There are some terrifying tales lurking in whisky distilleries around the world. For Halloween, we decided to round-up some of the industry’s most famous ghost stories. Prepare to be spooked.
We all enjoy a good ghost story, don’t we? They cross cultures and eras for a reason. From childhood, we never lose the love for the anticipation, drama, and adrenaline they create. The danger brings us closer together as we appreciate the nostalgia, the silliness, and the fear of it all.
Halloween is, of course, the perfect time of year to tell new tales and, as we’re all whisky fans, we thought you’d enjoy taking a moment to turn off the screens, gather together, pour a dram and spin a creepy yarn. We’ve also ranked how each story scores on our spooky scale, from time to run and never look back, to laugh and tempt all the fates in the world. Are you sitting comfortably (preferably with a torch pointed at your face)? Good, then let’s begin…
Bowmore’s headless horseman
First, we head to the oldest distillery on Islay, Bowmore, for a scarcely believable tale. No, this isn’t the one about the resident ghost said to inhabit the distillery’s vaults and or even about the time the Devil himself got in a spot of bother hiding in the local church, which was round and so had “no corner for the Devil to hide in” (I expect better from Lucifer, to be honest) and was chased out. He’s said to have escaped in a barrel, and this tale inspired the The Devil’s Casks bottling. This means it could just be marketing bumf. That’s actually scarier than most ghosts, in our opinion.
Instead, we’ll tell you the tale of a phantom patron. One dark and stormy night, crofter Lachlan Bàn sees the ghostly silhouette of a headless horseman galloping away from his house. He walked in to find a bottle of Bowmore on the table, and noticed a large dram was missing (you’d have to imagine every measure is big when you have no head) and, utterly petrified, did something truly horrific. He threw away the bottle. Are you horrified yet? Now any true Ileach will always open a fresh bottle for guests and throw the cork in the fire, just in case the headless horseman returns to join them for a tipple…
MoMs spooky scale: 5/10. This would be a lot higher, but Bowmore says that Bàn’s brother later revealed he had brought round the mystery bottle to share but had to run, so he knocked back a dram and rode home, pulling his cloak tight over his head as it was stormy. Bàn was simply too embarrassed to reveal the truth, however, (I get it, to be honest) and so said nothing, allowing the story to live on. Still, if you’d like to retell the story you can always leave that bit out.
The White Lady of Glenmorangie Distillery
If you’re brave enough to step into the decommissioned floor maltings at the Glenmorangie distillery, then you might just be visited by the ghost of ‘the White Lady’. A mysterious phantom, she is said to be the cause for wallpaper peeling without explanation. No tearing was found and former distillery manager Graham Eunson said that the walls “were bone dry” and that nobody could account for it, which “inevitably led to talk of the White Lady having been at work”.
MoMs spooky scale: 8/10. Sceptics claim that ‘The White Lady’ was a clever tale told to ensure the maltsters didn’t doze off during the long night shifts. But that doesn’t explain the peeling wallpaper now, does it? Spoooooky!
The revenge of the executed son of Kilbeggan Distillery
The Kilbeggan distillery, or Lockes distillery as it was originally known, dates back to 1757 making it one of the oldest licensed distilleries in the world. For some time now, locals and staff have told of close encounters and strange noises around the grounds. But all that was just hearsay, until the Irish distillery became so well known for its spooky reputation that it attracted the attention of the absolutely legitimate Derek Acorah (‘psychic’ and star of Most Haunted). He said previous owners of the distillery continue to roam the grounds, including Kilbeggan founder Matthew McManus, and his son John, who was executed in 1798 for breaking curfew and for alleged membership of the United Irishmen…
MoMs spooky scale: 7/10. Acorah recited several little-known facts that he said the ghosts told him, which did surprise distillery manager Brian Quinn. So there. That’s proof, isn’t it?
Glen Scotia Distillery’s resident ghost
On 23 December 1930, distillery owner Duncan MacCallum died in ‘mysterious circumstances’, allegedly drowning himself in Crosshill Loch, Glen Scotia’s water supply, after losing a fortune in a crooked business deal. Ever since, contractors have claimed that they feel like ‘they’re being watched’ when working at the distillery and employees won’t lightly venture into the less illuminated areas of the distillery when it’s dark.
