Stories from the good ‘ol days of whisky – Volume 1: “Clumper, the Clydesdale Horse and the Clearac”

Today begins a new series here on The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society’s whisky blog; one that will be featured on the first Thursday of every month.

A couple of months ago, whilst in Scotland, I had the good opportunity to meet up with a certain Mr. Bill Morgan.  In fact, as part of our tour, Bill & his wife Carol were kind enough to treat me and the rest in the JSMWS whisky tour to a wonder dinner: Tapas.  One one my favorite things.  Bill, carol, thank you again!

You might not know who Bill Morgan is but you should.  Having worked professionally in whisky between 1965 & 1996, chances are if you’re a whisky drinker he’s helped to make the whisky you’ve enjoyed for the past, let’s say, 50 years or so.

I asked Bill if he could give me a quick overview of his history in whisky and he said:

Briefly speaking, I worked for my father in the floor maltings at Cardhu hand turning malt till they closed in the mid sixties and was transferred to Cragganmore where I soon became head warehouseman. 

Bill Morgan during his days at Tamdu as a malting barley buyer

I moved to Highland Distillery’s Tamdhu site where I did almost everything possible during my 26 years employment.  These included Saladin box worker, maltings shift work, barley intake and analysis, Group Laboratory worker/senior lab assistant, microbiologist, conducting laboratory hygiene surveys at all sites and micromalting.  My career in management with Highland distilleries included Assistant manager /Malting manager at Tamdhu, relief manager for all sites, malting barley buyer and finally 2 years as acting manager at Highland Park.

A lot has changed since my time with Highland distilleries (now Edrington) but the sites back then (pre-1996) which I worked in on surveys and as relief manager were Tamdhu, Glenrothes, Glenglassaugh, Bunnahabhain, Glenturret Highland Park and Glengoyne.

On top of this, Bill has a degree in Biology; Membership in the Institute of Biology and Food Scientists/Technologists and had a paper on distillery bacteria published in Institute of Brewing journal (and developed a new agar medium to grow and count these bugs).  So let’s just say, Bill is quite an accomplished guy! (oh, and he was born at Dailuaine!)

As you might imagine, having been literally born into whisky and being in the business professionally for 50 years… Bill’s got some great stories.  For the first installment, Bill has decided to share the following one with us:

Clumper, the Clydesdale Horse and the Clearac

The cast: Robin Scott the horseman, Mr. Harpic the gauger (he was clean round the bend) and the horse.

When a business man founded a malt whisky distillery in the latter part of the 19th century he soon concluded that a means of transport between his distillery and the nearby railway station was critical to its success.

Enter our intrepid heroes, Clumper and his Master Robin!

Robin was a huge, ugly creature with a nose like a red pin cushion and a large black beard that some say provided a safe refuge for a large crow family.  He was frugal with his diet, which consisted of  porridge, egg, wild game, fruit and vegetables.  None of these cost anything for as well as being a born thief he was a canny Scot.  Robin would steal the pennies from the eyes of a corpse and the sugar from your tea.  Mr. Harpic, the customs and excise officer, was a dapper little Sassenach resplendent in sports jacket and flannels and homburg hat.

Clumper The Horse!

Clumper loved his oats and had a nasty habit of biting the bums of passers by who got too close to his front end. It was also somewhat foolish to venture to within firing distance of the other end when his tail was up.

The cunning plan……………………

Our intrepid thief concocted a cunning, fool-proof plan to steal Whisky galore from under Harpic’s nose.  Robin had been watching Harpic closely and had deduced that the officer was a creature of habit who shared his fellow countrymen’s addiction to tea, at 10 a.m. precisely Harpic would adjourn to the gauger’s office for refreshments. Drinking his tea at his office window he could keep a beady eye on the filling store exit.

During one such filling the bold horseman entered the filling store at 5 to 10 and filled a bucket with water from the tap and carried it out to give to Clumper, this pattern remained unchanged for several weeks before Robin began to delay his exit to coincide with Harpic’s appearance at his office window viewpoint with his tea.  His suspicions were arisen but he decided to watch and wait till the horse was offered the contents to drink.

After a further 3 weeks of Clumper obliging to consume the water Harpic became lulled into a false sense of security regarding the horseman’s motive and reduced his scrutiny of man and horse.

A Switch in time…
Robin was ready to act.

Before entering the store he concealed a bucket of water behind the cart and out of view of Harpic’s gaze.  When the gauger departed for morning tea he got his friend, Bald Rick, to fill his empty bucket with clearac and waltzed towards the horse and cart.

Glancing towards Harpic’s empty window he realized that the gauger had taken his eye of the ball and slipped behind the cart and made the switch. By the time Harpic appeared again Clumper had his head in the bucket. After his tea the gauger went back to the filling store and the intrepid duo escaped.

This ploy carried on successfully for a few weeks until one day DISASTER STRUCK.

Harpic forgot the key to his office and was forced to return to the store. Fortunately for Robin, Jock Strapp was having a smoke at the door and managed to issue a timely warning.  With a burst of speed, remarkable in one so porculent Robin switched the bucket for an empty one and proceeded to fill it with water.  The gauger collected his key and set forth to brew his cuppa.

Robin saw his chance…he switched the buckets again and strolled out of the door, clutching the Water of life.

Which only goes to show that you can take a horse to water and make it drink.


Clearac is New Make Spirit – unaged spirit right off the still

Gauger is an excise man,

Harpic is a brand of toilet cleaner and a Sassenach is one emanating from Englandshire.

Porculent is not a real word but it sounded right…

Bill, thanks so much for sharing your story with us!  I look forward to the next installment.