Discover the story of early whisky production with a free tour of the Glenlivet archaeological dig site

21 April 2023
The National Trust for Scotland, in partnership with The Glenlivet, is offering members of the public the chance to join an exclusive tour of an archaeological dig taking place near The Glenlivet Distillery in Speyside on 27 and 28 April.

Tours of the dig site are part of the Trust and The Glenlivet’s Pioneering Spirit project to uncover the history and archaeology of early whisky production in Scotland, giving members of the public the opportunity to discover secrets of the country’s whisky distilling past.

As part of the ticketed event, A Journey In George Smith's Footsteps, on 27 and 28 April, visitors will go to the original 1824 site of The Glenlivet Distillery where the origins of The Glenlivet will be uncovered. There, they can enjoy a limited-edition dram, followed by a behind-the-scenes visit to the rarely accessible 1859 Minmore still house. Returning to the Visitor Experience, they will then be able to view artefacts uncovered during the recent digs, whilst sampling one of The Glenlivet’s distillery exclusive, single cask expressions. These two tours are being undertaken as part of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival and can be booked online here.

Free tours

Free tours of the dig site will also be available on Wednesday 26 April at 11am and 3pm, Thursday 27 April at 11am and Friday 28 April at 3pm. In addition to the tours, there will be a general open day held on Saturday 29 April, 10am – 3.30pm, to give members of the public an insight into the excavations and learn about the findings from the conservation charity’s expert archaeologists. 

Led by the National Trust for Scotland’s Head of Archaeology Derek Alexander, and the Trust’s archaeologist, Dr Daniel Rhodes, the dig will take place over the course of six days, with the assistance of local volunteers and staff from the National Trust for Scotland, The Glenlivet and the Crown Estate Scotland. 

Derek said: “We can’t wait to show what we have uncovered through our exploration into the history and archaeology of early whisky production in Scotland in partnership with The Glenlivet, a distillery steeped in history which saw its founder George Smith become the first legal distiller in the Parish of Glenlivet.

“With the help of our team and volunteers over the years, our digs have helped us discover more about how people went about the clandestine production of Scotland’s most famous drink and we’re excited to share our findings. Working in partnership with The Glenlivet aligns with our vision to share Scotland’s nature, beauty and heritage with everyone, to enrich our protected heritage and speak up for our heritage that doesn’t have a voice.”

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Previous finds

This year’s dig follows the success of similar events held at the site of the former The Glenlivet Distillery, and bothy sites at Torridon and Mar Lodge Estate, using archive and landscape research to reveal the scale of production during a time when whisky making was forbidden. Last year’s fortnight-long dig at the site of the old Glenlivet Distillery uncovered part of the footprint of the old building, including the still house, alongside a whole range of artefacts and features connected to whisky-making.

The team found a range of whisky artefacts – from part of an exciseman’s padlock to small personal items like clay tobacco pipes. Most recently, the team discovered a forgotten bothy above the Linn of Dee, near Mar Lodge Estate, which was well hidden from the rest of the main glen.

The National Trust for Scotland estimates there are at least 30 stills which were used to make whisky when it was prohibited across its 129 sites, including at Torridon, Kintail, Ben Lawers, Ben Lomond, Glencoe and the Mar Lodge Estate. Projects are currently ongoing across a number of these sites to delve more deeply into the stories the land holds and to identify how people went about the clandestine production of Scotch whisky in years gone by. 

Event details

This year’s dig, A Journey into George Smith’s Footsteps, takes place at The Glenlivet distillery, on Thursday 27 April between 3 – 4:30pm and 28 April between 11am – 12:30pm. Those interested in joining the exclusive tour of the dig can purchase tickets here. Members of the public can also sign up to become a volunteer during the two-week dig by contacting Mark Johnston, the local Crown Estate Ranger, by email.

Members of the public are invited to attend the open day on Saturday 29 April between 10am – 3.30pm and should park at The Glenlivet Distillery car park on the day and walk up to the dig site, following signage.

(Report and image courtesy National Trust for Scotland)