Am Baile/Argyll and Bute Library & Information Service


arran water: an island whisky history, gregor adamson, 2019

Location: Arran
distilling, fishing

A dram for the herring buyers

Illicit distilling in Arran was a considerable industry for almost two centuries despite relentless pursuit by the excise man. But ‘Arran water’ as it was then known was considered necessary to the fishing trade in particular.

In any case, this was the defence used by an Arran fishing vessel caught in 1817 with four and a half gallons of the stuff in two jars respectively concealed under a bag of chaff and a bed, covered with ‘articles’. Their vessel detained, the fishermen imprisoned in the Campbelltown tollbooth claimed that they were obliged to offer a dram to prospective herring buyers.

Trying to help her son, the mother of one of the crew wrote to the prosecutor that, as she had no money to give him, it was her who had given one of the jars so that he could dispose of it in the Low Country. This did not go down too well, as it suggested that she had distilled the whisky herself and was using her son to smuggle it. But the fishermen managed to get away with it: finally released, they sailed back to Arran, minus the whisky which firmly stayed in the custody of the Campbeltown excise office!

More information on visiting the area can be found here.