In many ways it is easier to cover these two great distilleries in one section.
c1720 – 1825 Founder John Stein (1697 – 1773)
The exact date of distilling at Kennetpans is not known but it is thought the ruins still present date back to c1720, although distilling on a smaller scale definitely proceeded this date by some considerable time. It certainly was one of the first distilleries in Scotland and by 1733 Kennetpans was the largest distillery in Scotland.
The capital value of Kennetpans Distillery in 1780 was £25,000, approximately £5 million in today’s terms. It’s location was chosen for easy access to all the commodities required for distilling; coal, crops, water and above all its port. Kennetpans was to suffer the same fate as all the other Stein / Haig distilleries in 1788 – sequestration.
The Stein’s hunger to conquer the London London gin trade proved to be catastrophic. Kennetpans lay silent from 1788 until 1791 when it was bought from the receivers by Mr Thomas Dundas and Mr Erskine of Mar and leased back to John Stein Jnr. Distilling continued until his death in 1825. (Incidentally, it was Thomas Dundas’s son, also called Thomas, that commissioned the first steam ship ‘The Charlotte Dundas’ built in 1880).
History has forgotten Kennetpans and focused on her larger sister distillery Kilbagie, but by any standards Kennetpans was a force in her own right. The distillery was used as a catalyst for the Steins to become Scotland’s pre-eminent distillers/industrialists of their day.
1777 – 1851 Founder James Stein Kilbagie began life as a corn mill in around 1720 then went on to become the largest distillery in Scotland in c1777, a massive manufacturing plant even by modern standards. The capital value of Kilbagie in 1780 was £40,000, approximately £8 million in today’s terms. An extract from the Statistical Account of Scotland 1791 – 1799 states:-
‘No situation could have been more eligible for a distillery than Kilbagie; and it was erected in the most substantial manner. The buildings occupy a space of above 4 acres of ground; all surrounded by a high wall.
The barns for malting are of a prodigious size, and are 4 stories in height. A small rivulet runs through the middle of the works, and drives a threshing mill, and all the grinding mills necessary for the distillery; besides supplying with water a canal, which communicates with the river Forth, of about a mile in length, cut for the purpose of conveying both the imports and exports of the distillery‘.
Both distilleries had in excess of 850 acres of farmland at their disposal and Kilbagie alone generated enough animal fodder to fatten 7,000 cattle and 2,000 pigs. It had a staff of over 300 directly employed on site. This did not include the many other ancillary jobs connected to distilling.
The distillery started by producing grain whisky of a quality which could only be described as course, that was drunk for effect and not quality. It was claimed the spirit produced was ’only fitted for the most vulgar and fire loving palates’. Burns describes Kilbagie’s whisky as “the most rascally liquor and in consequence only drunk by the most rascally part of the inhabitants”.
One of the greatest accolades goes to James Stein in 1777 when he exported 2,000 gallons of whisky to England to be rectified in to gin. This was the first ever recorded movement of whisky outside Scotland and was the precursor to an export market now worth a staggering £3 billion to the Scottish Economy.
By 1779 Kilbagie had an annual output of 3,000 tons of spirit.
James Stein had his sights on the London Gin trade and by the early 1780’s he had installed an enormous plant capable of making 16 tons (5,000 gallons) of Holland’s Gin per day.
In 1786 a change in the law imposed extra duty on spirits exported to England which saw Kilbagie’s markets collapse overnight. James Stein’s reaction to this was to bribe the Solicitor for Excise to ignore this act. By 1788 Kilbagie was in sequestration due to yet another act requiring all Scottish distilleries to give 12 month’s notice of intent to export.
The once mighty Kilbagie, the largest and most modern distillery in Scotland and one of the country’s largest industrial enterprises, lay silent from 1788 – 1794.
By 1793 the buildings were subsiding and the machinery was in poor condition. The Steins bought Kilbagie from their creditors for the sum of £7,000 which was a fraction of its true value. The purchase was done through John Taylor, a relative of the Steins, allowing them to distance themselves from the transaction.
In 1826 Robert Stein invented the Continuous still which was to revolutionise whisky production forever (see Patent). The Steins operated the distillery up until the early 1800s when it was purchased by George Dunlop & Co who installed a Coffey still under licence in August 1845. They went into sequestration in 1852; the final closure for Kilbagie as a distillery.
KILBAGIE THROUGH THE YEARS
C1720 Built as a corn mill
1777 Largest distillery in Scotland
1852 Ceased distilling
1866 The Kilbagie Chemical Manure Co Ltd formed for the manufacture of fertiliser
1875 Paper making began, later to become J A Weir Ltd
1969 Changed from J A Weir Ltd to Gestetner Papers Ltd
1987 Acquired by the Pratt Group of Melbourne, Australia
1995 Acquired by Inveresk PLC and ceased paper production when it was closed by Inveresk PLC in 2001
2002 Acquired by LPC for use as a waste paper recycling plant. Closed in 2004
2007 Sold to the waste management company Oran who in March 2008 sold this huge site comprising of 400,000 sq ft of warehousing on a 37 acre site. Oran retained the 8 acre water treatment plant
KENNETPANS & KILBAGIE INNOVATIONS
The distilleries founded by the Steins were the largest manufacturing undertaken of any kind to emerge during the first decade of the Industrial Revolution in Scotland.
Kilbagie was the first Scottish distillery to export spirit, a market now worth over £4.25 billion to the Scottish Economy.
The Continuous Still was invented by Robert Stein in 1826, a device that changed the whisky industry for ever.
Both distilleries had in excess of 850 acres of farmland at their disposal and brought farming out of the middle ages to a scale never seen before in Scotland.
Some of Scotland’s earliest coal mines were located at Kennetpans.
In 1786 Scotland’s first James Watt Steam Engine was located at Kennetpans Distillery.
One of the first canals in Scotland was constructed between Kilbagie and the port of Kennetpans. It was over a mile in length and it opened in 1780 as was in use until 1861.
The first railway line in Scotland linked the two distilleries.
Kilbagie had Scotland’s first threshing machine in 1787. This was erected by George Meikle on a farm at Kilbagie.
It is without doubt that these two distilleries brought Scotland crashing into the Industrial Revolution.