Banff is a closed Scottish distillery that once stood on the Moray coast. Though considered a Highland malt, the distillery was near the border of the Speyside region.
Established in 1863, it was one of several distilleries to close in the 1980s. The distillery spent most of its life producing whisky for Scotch blends.
A series of incidents, including fire, explosion and even bombing, gave Banff the unwanted name of Scotland’s unluckiest distillery.
The distillery produced a sweet, smoky spirit with a fruity and floral character.
The famous writer and journalist, Alfred Barnard, visited the distillery in 1889 and found three copper stills with worm tub condensers. The annual capacity at that time was around 200,000 gallons. The distillery later doubled the stills to six.
Triple distillation was the preferred production method until 1924 when double distillation became the norm.
In the early days, single malt was bottled as Old Banff and supplied to the House of Commons in the British Parliament.
Under the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL), Banff produced spirit for blends, including Johnnie Walker. Single malt bottlings were rare, though the whisky appeared occasionally in Diageo’s now discontinued Rare Malts range.
Single cask bottlings have appeared occasionally from independent bottlers like Signatory Vintage and Cadenhead’s.
Major James Killigan established the Mill of Banff distillery in the year 1824. In 1837, it was taken over by Alex MacKay who later sold to James Simpson Sr in 1852.
In 1863, James Simpson Jr decided to move the distillery to a new location at Inverboyndie. The site had previously been a woollen mill and had access to the Great North of Scotland Railway. The new location was also judged to have a superior water source.
Simpson was later forced to rebuild after a devastating fire in 1877. It was the first of several such incidents to plague the distillery.
The Simpson family sold up in 1921 and by 1932, Banff had been absorbed by DCL. They were forced to halt production when the distillery was used to billet troops during World War II.
In 1941, a warehouse was bombed by a Nazi plane. Exploding casks of whisky were reportedly seen flying in the air. Others had to be smashed to prevent the blaze from spreading. The resultant whisky spill polluted waterways and poisoned local animals.
Disaster struck, once again, in 1959. A coppersmith was carrying out maintenance on the still when vapours ignited and caused an explosion. The owner was fined £15 for violating safety regulations.
The distillery was repaired and production carried on until the 1980s. By then, the whisky industry was in a difficult situation. Years of over-production created a whisky loch and several distilleries were forced to close.
Banff was mothballed in 1983 and by the end of the decade, most of the buildings had been demolished. The last warehouse was destroyed in yet another fire in 1991.
Banff distillery is long gone but a small amount of its single malt remains. Surviving stocks are so rare, however, that bottlings command a high fee.