A celebration of the largest grain distillery in Europe is taking place with a new exhibition.
Researched and put together by The Friends of Methil Heritage with assistance from ON Fife curators, the exhibition explores the history of distilling in the Levenmouth area with The Angels’ Share: the Story of Cameronbridge Distillery.
The Friends have worked closely with Diageo at Cameronbridge Distillery and at the bottling plant at Banbeath, uncovering the story of this important local company, at the Methil Heritage Centre.
As the largest grain distillery in Europe, and perhaps the oldest, Cameronbridge was founded in 1823 by the Haig family, Scotland’s oldest whisky dynasty. Its current capacity is 136 million litres, produced by three custom-made stills which run continuously for 24 hours a day.
Whisky drinkers may be familiar with the Diageo single grain brand, Haig Club, which is co-partnered and promoted by footballer David Beckham and has been produced at the site from 2014.
In 1823, aged 21, John Haig founded Cameronbridge distillery with an advance of money from his father. The land to build Cameronbridge was leased by Captain James Wemyss in his father’s name because John was a minor. The Haigs recognised the site’s advantages: nearby coalfields and ports, and bountiful supply of water from the rivers Leven and Ore.
Completed in the summer of 1824, records show the licence cost £10 2s 6d on October 30 1824, and excise duty payments of £190 7s 6d were made to produce Lowland Malt Whisky in pot stills. In the first year a few thousand gallons of spirit were made.
This was a time of innovation and rapid growth in the industry. After successful trials of Robert Stein’s Patent Still at Kirkliston distillery in August 1829 a Stein still was trialled at Cameronbridge and licenced for use on 12th May 1830 to produce grain whisky. A second still was installed the following year.
John Haig was determined to ensure his project was successful by utilising the latest technology.
In an excerpt from The House of Haig In Fife, it noted: ‘Travelling through Windygates in 1822 with his servant Sandy, John Haig commented on the area of Cameron Mills. “D`ye ken, Sandy”, he said, “there is money to be made here, aye, from whisky”. Thus was born the idea of a distillery in the area.’
Dallas Mechan, museums archives and galleries service development manager for ON Fife said: ‘We’re delighted that the Friends have been able to bring the story of distilling at Cameronbridge to life at Methil Heritage Centre. It’s a story which has grown from local roots to having a worldwide impact today.’
Visitors can see an array of objects and photographs which bring the tale to life, many of which have been generously loaned for the exhibition from local collectors and from Diageo itself.
The Friends are also keen to hear from anyone with a story to tell about Cameronbridge.
The Angels’ Share: the Story of Cameronbridge Distillery opened on Saturday, 5 January, and runs until 21 September 2019. Methil Heritage Centre is open Tuesday to Thursday 11am-4.30pm and Saturday 1pm-4.30pm. Admission is free.
For more information visit www.onfife.com/museums.