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Royal Brackla

Brackla Distillery was founded on the Cawdor Estate, near Nairn, in 1812 by Captain William Fraser of Brackla, a former soldier, invalided out of the army the previous year. We know quite a bit about him, thanks to the testimony of one Joseph Pacy, appointed excise officer to Brackla Distillery in 1838, who published his Reminiscences of a Gauger in 1873. It is clear that they did not get on…
“…the personal appearance of the captain, something striking, not readily to be forgotten. He was a tall, muscular, big-framed man. His eyes were large and full, but not clear nor expressive. His voice was deep and somewhat husky, and when he spoke it was in a commanding way, especially to those of an inferior position in life to himself. I was not charmed by his manner.”

William Fraser was sixty-one when Pacy took up his position. They were chalk and cheese: Pacy the dutiful and thrifty civil servant, opinionated, self-righteous and something of a martinet; the Captain a peppery old soldier, an imperious ex-India hand, possibly still suffering from the wounds which had invalided him out of the regular army. A proud, independent-minded Highlander, impatient of authority (especially government authority,) conscious of his social standing. `
In spite of being chairman of the bench of magistrates for Nairn, he thought nothing of flouting the excise laws: he was fined £50 in 1827, £300 in 1831 and £500 in 1836, and subsequently William Fraser & Co were fined £200 in 1839 and £600 in 1844. We do not know the nature of the offences, but Pacy remarks:
The captain, who had been accustomed to command until it became part of his nature, chafed sorely at being compelled to submit to laws enforced by a poor humble Gauger. He did not or seemed not to understand that his military rank was not to be taken into account in his capacity as a distiller… It was impossible to cultivate a friendly spirit with the captain”.
In truth, the problem was that the Captain’s standards of quality were not recognised by the law. Pacy continues: “His whisky had a great name; it fetched the best price in the market. It was kept in stock long enough to improve its flavour, but in securing age he lost something by evaporation…. this was a great grief to him, as he had the tax to pay on it. He considered it no wrong to make up this deficiency irrespective of law. He was not alone in that view; and this was the chief if not the sole cause of our long and bitter strife.” A typical Highlander, Fraser was proud of his name and his standing in society:
The captain was a man of influence… and otherwise exercised considerable power in the county…To his friends he was warm-hearted, and to his dependents generous, - those of them who could submit to his impatient temper; and had I belonged to that class I should have shared his favours.”
Pacy also remarks, perhaps with a trace of bitterness: “He was a regular guest in the Earl of Cawdor’s family”, and here lies the clue to how he managed to bring his whisky to the attention of King William IV, who granted him a Royal Warrant, the first ever given to a whisky.

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