Millburn distillery was initially registered as Inverness Distillery in 1805, making it the oldest Invernesian distillery, but there is little or no evidence of the distillery actually producing any spirit until at least 1825.
Millburn has had several on and off periods of operation throughout its history. It ran from 1825 until 1851 when production ceased and the building was repurposed into a flour mill. By 1876 the distillery was operational again in what noted whisky writer and industry chronicler Alfred Barnard described as “a larger and more improved scale”
In 1892 the entire operation was sold to the Haig Brothers, Alexander and David, and was renamed Millburn. The distillery ran uninterrupted until 1922 when it was damaged by a large fire, which was extinguished with the help of the nearby garrisoned Cameron Highlanders.
Only a year previously the distillery had changed hands again from the Haig Brothers to a company called Booths, who were predominantly gin distillers and owners of the VAT 69 brand of blended scotch. Very shortly after the sale Booths was amalgamated into the Distillers Company Limited (DCL) which was the forerunner to the company we now know as Diageo.
After the fire the distillery rebuilding was overseen by possibly one of the most famous of all distillery architects, Charles Doig. The pagoda roofs famously designed by Doig still sit atop many distilleries throughout Scotland. The pagoda roof at Millburn was taken down in 1964.
After the rebuild it is thought that the production level of the distillery could have almost trebled to approximately 150,000 gallons. The warehouse capacity also increased to a size where it could hold up to 1 million gallons of maturing stock.
By 1985 the distillery closed for what was to be the last time. There were a raft of closures throughout the Diageo distillery empire in the early eighties and Millburn eventually fell victim to this.
The premises were bought by the restaurant chain Beefeater and converted into ‘The Auld Distillery’ restaurant. It is currently owned and operated by the hotel chain Premier Inn and has recently undergone further extension and renovation.
Many of the original distillery buildings and features are still there although the ones that are now left are the more modern constructions. Most prominently the chimney can still be seen towering behind the main accommodation block. A quick wander round the corner reveals the old sluice gates and water source. The excise office also forms part of the hotel.
The cooperage however has long since gone along with the warehousing.
Perhaps Millburns location was to blame for its downfall. With little or no space to extend or expand due to the steep hills and the Mill Burn running alongside it, coupled with the rapid expansion of Inverness itself, left it practically incapable of modernisation and the ability to future proof itself.
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