Clan Hay Whisky from a Distillery Founded by a Hay

During the sixty plus years of the Clan Hay Society's existence, we have twice produced our own branded bottles of malt whisky.

The society will shortly launch a new range of Clan Hay whisky, this time distilled and bottled on our behalf by a distillery of exceptional quality which was founded by a member of Clan Hay.

HRH the Duke of York at Glenfarclas with Brand Director George Grant (left)

The Glenfarclas distillery, at Ballindalloch on Speyside, has been owned by the Grant family for the last 150 years.  However, it is not always recalled that Glenfarclas malt was established as long ago as 1836 by Robert Hay, tenant farmer of Rechlerich on the Ballindalloch estate, the site where the distillery has stood ever since.

It was a family farm.  Robert Hay was born at Rechlerich in November 1806, the son of Peter or Patrick Hay, and his wife, Margaret Cumming.  (The names Peter and Patrick were interchangeable in upland Banffshire then - a relic of the area's, at the time, relatively recent Gaelic past.)

In 1848, Robert married Jane Dallas, a daughter of Lewis Dallas, an innkeeper in nearby Dalnashaugh.  We might speculate that he had met Jane through supplying whisky to her father.  (It is often forgotten that Dallas is a local name to this area; the great Texan city takes its name from the village of Dallas, only a few miles distant from Ballindalloch.)

Documents from the 1840s and '50s demonstrate Robert Hay's business acumen and testify to the success he made of Glenfarclas.  Then, out of the blue, he sold the distillery in 1865 to John Grant, another tenant farmer on the Ballindalloch estate.  Robert Hay then acquired a shop at 251 High Street, Elgin, where he operated as a grocer and spirit dealer.

Glenfarclas distillery at Rechlerich, Inveravon

The reasons for the sale are unclear.  They were not in any financial distress, but it is possible that both Robert and his wife were in failing health.  Although relatively young, both were dead within three years of the sale, Robert in July 1867 from "organic disease of the stomach" and Jane less than a year later, from breast cancer.  Possibly the life of a retailer in town seemed preferable to the hard graft of farming in upland Banffshire to the ailing Robert and his wife.

Their only surviving son, Peter, was orphaned at the age of 13.  In 1871, aged 16, we find Peter lodging in the house of his uncle, a woodcutter named William Dallas, when Peter was employed as a jeweller in Elgin.

After this, Peter disappears from the written record.  It is possible that, unencumbered by family responsibilities at home, and like many other young men of his generation, he left to seek his fortune in North America or Australasia.

But his father's legacy survives and thrives to this day, still in the hands of the same Grant family who bought Glenfarclas from Robert Hay.  They are now represented by George Grant, six generations removed from his ancestor John who acquired the distillery from the Hays in 1865.

Contact Malcom Hay on to secure your cases of Clan Hay malt, direct from the distillery Robert Hay founded all those years ago, and still a proudly independent, family owned business.