In 1777 the Kilbagie Distillery was opened by James Stein.

A corn mill had been established there in 1720 but distilling was more profitable. Going on to produce thousands of gallons of spirit a year, it was not without its controversy.

Stein was indicted at the High Court in Edinburgh on a charge of bribery ‘or attempting to bribe Mr John Bonnar, Solicitor of Excise.’

Bribery was not uncommon when whisky was involved in 18th century Scotland. On 2nd September 1785, Bonnar claimed that Stein had ‘thrust into his pocket…a paper parcel containing 500l. sterling in bank notes.’

It was claimed that inside the parcel was written the message ‘this is to be repeated once a year.’

The jury returned a guilty, or rather ‘proven,’ verdict regarding the packet of money but ‘did not find the intention of seducing or corrupting the said Mr John Bonnar proven.’

Following the trial, Stein countersued for losses he had incurred during the inquiry and subsequent trial.

In 1777 Stein made history by exporting 2000 gallons of whisky to England to be made into gin.

He had his sights on the English gin market and in the 1780s produced around 5000 gallons of Holland’s Gin per day.

In the Statistical Account of 1795, the Rev Robert Moodie said of Kilbagie ‘No situation could have been more eligible for a distillery than Kilbagie; and it was erected in the most substantial manner.

The buildings occupy a space of above 4 acres of ground; all surrounded by a high wall. The barns for malting are of a prodigious size and are 4 stories in height.

A small rivulet runs through the middle of the works, and drives a threshing mill, and all the grinding mills necessary for the distillery; besides supplying with water a canal, which communicates with the river Forth, of about a mile in length, cut for the purpose of conveying both the imports and exports of the distillery.’

Kilbagie like its sister distillery Kennetpans, owned by John Stein Junior by this time, faced difficult times with the coming of the Licencing Act of 1786 and its enforcement.

This was devastating, not just for Kilbagie but for most of Scotland’s distilleries.

A duty of sixpence a gallon was introduced on all Scotch spirits sent to England following uproar from English distillers, who wanted their share of the long gin trade.

The Scots had pretty much had the monopoly until this Act was introduced. Year on year excise was raised until in 1793, when it reached £9 a gallon of spirit.