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25 Aug 2020

Partnership project to uncover illicit whisky past

Two men stand on a heather-covered hillside. A rucksack lies in the foreground. The man on the right holds a red and white pole next to a barely visible stone structure, mostly covered by heather.
Trust archaeologists investigate the site of an illicit whisky still at Mar Lodge Estate.
We’ve teamed up with The Glenlivet, the original Speyside single malt whisky, to launch Pioneering Spirit – the first partnership of its kind.

Pioneering Spirit will highlight the impact that Scotch whisky production has had on Scotland’s cultural heritage and its modern way of life.

The Glenlivet and the Trust, who both play a pivotal role in Scotland’s cultural heritage, will pair archive research with archaeological digs across The Glenlivet site and at National Trust for Scotland locations.

Led by our Head of Archaeology, Derek Alexander, and The Glenlivet’s Archivist, Chris Brousseau, the archaeological digs will uncover the illicit stills and forgotten bothies that were used to illegally produce and smuggle Scotch whisky across the Highlands in the early 1800s. This industry affected almost every aspect of Scottish life, from trade to immigration and even family dynamics.

A woman stands in a gorge-like area on a hillside, holding a spade. Branches and tree roots grow horizontally out from the mossy hill, and there appears to be a kind of cave to the left of the woman.
The Ben Lomond still site before digging began.

There are around 30 such stills at our places, from Torridon and Kintail in the north, all the way to Grey Mare’s Tail in the south. There are several on Mar Lodge Estate, situated near The Glenlivet distillery.

The Glenlivet has championed innovative thinking from its very beginning, with its founder George Smith risking life and liberty to produce his single malt whisky. Thanks to his ambitious vision, Smith was the first illicit producer to get a licence.

A man and a woman are at work in an archaeological dig site. The man on the left is crouching inside the upper section of the pit, and appears to be using his hands to remove some stones. A large spade stands beside him. The woman on the right stands in the pit and is working on a drawing which lies on the ground above the pit. A measuring pole and white tape is stretched along the side of the pit.
Digging and drawing at Ben Lomond
“We are proud to be supporting the National Trust for Scotland and the amazing work they do to protect, and celebrate, what makes Scotland unique. As a brand that holds so much history in the distilling of Scotch whisky, we are looking forward to learning more about the illicit trade that our founder was involved in, as well as the lasting impact it has had on the country’s rich heritage. We hope that through this partnership we can continue to educate and inspire whisky drinkers everywhere on the original story and taste of The Glenlivet.”
Miriam Eceolaza
Global Marketing Director of The Glenlivet
A man wearing a woolly hat looks through a camera-like device on a tripod. This is set up in a moor-type area with mountains visible in the background.
Derek surveying with Total Station at Torridon
“We’re excited to be partnering with The Glenlivet to launch the Pioneering Spirit project. Our charity is always searching for new ways to tell Scotland’s stories, and this project will help us shed light on a really fascinating era in Scotland’s history, which has shaped our culture and our landscapes too. With the goal of sharing the stories behind Scotland’s illicit whisky industry, it’s only fitting we partner with a name that is so firmly part of this story. We’re looking forward to working closely with The Glenlivet to carry out this ground-breaking conservation project and uncovering new and interesting stories for everyone who loves Scotland!”
Derek Alexander
Head of Archaeology at the National Trust for Scotland
A stone structure with a small opening at the front is built into a rough and craggy hillside.
The flue to the grain drying kiln at Torridon

Once underway, the project will enlist the help of visitors and Scottish residents alike to uncover more about the country’s past and the role that distilling whisky played in defining Scottish culture.

Keep an eye on our website for the latest project news.

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