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Why is the Cabrach area so famous for illicit whisky and smuggling?

In the late 18th and early 19th century the Cabrach was renowned for its illicit whisky & smuggling industry. Local inhabitants mixed farming and distilling with great proficiency, using the remote landscape and difficult to access to the area to create a well organised underground network of illicit stills and a distribution network designed to evade customs and excise.

The Cabrach’s undulating and narrow road was just one of several around the country used as whisky roads. Here the route went from Donside to Speyside and men walked it under cover of night; their cargo loaded onto the Shetland ponies reared in the area. They moved silently over the rough ground in fear of discovery by the authorities.

This was no insignificant hobby. Whisky distilling around Scotland was a thriving black economy. Around the Cabrach area alone there were estimated to be around 400 stills operating in early 19th century.

Various whisky distilling went on in the Cabrach which attracted attention from the gaugers empowered by government to discover illicit whisky making in the glens of Scotland for tax purposes. Word that a gauger was in the district would quickly spread through the glens so that stills would be dismantled and hurriedly hidden from the tax man, pushed deep into thick heather or concealed in holes in the peat.

In 1823, after a number of attempts by Government to put an end to illicit distilling and smuggling, a new Act of Parliament heralded in the era of commercial distilling.

In the 1820s licenses were issued for three new distilleries in the Cabrach: Lesmurdie, (also known as Cabrach), Tomnaven, and Blackmiddens or ‘Buck’. The new Cabrach distillery aims to be a small working distillery operating as it would have operated at the advent of licenced distilling which was a time when licencing made it viable for farm distilleries to operate on a small commercial scale.

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