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30 • AGENDA


• FEATURE: EXCISEMEN


In the past, excisemen like Ian would have used this office during their time at the distillery


to the filling store where it was filled into casks. After this, the officer went back to the office


to record the amount of spirit produced and then to the warehouse to check on the vacuity and strength of the casks for removal – that is the depth of the empty space and the strength of the spirit in the casks, in preparation for their removal to the bottling plant. The second shift for the officers


started at 9am and went on to 5pm doing much the same technical work. As the Revenue assistants were not allowed


access to the keys between 5pm and 7am, we had an ‘on-call’ shift to cover for emergencies. This meant patrolling the site, checking locks and dealing with events such as fire alarms. I have to say it was a great lifestyle. I wasn’t


restricted to an office, I was my own boss and I really had little interference from head office. I rarely came across the distillery manager as I mostly interacted with the shift brewers on the site as they had their own set of keys. They couldn’t move anything without us,


and we couldn’t move anything without them. It was a good relationship and there was never any animosity between us and the workers at the site. However, you had to have your wits about you as there were some devious characters who came up with ingenious ways of smuggling whisky out of the distillery and warehouses. The common way of sneaking out an illegal


dram was using a “dog”, a copper cylinder around 12 inches long, sealed at one end and


THE SCOTCH MALT WHISKY SOCIETY


secured by a cork and length of string or wire on the other. As the dog was slightly smaller in diameter than the bunghole of a cask, it could be inserted into the barrel on the string and pulled out full of whisky. The cork would seal the dog and then it would be hung down the inside of the trousers and walked out of the distillery. But there were other more ingenious methods


of smuggling whisky. There was one case where a distillery man would make sure that recently emptied casks were left out in the sun in the yard. That’s because it would give the quantity of whisky originally absorbed into the wood time to seep out into the bottom of the casks. The worker would return in the evening to recover the whisky. He was found to be clearing gallons of whisky by this method, bottling it and selling it at Ingliston market near Edinburgh. Another person was found to be taking home the thick fabric filters used to filter the whisky prior to bottling and then recovering the absorbed whisky by centrifuging the filters in his spin dryer! Following that, the filters were destroyed on site. Another benefit of being an excise officer


was being provided with accommodation. I had a large semi-detached, three-bedroom Victorian house in Windygates village, just outside the distillery, which provided a lovely home for my wife and young son, and later our daughter, who was born while we were there. Just like me, my son was brought up in and around a distillery. He now has a successful career


Changing roles


In the past, Excise officers often knew the distillery as well as the stillman, malt or mash man, many spending their entire careers in the same place.


But the


exciseman’s role was gradually diminished with the


introduction of computerised systems, which reduced the need for manual checks – and these days they are based centrally rather than at individual distilleries. Today, distillers are responsible for their own security. Nevertheless, excise officers still have a strong connection with Scotch whisky, with a team of officers based in Glasgow responsible for working with the majority of the large distillers. See panel on opposite page for more.


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