“An Ancient Brewery of Aquavity”

O whisky! soul o’ plays an’ pranks!

Accept a bardie’s gratefu’ thanks!

When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks

Are my poor verses!
(Robert Burns, “Scotch Drink”)


An important part of Scottish heritage is Scotch Whisky (without an ‘e’). No surprise, a significant part of Forbes’ family heritage is its association with a famous Scottish whisky distillery.


The Ferintosh distillery near Inverness in Northern Scotland was both one of the oldest whisky works in Scotland and one with a unique position in Scottish history, tied to both the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. During the first event, the Forbes family suffered for their support of the new English monarchs, William and Mary, with some of their properties overrun and pillaged by the losers. In thanks for their loyalty, the new monarchs awarded Duncan Forbes, Third Lord of Culloden, a sweetheart deal to continue his “Trade of Brewing” at his “Ancient Brewery of Aquavity” at a far lower excise tax than that levied on his competitors.



The first page of an Act of the (Scottish) Parliament, giving “Duncan Forbess of Collodine [sic]” a special privilege to distill whiskey. The Ferintosh distillery had likely been in operation for several decades prior to the 1690 declaration.


The descendants of this Duncan Forbes continued to prove their loyalty to the monarchs in London. In 1745 the distillery owner, Duncan Forbes, Fifth Lord of Culloden House, took the part of the king against Bonnie Prince Charlie and raised a number of Highland companies to support the Whig cause. His lands at Culloden lay very close to the decisive battle of Culloden Moor that ended the uprising, but not before the Jacobite Pretender had commandeered Culloden House itself for two nights prior to the battle.



Lord Duncan Forbes, 1685-1747, painting probably by Jeremiah Davison. This Lord Forbes held illustrious positions in Scottish government, including the exalted title of President of the Court of Sessions, the highest civil court in that country. He is pictured here with his ceremonial robes and mace.


With the continuing favor of the English kings, Ferintosh whisky became widely and wildly popular throughout the country. One distillery grew into four and it is likely that Ferintosh accounted for the lion’s share of legal whisky distilled in Scotland in the 18th century. Sadly for whisky connoisseurs, the whole operation closed shortly after the sweetheart deal was scotched in 1784. Bobby Burns bemoaned the loss of the Ferintosh label toward the end of his aforementioned ode:


Thee, Ferintosh! O sadly lost!
Scotland lament frae coast to coast!
Now colic grips, an’ barkin’ hoast
May kill us a’
For loyal Forbes’ charter’d boast
Is taen awa!


Today foundation remnants of four distilleries can be seen on Forbes property near Inverness. The Ferintosh name lived on for a time, co-opted by a distillery down the road, Ben Wyvis.


While whisky distillation easily made the jump to the Americas with Scottish, Irish, and Scotch-Irish immigrants, there is no record of the Forbes family in America taking up the enterprise of their ancestors. Nonetheless, the recollection of those spirited times remained a source of pride to the family.
In 1847 Captain Robert Bennet Forbes, the builder of the Forbes House, made his famous relief expedition to Ireland during the Great Famine. In his memoirs, he shares the letter of a friend to his wife, comforting her as she appeared to stress over the undertaking. The writer has his historical facts a bit off – the charter was given in 1690, not in 1745 – but his intentions were well-meant:


I have told you before that your ancestor, the Lord President Duncan Forbes, had a monopoly for distilling whiskey, — “loyal Forbes’s chartered boast.” as R. Burns says. — for his services to government in the rebellion of 1745-6. We must find something equivalent for Bennet; say, a monopoly in the milk of human kindness, of which he has enough to supply the world. (Letter to Rose B. Forbes dated March 17, 1847, from G.S.H. in Personal Reminiscences, Robert Bennet Forbes)



Sources include:
Teimei Horiuchi, “Ryefield,” The Lost Distilleries of Scotland. http://lostdistillery.com/06ferintosh/ryefield.html
Glen Wyvis, “Built on History: Our Whisky Heritage.” https://glenwyvis.com/history
John MacDonald, “Smuggling in the Highlands,” in The Celtic Magazine, Vol. 11, 1886, via Google Books


■ Eleanor Boba