MoMs spooky scale: 9/10. It’s a genuinely creepy, quite sad tale and, as a bonus, it keeps corporate types on their toes.
Toasting the ghost at Glenrothes Distillery
There are no chances taken at the Glenrothes distillery after its particular phantom run-in. The ghost was said to be that of Biawa ‘Byeway’ Makalaga, one of two African boys rescued from famine in Matabeleland (now a province of Zimbabwe) at the turn of the 20th century by Major James Grant, owner of Glen Grant. Byeway served as a page boy and then butler, living at Glen Grant House until his death in 1972 (outliving the Major by more than 40 years in the process).
When a new pair of stills were then installed at the nearby Glenrothes, the ghost of Byeway was spotted on two different occasions. University professor Cedric Wilson investigated and found the new stills unwittingly disturbed a leyline. He’s then said to have gone to the neighbouring graveyard to chat to Byeway’s gravestone, amicably resolving the issue. Still, many ‘toasts to the ghost’ have taken place since in order to avoid any more trouble.
MoMs spooky scale: 4/10. Byeway doesn’t mess around. Saw a problem, did some scaring, got it sorted. But he appears to have left for now, so not currently very spooky.
The many phantoms of Buffalo Trace
Don’t visit the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, at night. It’s had so many reports of ghosts that paranormal investigators from US TV show Ghost Hunters turned up, identifying 27 ghostly presences at the distillery. Buffalo Trace embraced its spooky side, offering ghost tours beginning at Warehouse C, where workers were once allegedly saved by a mysterious voice yelling “get out”, just as the building collapsed around them. Then at Stony Point Mansion, the home built in 1934 by Albert B. Blanton and the most haunted area of the distillery according to Ghost Hunters, employees will tell you they hear footsteps, feel an icy chill, and even recognise some ghostly humming or singing thought to be from the ghost of Blanton’s housekeeper Sarah…
MoMs spooky scale: 6/10. Some classic, old-school ghostly goings-on here, but not enough give me shivers. A further point deducted because 27 ghosts is just showing off.
The Spanish ghost of Glendronach Distillery
One day back in the ’70s at Glendronach Distillery a shipment of Oloroso sherry casks was being unloaded, a stowaway was spotted fleeing the scene from an empty cask. She was described as being small and dark, dressed in scarlet and black, wearing a full mantilla. This led to the legend of the beautiful, Spanish woman inhabiting the distillery, with numerous sightings and the noise of rustling skirts alerting workers to her presence. She’s said to frequent the nearby Glen House, specifically the GlenDronach room, and it’s also apparently easier to sense her after a few whiskies, especially if you are a single man.
MoMs spooky scale: 2/10. Hmmm. Yeah, the more I tell this story the more I realise it isn’t that spooky. “Oh poor me, a beautiful exotic woman visited me after a night of drinking whisky”. My heart bleeds, mate. You want to see something truly disturbing and Spanish, watch me practising my “dos cervezas, por favour” on holiday. I shiver just thinking about it.
Jura’s Twin Phantoms
For our final ghost story, we’re going back in time to 18th century Jura. In 1781, Laird Archibald Campbell outlawed distilling (that’s not the scary part). 29 years later, Campbell woke in the middle of the night to see a ghostly old woman hovering over his bed. She gave him such a strong telling off that it was said to persuade Campbell to reverse that decision and open a distillery at an old smuggler’s cave in 1810. To ensure that no more ghosts appear to chastise politicians, it’s said that a bottle of 16-year-old whisky is still left in a secret cave somewhere on the island.
The ghostly goings-on didn’t stop there, however. Fast-forward to 2010 and two journalists visited Jura on a ghost hunt, attaching a collar with a webcam to Elvis to see if they could catch any out. As you might have guessed, Elvis is the distillery cat, and with his cat-cam, he caught a ghostly woman. Psychic Joan Charles was called to investigate and she revealed the presence of Elizabeth Quinn, an authoritative and kind spirit. Former distillery manager, Willie Cochrane, confirmed there had been a teacher called Elizabeth who lived on the island many years before. We don’t know what she wanted. Probably whisky. Our kind of ghost!
MoMs spooky scale: 10/10. The cat-cam never lies.