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TITLE
Whisky - part 1
EXTERNAL ID
PC_SEANCHAS_ILE_CI001_1
PLACENAME
Islay
DISTRICT
Islay
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
ARGYLL: Killarrow and Kilmeny
DATE OF RECORDING
2007
PERIOD
2000s
CREATOR
Neil Ferguson
SOURCE
The Columba Centre, Islay
ASSET ID
2713
KEYWORDS
distilleries
oral history
island life
audio

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The Caol Ila distillery was founded near Port Askaig on the Island of Islay in 1846 by Hector Henderson. Here, long-serving employee Neil Ferguson (NF) is interviewed about his time there by Emily Edwards (EE). The interview, which is in two parts, is in conducted in Gaelic.

The following is a transcription:

NF: When I first came to work here, when I first came to this town, there were thirty-four working. Well, they were on the payroll anyway, though a few weren't doing much (laughs). Usually there were thirty-four working in the distillery at that that time. Now there are only seven. That's all there is. And a pair of them, there's a manager and a clerkess in the office and that only leaves five and then if you come into to the - if you come inside there, there's only one person -

EE: Aha.

NF: - that runs every part, and when you are cleaning the appliances in there, you use chemicals and things like that but if you put the computer on, there's a program on the computer and that will clean everything and you don't need to worry about using the chemicals. You don't need to do anything else. It does everything. But, when you are working, when you are making whisky like that. There's a man on shift, he's in control. He's, well, he goes about pressing buttons here and there. But these buttons they turn on pumps and open valves and things like that. There's not a bit of work running around for them there but shutting this and opening that.

EE: That's a shame.

NF: They're just pressing buttons and they do the work. It is very easy even though there's only one person doing it. We make five thousand gallons a day. Twenty-four hours.

EE: Five thousand?

NF: They're working all the time, you know. But, five thousand gallons, do you want that in litres?

EE: M-hm.

NF: Twenty-three thousand five hundred. Now that's a great deal of whisky! For one person at a time, one person on the shift. They work eight hours, you know, someone goes out for six o'clock in the morning and he is finished at two o'clock, two o'clock in the afternoon and someone else starts at two o'clock. He is finished at 10 o'clock and someone else comes out for the night shift at 10 o'clock and he finishes at 6 o'clock in the morning. There is only one person in the place.

EE: Aye.

NF: Well, some work the day, the last man is out at half past four and there's only one person running the whole place then until eight the next morning.

EE: That's a shame, isn't it?

NF: O, yes, it is a shame.

EE: What job did you have when you started with Caol Ila, what job did you have?

NF: I used to work in the malting barn. We'd begin with barley, you know, barley seed. And we'd bring it, the barley, there are tons and tons of it and we'd soak it in water for - I'm not sure how long it took, thirty six hours and you took the water, say, half-way between that time. You ran off the water in which it was soaked and you'd fill it up with other water. There were big tanks and you'd put it there. Tons and tons of it. And then you'd drain it away, the water, from there and you'd take it and spread it out on a big concrete floor, over your shoulder just like that and - but big, a big building - they would put two or three inches of grain in depth. And you'd just leave it. Anyway it was wet and when you leave it to heat and it grows warm and started growing. And when it started growing, you'd see the wee white bits, like hairs coming out of the wee bits of barley. You'd see - well, there would be one kind coming out one end from the roots - the roots - and the other from the leaves like that and as time went on they'd change longer and longer until they were like this. You'd have to turn them with a wooden shovel - maybe you've seen one once - but maybe you've not seen one. We'd turn it because you had to keep turning it over. If you didn't do this when they grew longer and longer, these wee hairs, that form on it, they'd knit together and you'd almost be able to lift it like a carpet [?]. They'd stick together, you know. Therefore you'd keep turning it over all the time so that they didn't mesh together.

EE: I see.

NF: And that was going on, all the time, all through the night. More than during the day too and you'd do that and while you did that they were growing, germination stage, germination process. They were in the barley, it had swollen up with the water and it absorbed it. They'd make sugars and starches inside there and enzymes of sorts. I don't know. Anyway there were enzymes and they were made inside and the those sugars [ ? ] That is what you convert to alcohol when you are done [?]. But when you are malting like it would only take four days. It would only take four days or something like that. When you can lift one of the parts of the barley, the ears and you'd write your name on the wall with it. Now - that is ready for the next stage. And it would be taken from there and you'd put it into the kiln to dry. And I would spread it out on the floor. A bigger mash and then you'd set a peat fire underneath it with maybe a wee bit of coal too, coke, to heat it up. And the heat from that peat fire went up through the floor that was up above the mash. There was a mash up there and it would dry the barley [?] the malt that was up on the roof there. And you'd have to go in there every day. Those are the pagodas there. The pagoda roofs, that is were the kiln is. You'll see smoke coming out of there every day.

