Illicit Whisky Still

One of the most exciting finds of the first stage of surveying was the discovery of our Illicit Whisky Still, nestled snugly in among the sheilings of Gleann Na Sguaib. The still sits in a small hollow roughly 100 metres up the hill from the sheilings and dairy stores that are dotted throughout the glen. 

At first we had assumed it was an earlier sheiling as they have used the natural surroundings to shore up the building. However, the discovery of a small stream running down the back wall made us think again. After some exploring we discovered the defining feature which made us more confident that we had found something different.

 A small drainage hole was situated on the North West gable wall, which was clearly man made. This suggested to us that some attempt at water management of the stream was in place. Due to the conditions of the building it unlikely that it would be fit for habitation. Which left us with the possibility that we had found a still.

We were obviously very exited as we did not expect to identify any structure at this stage but we wished to pursue the idea that we had found a whisky still. After putting out our potential finds we were very kindly contacted by Darroch Bratt from University of the Highlands and Islands, who is a Doctoral Student, researching The Origins and History of Whisky Distilling in the Scottish Highlands and Islands: An Historical and Archaeological Approach. After sending through some more information and images he was able to confirm as much as possible that we wee in fact looking an an Illicit Whisky Still.

The location of the still among the sheilings was an ideal location as if there happened to be any smoke it would be assumed to be the sheilings. It would have had a heather thatch, and slightly subterranean which indicates that it would almost invisible to anyone unless you were immediately in front of it.

It is common for the water source to run through the building to assist in the distilling process. The lack of finds within the building is also common as the perpetrators would likely have taken all incriminating evidence with them to ensure they were not caught.

We hope to be able to provide more information in subsequent months and have Darroch and one of our Volunteers Andrew Mackenzie ‘Highland Historian’ produce a podcast to give a more detailed run down of the still and its significance.

How to Identify an
Illicit Still

  • Hidden in Plain Sight
  •  Managed Water Source
  •  Not too far away from a Settlement
  •  Not too close to a Settlement
  •  Near sheilings is typical
Andrew Grant MacKenzie, Highland Historian, University of Dundee M.A. (Hons.) Scottish Historical Studies, FSAS.
Darroch Bratt UHI The Origins and History of Whisky Distilling in the Scottish Highlands and Islands: An Historical and Archaeological Approach