Still Life

whiskeyIslayʼs Bruichladdich distillery have re-installed Scotlandʼs oldest pot still. Commissioned in 1880 for the Harvey Brothersʼ purpose-built Islay distillery it is, according to experts, likely to be the oldest pot still in use in Scotland at 130 years old.

The life expectancy of most pot stills is only around forty years. After which, having eroded over the years with constant boiling, the copper becomes too thin and liable to collapse. But this venerable pot still, riveted in the Victorian way, was made with an exceptionally thick copper bottom to endure the intensity of a coal fire underneath it.

The wash still has been renovated and tested by Forsyths of Rothes, one of only two remaining Scottish coppersmiths, and passed with flying colours for continued use. Duncan MacGillivray, manager and chief engineer said: “We are told at 130 years old this is most likely to be the oldest whisky still in the world. They donʼt make them like this any more – thereʼs plenty of life left in her and we intend to keep her going for a wee while yet.”

Bruichladdichʼs stills, designed most likely by John Harvey, the middle of the three Harvey brothers, are unusually tall and narrow-necked. The Harveys sought a unique shape to obtain a spirit of elegance in contrast to the heavier spirits produced from small, more compact stills on the island at that time.

To superstitious distillers, still-shape is sacrosanct. Any alteration is abhorred, fearing the slightest of changes will impact on the style of the whisky. Often mistaken for miserliness, they would prefer to continue with the still they have rather than buy a new one. This stillʼs unusual longevity owes a good deal to fate. Under usage between 1881 and 1945 owing to struggling finances, two depressions, US prohibition, two world wars and a fire that nearly destroyed the distillery, meant it was already in remarkably good shape by the time it was converted to more forgiving internal steam coils in the fifties.