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Whisky - part 1

ARGYLL: Killarrow and Kilmeny

2000s

distilleries; oral history; island life; audio

The Columba Centre, Islay

Seanchas Ìle

The Caol Ila distillery was founded near Port Askaig on the Island of Islay in 1846 by Hector Henderson. Here, long-serving employee Neil Ferguson (NF) is interviewed about his time there by Emily Edwards (EE). The interview, which is in two parts, is in conducted in Gaelic.<br /> <br /> The following is a transcription:<br /> <br /> NF: When I first came to work here, when I first came to this town, there were thirty-four working. Well, they were on the payroll anyway, though a few weren't doing much (laughs). Usually there were thirty-four working in the distillery at that that time. Now there are only seven. That's all there is. And a pair of them, there's a manager and a clerkess in the office and that only leaves five and then if you come into to the - if you come inside there, there's only one person -<br /> <br /> EE: Aha.<br /> <br /> NF: - that runs every part, and when you are cleaning the appliances in there, you use chemicals and things like that but if you put the computer on, there's a program on the computer and that will clean everything and you don't need to worry about using the chemicals. You don't need to do anything else. It does everything. But, when you are working, when you are making whisky like that. There's a man on shift, he's in control. He's, well, he goes about pressing buttons here and there. But these buttons they turn on pumps and open valves and things like that. There's not a bit of work running around for them there but shutting this and opening that. <br /> <br /> EE: That's a shame.<br /> <br /> NF: They're just pressing buttons and they do the work. It is very easy even though there's only one person doing it. We make five thousand gallons a day. Twenty-four hours. <br /> <br /> EE: Five thousand?<br /> <br /> NF: They're working all the time, you know. But, five thousand gallons, do you want that in litres?<br /> <br /> EE: M-hm.<br /> <br /> NF: Twenty-three thousand five hundred. Now that's a great deal of whisky! For one person at a time, one person on the shift. They work eight hours, you know, someone goes out for six o'clock in the morning and he is finished at two o'clock, two o'clock in the afternoon and someone else starts at two o'clock. He is finished at 10 o'clock and someone else comes out for the night shift at 10 o'clock and he finishes at 6 o'clock in the morning. There is only one person in the place.<br /> <br /> EE: Aye.<br /> <br /> NF: Well, some work the day, the last man is out at half past four and there's only one person running the whole place then until eight the next morning.<br /> <br /> EE: That's a shame, isn't it?<br /> <br /> NF: O, yes, it is a shame.<br /> <br /> EE: What job did you have when you started with Caol Ila, what job did you have?<br /> <br /> NF: I used to work in the malting barn. We'd begin with barley, you know, barley seed. And we'd bring it, the barley, there are tons and tons of it and we'd soak it in water for - I'm not sure how long it took, thirty six hours and you took the water, say, half-way between that time. You ran off the water in which it was soaked and you'd fill it up with other water. There were big tanks and you'd put it there. Tons and tons of it. And then you'd drain it away, the water, from there and you'd take it and spread it out on a big concrete floor, over your shoulder just like that and - but big, a big building - they would put two or three inches of grain in depth. And you'd just leave it. Anyway it was wet and when you leave it to heat and it grows warm and started growing. And when it started growing, you'd see the wee white bits, like hairs coming out of the wee bits of barley. You'd see - well, there would be one kind coming out one end from the roots - the roots - and the other from the leaves like that and as time went on they'd change longer and longer until they were like this. You'd have to turn them with a wooden shovel - maybe you've seen one once - but maybe you've not seen one. We'd turn it because you had to keep turning it over. If you didn't do this when they grew longer and longer, these wee hairs, that form on it, they'd knit together and you'd almost be able to lift it like a carpet [?]. They'd stick together, you know. Therefore you'd keep turning it over all the time so that they didn't mesh together. <br /> <br /> EE: I see.<br /> <br /> NF: And that was going on, all the time, all through the night. More than during the day too and you'd do that and while you did that they were growing, germination stage, germination process. They were in the barley, it had swollen up with the water and it absorbed it. They'd make sugars and starches inside there and enzymes of sorts. I don't know. Anyway there were enzymes and they were made inside and the those sugars [ ? ] That is what you convert to alcohol when you are done [?]. But when you are malting like it would only take four days. It would only take four days or something like that. When you can lift one of the parts of the barley, the ears and you'd write your name on the wall with it. Now - that is ready for the next stage. And it would be taken from there and you'd put it into the kiln to dry. And I would spread it out on the floor. A bigger mash and then you'd set a peat fire underneath it with maybe a wee bit of coal too, coke, to heat it up. And the heat from that peat fire went up through the floor that was up above the mash. There was a mash up there and it would dry the barley [?] the malt that was up on the roof there. And you'd have to go in there every day. Those are the pagodas there. The pagoda roofs, that is were the kiln is. You'll see smoke coming out of there every day.