Glenesk is a distillery with several noted claims to fame. For a start, the buildings lie within a short distance of Kinnabber Junction, the setting for many dramas during the famous Lonfon-to-Aberdeen rail races of 1895. Whichever train from London got there first went on ahead to Aberdeen to win the night’s run. The distillery has also had more names assigned to it over the years (Highland Esk, North Esk Montrose and Hillside) than any other. And it is one of a handful of distilleries that started distilling malt, was converted to grain, then converted back to malt again.
Originally a flax mill close to river North Esk, the plant was converted to a distillery in 1896-97 by a Dundee wine merchant called James Isles who sold it within a year to the delightfully-named Septimus Parsonage, of Mark Lane, London, who named it Highland Esk. Septimus Parsonage and Co Ltd soon ran into cashflow problems and the distillery was taken over in 1899 by J.F.Caille Heddle, who renamed it North Esk.
During World War I it stood idle and was occupied for several years by the army. Part of it was then destroyed by fire and it was bought in 1919 by Thomas Bernard & Co, who used some of the building as maltings, operating under the name North Esk Maltings. Then in 1938 Bernards sold the premises of Associated Scottish distilleries (ASD), made up of long-silent East Coast distilleries acquiered and run in the late 1930s by Joseph Hobbs under Train & McIntyre for National Distillers of America.
ASD converted it to grain whisky production and named it Montrose Distillery, but it hardly bee in production a year when war broke out, distilling ground to halt and the premises became barracks again for the war’s duration. Joe Hobbs then sold ASD fo £38,000 and some whisky options, moved to Fort William, when into cattle ranching and became a hotelier !
After de war, ASD restarted production but regularly faced problems of scarce raw materials, market restrictions and cashflow. In 1954 DCL bought the distillery from its parent company, National Distillers of America, ran it briefly, mothballed it until 1959, then use dit as spare grain whisky capacity until 1964. But it was too small a plant to be viable.
In 1964 the distillery was assigned to SMD, who rook out the Coffey Stills, re-installed pat stills and renamed the place Hillside. As a malt of distillery it ran successfully for 16 years until SMD renamed it yet again, this time, Glenesk. The name change did not save it : it was among a dozen or so DCL/ SMD locations to be mothballed indefinitely in the mid-1980s. Not that the place became moribund. Far from it. A big malting was opened beside the distillery in 1968 and was enlarged in 1973 and in subsequent years. Glenesk is now one of largest maltings in the UK and for several years produced the entire malt requirement for all United Distiller’ plants, be they malt or grain. The plant’s huge, boxy silo is the biggest landmark for miles around with barley deliveries arriving by both road and rail, the latter via sidings from the nearby Aberdee-Dundee main line. The maltings have 24 germination drums, each one holding up to 31 tonnes of barley.
In its final distilling years, Glenesk used four stills and was licenced to DCL subsidiary Willam Sanderson of South Queensferry. Apart from maltings, the 25-acre site today comprises the former production buildings, acres of low-rise warehousing and offices and a long mill lade that threads its way to the distillery from a weir upriver on the North Esk. In many respects the entire placde looks busy and well-kept.
In late 1996, however, US sold the entire establishment to Paul’s Malt Ltd, who in turn were acquired in 1998 by the Irish malting company Greencore. Around 1996, most the remaining distillation equipement was removed from the distillery.
From the book « Scotch Missed « Scotland’s Lost Distilleries » by Brian Townsend ISBN 1-897784-97-X