Dig discovers footprint of old Glenlivet distillery

06 October 2021
National Trust for Scotland archaeologists have started uncovering the secrets of Scotland’s whisky history in an excavation at the old site of The Glenlivet Distillery, one of Scotland’s first whisky distilleries to become licensed after the 1823 Excise Act.

The dig at the site of Upper Drumin, in Speyside, 1km upslope from the modern distillery, has so far uncovered the floor of the old site, which dates from 1824. This is where The Glenlivet’s founder, George Smith produced his single malt whisky and became the first illicit producer to get his licence. Fragments of bottle glass and ceramics believed to have been involved in whisky production were also found.  

Investigations which began on 4 October and run until 9 October are being carried out as part of the Pioneering Spirit project – a partnership between National Trust for Scotland and The Glenlivet, to uncover and share the history and impact that whisky production has had on Scotland’s cultural heritage and our modern way of life.

Glenlivet distillery, with the dig site beyond

History of the site

The old site was originally a farm, converted to whisky production site by George Smith in response to the 1823 Excise Act, which made licenced production of whisky possible. Before then, Smith, like many others in communities across Scotland – including Speyside and the Highlands – made the spirit illegally, smuggling their produce to customers.

Apart from the remains of two of the old mill dams, nothing survives above ground of the distillery. The site, which is on Crown Estate Scotland land, is marked by an inscribed monument marking its important role in whisky history. 

Derek Alexander, the National Trust for Scotland’s Head of Archaeology, has a long association with the location and conducted a survey of the distillery remains in the 1990s. He said: “Returning to this place after nearly 25 years to finally uncover the remains of this special place is really inspiring. Brushing dirt from the flagstones where George Smith, one of the lead figures of Scotland’s whisky industry, stood was incredible. 


Volunteers help uncover the old site of the Glenlivet distillery

“What’s really interesting is that this is where the illicit production of whisky, which is what we find evidence of on our National Trust for Scotland sites, and the transition towards larger scale industrial production meet; a formative part of the whisky industry becoming one of Scotland’s biggest and most successful. It’s such a powerful part of our national story and identity, which is loved and recognised, at home and around the globe.” 

Get involved

Volunteers including staff from The Glenlivet and members of the local community are taking part in the dig, with the support of the Crown Estate Scotland Ranger Service. 

A public drop-in day for anyone interested in learning more about the finds takes place on 9 October from 10am-4pm. Attendees should use The Glenlivet car park and come prepared for a 1km uphill walk in the Speyside hills. 

An online talk on the Pioneering Spirit project takes place at 1pm, as part of the Highland Archaeology Festival. 

(report courtesy of National Trust for Scotland/Glenlivet Distillery, images by Alison White)