Aultmore Distillery lies several miles north of the town of Keith on the eastern fringe of Speyside. The distillery was establishedby Alexander Edwards and building commenced in 1895. The distillery initially did very well and production was doubled in the first few years.
Aultmore is gaelic for ‘Large river’.
The area around Aultmore had been a favoured spot for illicit distilling in the early nineteenth century. This was thanks to abundant springs and plentiful peat on the Foggie Moss and a ready market among publicans in Keith, Fochabers and Portgordon. The smugglers lived on in folk memory for many years; in 1934 the oldest local inhabitants recalled that one of the ‘Small stills’ had been worked by one Jane Milne, near the source of Aultmore’s process water, the Burn of Auchinderran, about a mile from where the distillery stands today.
Production began in May 1897 and Aultmore was soon so popular on the market that extensive alterations and improvements were announced. Production increased steadily and by July 1898 Aultmore’s capacity had increased to 100,000 gallons a year.
Electric light replaced paraffin lamps and the distillery’s water-wheel became an outdated source of power. It was first supplemented, then replaced, by the Abernethy 10 horsepower steam engine, dated 1898. The steam engine, driven by a system of line shafts, worked the barley and malt conveying plant, the malt dresser and mill, the mashing machine, the wash still rummager and various pumps.
This piece of engineering excellence continued to give service for almost three-quarters of a century and is preserved at the distillery today although not in working order.
Meanwhile, Alexander Edward had bought Oban Distillery and linked it with Aultmore to float a new limited company, The Oban and Aultmore-Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd, with a share capital of £160,000. The issue was a complete success and netted profits of £40,000 for the promoters.
However, the collapse of the important blending house Pattisons Ltd, of Leith (who had an interest in the new business) in 1899 led to a series of business failures and affected the whole of the malt whisky distilling industry. Oban and Aultmore’s output had to be cut, and the share capital reduced to £67,650. The market was overloaded with Speyside malts in 1900, and Aultmore made little progress until trade revived in 1903-04.
More hard times were to come as distilleries were closed during World War I to conserve supplies of barley and then affected by economic recession in the United Kingdom and Prohibition in the United States. In 1923, Oban & Aultmore put its two distilleries up for sale.
Aultmore was bought by John Dewar & Sons Ltd, of Perth. When Dewar amalgamated with other blending companies to form an enlarged Distillers Company Limited in 1925, Aultmore was transferred to DCL’s subsidiary, Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd, now part of United Distillers.
The distillery was closed again from 1943-45 to conserve barley supplies during World War II but by the early 1950′s Aultmore was distilling again. It was pioneering environmentally friendly recycling of distillery effluent and successfully developed a new technique to produce a new type of dried high-protein animal feed.
In the late 1960′s a programme of improvement and expansion began at Aultmore. The two stills were converted to steam heating in 1967, the long disused water-wheel was demolished and the steam engine went into retirement in 1969 on the eve of a complete reconstruction. The distillery was closed from January 1970 to February 1971, when two additional stills were installed and the boiler was converted from coal-burning to oil-firing.
In 1998, just a little over a century after it was founded, Aultmore was acquired by current owners Bacardi through their subsidiary John Dewar & Sons, the very same company that bought the distillery in 1923.
Only a very small percentage of all the malt whisky that is produced at Aultmore is is never bottled as a single malt, most of it is still makes it into the Dewar’s blends like the widely available ‘White Label’.