This is a distillery tour, or perhaps I should actually say a distillery discovery with a difference. Kennetpans distillery pre-dates pretty much every distillery in operation today and was the biggest distillery in Scotland by the 1730’s. In fact no one is entirely sure when a distillery was first established on the site, but it could be as early as the mid-1600’s.
To put this into context what else happened in the 1730’s? Well, a large scale migration from the Highlands to the colonies of America begins due to landlords increasing rent prices i.e. the start of the Highland clearances. Rob Roy MacGregor died in 1734 and it seems an era of instability and changes across the world were in full flow.
Kennetpans was brought to life by the Stein family; a whisky dynasty that established several distilleries including the nearby and much larger Kilbagie, which no longer exists today. The family went on to establish a distillery in Ireland (Bow Street) and purchased Marrowbone Lane. They pursued new markets for their whisky and invented the continuous still. Such was their financial clout they also assisted families such as Haig and Jameson establish their whiskies in the marketplace. With such power comes responsibility and the Stein’s were not afraid to use their influence to ensure those that stepped out of line regretted such a decision.
Back to today, and you can see from the above photograph why many believe this ruin is a castle of sorts. Perhaps this visual strength, a suggestion of fortification and impressive stonework is why Kennetpans still stands. Yet time is slowly running out for the site and before I delve into the detail I would urge you to visit the official Kennetpans website which is full of information, historical photographs and articles. A huge amount of effort and research has gone into establishing this online resource.
The first ruin you’ll see when crossing the nearby River Forth or driving past Kincardine is the distillery building itself. This is the current focus for the conservation effort with a figure in the region of £900,000 to stabilise the structure. The current owners with the assistance of Historic Scotland volunteers have begun to clear the natural invasion that has swallowed up the buildings, cocooning them in an ocean of green. Slowly the distillery building is being released from the iron clad grip of nature, revealing its splendour and unfortunately current state.
This is only the tip of the complete distillery site, but the only area accessible to the public currently. Fortunately I was given access to what lay beyond and invited to explore the ruins on my own, which resulted in a magical and thought-provoking few hours despite the cold weather. I will be posting further photographs in the coming months on my Instagram channel which you can visit here or you can quickly visit everything featuring the #kennetpansdistillery hashtag I’ll be using right here.
What is mesmerising is the sheer scale and the task that lays ahead to safeguard the site. Yet the current owners are determined to preserve Kennetpans and have the support of many including Ian Buxton, who commented: