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A Quick Buck: An Early Licensed Whisky Distillery at Blackmiddens Farm in the Cabrach

Darroch D.M. Bratt and Peter Bye-Jensen

Cite this as: Bratt, D.D.M. and Bye-Jensen, P. 2023 A Quick Buck: an Early Licensed Whisky Distillery at Blackmiddens Farm in the Cabrach, Internet Archaeology 61.


Aerial view of Blackmiddens during excavation set in fields downslope of a farm with forest plantation in the middle distance, and some old field boundaries and tumbling stone field walls divide the fields
Blackmiddens during 2021 excavation from the south. Image: Peter Bye-Jensen

Blackmiddens Farm distillery, also known as Buck distillery, has recently been the focus of historical research and excavation. At the time of the first season of fieldwork Blackmiddens/Buck was the only farm distillery to have been excavated in the Highlands and Islands. The site represents a short-lived period of distilling in the Scottish Highlands in which whisky-making operated in a legitimate commercial capacity but as a complement to a larger agricultural unit. The excavation of Blackmiddens and historical research into it and the distilleries in the surrounding area have given us an insight into this short but vital transitional phase in the history of whisky-making in the region.

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  • Keywords: whisky, distillery, Highlands, Scotland, industrial archaeology, improvement, excavation, Scotland
  • Accepted: 31 October 2022. Published: 19 April 2023
  • Funding: The publication of this article is funded by Forestry and Land Scotland
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Corresponding author: Darroch D.M. BrattORCID logo
University of the Highlands and Islands

Peter Bye-Jensen
VejleMuseerne, Denmark

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Figure 1: Blackmiddens distillery under excavation in 2021. Image: Peter Bye-Jensen

Figure 2: Map showing the location of the Cabrach relative to the Highland line. Background mapping: GB Overview [TIFF geospatial data], Scale 1:5000000, Tiles: GB, Updated: 19 August 2013, Ordnance Survey (GB), Using: EDINA Digimap Ordnance Survey Service (Downloaded: January 2022)

Figure 3: Blackmiddens during excavation from the south (2021). The distillery is in the foreground with the farmstead in the background. A ditch to the north-west of the distillery was thought to be a potential water source but on excavation no ingress was identified. Image: Peter Bye-Jensen

Figure 4: The development of Laphroaig distillery over the 19th century (Hay and Stell 1986, 35). Only the first phase depicted by Hay and Stell would apply to Blackmiddens, without the ancillary processes such as cooperage and malting being carried out on site. Image: © Historic Environment Scotland.

Figure 5: Plan of Blackmiddens farm showing the distillery building. North to the top of the image. Crown copyright. National Records of Scotland, RHP2265

Figure 6: Plan of Blackmiddens Farm by Historic Environment Scotland. Image: © Historic Environment Scotland.

Figure 7: Still from Photogrammetry model of Blackmiddens/Buck created 2021. Image: Peter Bye-Jensen.

Figure 8: Detail of drain looking north from Area 5. Image: Ali Cameron 2019

Figure 9: Earthenware sherds recovered from Area 5. Image: Ali Cameron 2019

Figure 10: Small finds from Area 5. From left to right, a fragment of earthenware, a clay pipe and a fragment of iron barrel band. Image: Darroch Bratt

Figure 11: Areas 2, 3 and 5 at the end of the first season of excavation, before Area 4 was exposed in the second. Image: Ali Cameron 2019

Figure 12: Aerial view of Blackmiddens 2021. Image: Peter Bye-Jensen, annotations by Darroch Bratt

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