Let’s talk about spirits

Scotland is home of spirits, and at the Scotch Whisky Experience, we never stop talking about them. Today, we are taking you to the world of spooky spirits, that either have a taste of a dram or who simply love Scotland.

Here are our top five spooky spirit stories in no particular order. (We couldn’t put these in spookiness order, because our spook-o-meter is broken)

Toast the Ghost

Do you know the expression ‘toast to the ghost’? This is how it started. Born in Africa in 1887, Biawa Makalaga lived with Colonel Grant of Rothes, serving as a butler and page boy until his death in 1972.

Seven years after he passed away, Biawa was said to have appeared at Glenrothes Distillery on two separate occasions, sparking an investigation led by Cedric Wilson, a university professor.

According to the professor, an invisible energy line called a ley-line had been disturbed during the installation of some new stills at the Glenrothes distillery. Cedric Wilson’s solution was to “put this to right”, after which he stood for some minutes outside the distillery’s neighbouring cemetery in silent contemplation. He then went straight to a single gravestone some yards away and appeared to be talking to Biawa. After a few minutes he returned announcing that everything would be fine, and the ghost of Biawa has not been seen since. However, as a mark of respect it has become a tradition to ‘Toast to the Ghost’ with a dram.

The Headless Horseman of Bowmore

 Islay is undoubtedly the home of good spirits (pun intended) and Bowmore Distillery has a story to share, too. A crofter named Lachlan Bàn was on his way home on a stormy night when he spotted a silhouette of a headless horseman galloping away from his house. Spooked, Lachlan was then greeted by wide open doors, a bottle of Bowmore on the floor, and the fire completely out. To make matters worse (or spookier) he also noticed that a rather large dram was missing too. “What kind of a creature would leave an opened bottle of whisky? Surely it’s a sign of severe misfortune”, thought Lachlan, throwing the bottle out immediately and locking the door behind him. Since that night, Lachlan Ban’s brother informed him that it was he who had been waiting at Lachlan’s house, and who had drunk one dram of whisky from the Bowmore bottle, however Lachlan was too embarrassed to tell anyone that his sighting wasn’t a real apparition, so the ‘ghost story’ lived on. A true Ileach (that’s Islay resident to you and me) will only ever serve a dram from an unopened bottle and will throw the cork in the fire, just in case the headless horseman returns to join them!

The Sherry Lady

Glendronach Distillery, founded in 1826 by James Allardes, is famous for its sherry cask matured whisky. Sherry casks are often brought over from Spain, and this sherry-loving spirit crossed the borders inside one of those casks (Oloroso to be precise) and decided to occupy the Glen House, which had been built in 1771.  According to the distillery, she is quite partial to a wee dram from time to time. Many guests, residing in the Glen House have either seen her, or felt her presence, especially late at night, and after a tipple or two.

The White Lady

This is an interesting one: The White Lady, as she is known, haunts the old floor maltings at Glenmorangie Distillery in the Highlands. She is also responsible for removing entire sheets of wallpaper from the wall without causing it to rip! The White Lady was also used to the advantage of many managers of the distillery, who would warn young apprentices when they began work that the sight of apparition had been enough to make men mad. After the warning, none of the apprentices went to sleep on the job! “Back in the days when Glenmorangie had its floor maltings site, the shovellers were expected to work around the clock”, explains Graham Eunson (Glenmorangie’s former distillery manager, now at Tomatin Distillery). “Given that one sleepy shoveller could ruin the next day’s mash, it’s possible the threat of an imminent apparition was all that was needed to keep the night shift awake…”

The Smartest Ghost on the Island

We conclude with one final story, this time from the Isle of Jura distillery.

The story starts 29 years after a ban to distil whisky was imposed on the residents of Jura in 1781. Laird Archibald Campbell who initially outlawed distilling, woke up in the middle of the night to see a ghostly old woman hovering over his bed. A woman after our own heart, she berated him over the lack of golden nectar on the island. Legend has it, this apparition persuaded him to reverse his initial decision and to open a distillery at an old smuggler’s cave in 1810.  A bottle of 16 year old whisky is still left in a secret cave somewhere on the island, just to make sure that the ghostly woman won’t visit and spook a sober politician at the middle of the night.

What do you think of these stories? Do you think there’s any truth to them? Let us know in the comments!

Of course, on a Scotch Whisky Experience Tour you’ll meet our very own resident ghost – Douglas McIntyre! He moves about the portraits in the building, and loves to tell people all about whisky!

Spook sources

  • Scotchwhisky.com
  • GlenDronach distillery
  • Haunted Scotland by Roddy Martine
  • Glenrothes distillery
  • Whisky, Wit & Wisdom: A Verbal Distillation by Gavin D. Smith
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