nice crossover between the small-scale illicit whisky bothies hidden in the hills, through the medium-scale, farm-based level of production, to the large-scale factory facility, that characterises the Scottish whisky-making industry today.” 

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Mr Alexander added: “You can see where it has developed from farm to distillery and how it has expanded over time in order to increase output. 

 “We can see many elements of the legalised whisky production process here and many of the artefacts also provide an insight into the lives of the staff who lived and worked there.  

“It’s a privilege to be allowed to work on this site, and with such a dedicated group of volunteers, with guidance from whisky industry experts.” 

Newly appointed Chivas Brothers archivist, Robert Athol said: “I volunteered on the dig site this summer and it’s incredibly exciting collaborating with National Trust for Scotland as we continue to learn more about The Glenlivet’s history.  

“Archaeological evidence found at the dig fills in the gaps we have in the documentary history where records have not survived or were not created”.