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The North Port Distillery was a single malt whisky distillery in the Scottish town of Brechin. Officially named North Port, but often referred to as Brechin Distillery, both names were used interchangeably on distillery bottlings. Its output was almost entirely used for filling (blending).
The town of Brechin lies just off the A90 between Dundee and Aberdeen on the eastern coast of Scotland in the East Highlands malt whisky region. The former site of North Port Distillery is now occupied by a supermarket. Of the single malt whisky distilleries originally in the area, only Old Fettercairn and Glencadam remain active.
1820 - Founded
Originally named Townhead Distillery, the distillery was founded in 1820 by brothers David, John, and Alexander Guthrie, second generation farmers. David Guthrie had already established the town's first bank in 1809 and served as Provost (head of the local authority). Some accounts say he was the uncle of the famous Dr Thomas Guthrie, a preacher, philanthropist and social reformer in Edinburgh, while others say the eminent divine Dr. Thomas was the father of the three brothers.
It's worth remembering that these upstanding members of the community built their family distillery before the Excise Act, permitting legal whisky production in return for a licence fee of £10 and a payment per gallon of proof spirit, was passed in 1823, so strictly speaking Townhead was an illicit distillery.
1823 - Renamed
In 1823, David Guthrie's sons took over the running of Townhead Distillery, the same year renaming it Brechin Distillery. This rechristening was the second of the distillery's three names and marks the start of much confusion, with differing accounts giving different dates and reasons for the name changes.
1825 - Holding company renamed
The company that owned the distillery was originally the Townhead Distillery Company but in 1825 this was renamed Guthrie, Martin & Company.
1839 - Renamed
The distillery name was again changed in 1839 from Brechin Distillery to North Port Distillery, named after a former gate in the city walls (a port is the old Scottish word for a town gate and the distillery was located close to where this gate had once stood). This second change of name was partly due to confusion with Glencadam Distillery, built just a few hundred yards from North Port in 1825.
1887 - Alfred Barnard recounts his visit to the distillery
In his epic 1887 book, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, Alfred Barnard describes his visit to Brechin Distillery. This is the 98th distillery of the 150 detailed in the book. The following account uses the 'Brechin' rather than 'North Port' name, so casting doubt as to the 1839 date for the second name change.
"The journey from Dundee to Brechin was a pleasant one, and our fellow passengers very agreeable. One of them, a fine stalwart young Scotchman, amused us much; he maintained that Burns was right when he said "Freedom and Whisky gang thegither," and that Bonnie Scotland with her culture, industries, and ambition, was a proof of it. We reluctantly left this party at Brig o'Dun Junction, and after a short time arrived at Brechin, the object of our journey. A ten minute walk over the hill brought us to Messrs. Guthrie, Martin, & Co.'s Distillery, which is situated in the parish of Brechin about half a mile from the railway station. It is half a mile from the river South Esk, and flour from the celebrated bridge of Dun, a district sacred to the memory of the Great Reformer, Sir John Erskine. To the west of Brechin, a busy manufacturing town, on a rock overhanging the river, stands Brechin Castle, the seat of the Earl of Dalhousie; the site of an old fort, where the Scots made so brave a stand and stout resistance to Edward I. of England, making, by their doughty deeds of warfare and heroism, many a page of history.
"The Distillery was built in the year 1820. Previous to its erection, Brechin and the neighbouring towns were supplied with Whisky made in the northern Grampians by smugglers, who carried it from thence in kegs slung across the backs of their ponies. The originators of the firm were Messrs. David, John, and Alexander Guthrie, brothers of the late eminent divine Dr. Thomas Guthrie, and the present proprietors are descendants of the same family.
"The Whisky is Highland Malt, and the water used in its manufacture is conveyed in pipes from the Grampian mountains, and the peats employed in drying the malt come from the same source. The district around Brechin being highly cultivated, barley of the finest quality is grown and carted by the farmers into the lofts of the Distillery, where nothing but the very best barley is malted. The annual output is 100,000 gallons.
"Though the buildings of the Still House and Malt Barns are old, the internal arrangements are of modern description, and in every case where machinery can be used in place of manual labour advantage is taken.
"The spirit is distilled in the old-fashioned Pot Stills, and condensed in Worms laid in the bed of the Den Burn which runs through the works. The Warehouses for the storing of Spirits are as fine as any in the north. One, built a few years ago, and which contains 100,000 gallons. Is 200 feet long by 50 feet broad.
"Besides supplying wholesale houses with Whisky, Messrs. Guthrie, Martin, and Co. are also large holders of very old spirits, which they keep to meet the demands of their Duty-paid trade."
1914-18 - World War I
Like most other Scotch malt distilleries, Brechin was mothballed during World War I.
1922 - Ownership change
The distillery and its extensive stock of whisky were purchased from the founder's descendents by Distillers Company (DCL) and W.H. Holt & Company Limited (a Manchester-based wine and spirits merchants).
1928 - Ownership change
Ownership of Northport was transferred to Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD) a DCL subsidiary circa in 1928. Shortly after it was operated under licence by Mitchell Brothers of Glasgow.
1928-1948 - Intermittent Production
Production at the distillery stopped for nine years from 1928 until 1937. Resumption of production was short-lived due to government fuel and barley rationing introduced by the government shortly after the start of World War II in 1939. During the war the distillery some of the distillery buildings were used to house soldiers from the Polish infantry. Production resumed three years after the end of the war in 1948.
North Port was partly modernised in the 1970s but only ever had one pair of stills.
1983 - Mothballed
The distillery was mothballed in 1983 due to the then crisis in whisky sales. Soon after being mothballed some of the equipment was borrowed for use in other distillers. This temporary closure proved to be permanent.
1990 - Re-development
The site was sold for re-development in 1990 and the distillery demolished in 1993, with the last warehouses demolished a year later. A Safeway was built on the site but was sold to Somerfield in October 2004. This supermarket remains the present occupier of the site.