The reputation of single grain whiskies is unlike that of single malt whiskies. Many drinkers tend to regard single grain whiskies as inferior, which makes it harder for these distilleries and their parent companies to showcase and bottle them the way that single malt whiskies. Invariantly, distillers used most of the grain whiskies for blended Scotch as they are first and foremost, intended as such.
The Story of Haig and Stein Families
Cameronbridge distillery has intimate links to the Haig and Stein families in its history. The afore-mentioned families were two of the most remarkable distilling families in whisky history. The first record of a Haig distilling whisky was in 1655 when the church confronted Robert Haig, an excellent distiller, for distilling on the Sabbath. The story followed that his great-great-grandson, John Haig, married Margaret Stein in 1751. The Stein family had two distilleries in Kilbagie and Kennetpans.
Four of John and Margaret’s sons became distillers. They opened plants in central Scotland and Ireland. Their eldest son, John, founded Cameronbridge distillery in 1824.
The Cameronbridge distillery is the largest grain distillery in Scotland. It appeared to be the oldest too. Of course, it was not Cameronbridge in its previous life. Under the control of John Haig, it was Haig distillery in 1824 when it opened its doors.
When John built his distillery, there was rapid growth in whisky production as new methods of making whisky became available. The location of Cameronbridge was in between the Lowlands and Eastern Highland, and the limitations of law and technology hampered John for a short period.
When things changed for the better in 1829, John quickly installed patented Stein stills which his cousin, Robert Stein had invented. With the Stein stills, things looked promising for Haig distillery. Shortly after John introduced these stills, Irish engineer Aeneas Coffey improved the Stein stills and invented the patented Coffey still. John quickly jumped onboard, installing one Coffey still.
When Alfred Barnard, the famous whisky author, visited the Haig distillery in the 1880s, he noted that the distillery had two Stein, two Coffey and a pot still. Today, the Coffey design is the main instrument of use at Cameronbridge distillery.
Evolving Haig Distillery into Cameronbridge Distillery
41 years after John Haig opened the distillery, he joined an alliance with five other grain distillers and formed the Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1877. The company controlled 75% of Scotland’s grain capacity, which allowed it to dominate and eventually monopolised the supply. They also gain the competitive advantage to fix prices in the industry. As we are all aware, DCL was the predecessor of today’s Diageo. Cameronbridge continued to produce both grain and malt whiskies using their pot and column stills until 1929, before switching to exclusive grain whisky production.
After the switch, Cameronbridge proposed as a grain whisky producer. The distillery constructed a column still house with two new column stills in the 1960s. The third still came from the old Carsebridge distillery in Alloa in 1983, after DCL closed it down.
Cameronbridge expanded a few times between 1989 and 2000. It becomes the sole wholly-owned grain plant of Diageo after the closure of Port Dundas in 2010. The expansion also increased the portfolio of spirits produced at Cameronbridge as it takes on the production of Gordon’s and Tanqueray gin as well as Smirnoff vodka. The latest expansion was in 2007. Finally, in 2014, it also became the provider for Haig Club.
Cameronbridge Single Grain Whisky
Similar to most single grain whisky distilleries, Cameronbridge does not have many bottlings. However, it is the only one of all the grain distilleries to have its brand – Cameron Brig. In Singapore, we also have independent bottlers who offers Cameronbridge grain whisky under their label. Cadenhead is the most notable independent bottler to offer high-aged Cameronbridge single grain whisky to end-consumers.
We heard that HNWS is bottling a 34 years old Cameronbridge single grain whisky for its 13th anniversary. While we do not have many details yet, we are told that it is going to be one hell of a dram! We are eagerly waiting for our sample to arrive in the mail so that we can try it asap. We’ll update once we get it! 🙂