United Distillers warehouseman

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The Independent Online
(Photograph omitted)

Billy Fowler, in black donkey jacket and the headgear workmates call his 'Lenin commie hot', is a warehouseman in the little-known Balmenach distillery near the village of Crondale in Speyside. Along with more than 700 Scottish employess of United Distillers, which is owned by Guinness, Mr Fowler learnt last week that he does not figure in the company's future plans. Balmenach is one of four malt distilleries and one grain distillery that are to be closed, along with eight bottling plants and a packaging facility. 'It has been here since 1824,' Mr Fowler says proudly, walking through the snow from the canteen down to the duty free warehouse that holds the huge, empty and ageing sherry barrels, which when filled add to the unique 'class one' taste of Balmenach. The distillery employs 14 people. Those made redundant by the re-organisation have been told they will be offered jobs at the remaining 27 distilleries that the company owns. But for Ian Gray, who works in the mash house (one of the first processes in malt whisky production), who three years ago bought one of the Balmenach cottages put up for sale by United Distillers, moving is not something he had anticipated. Now aged 34, he has worked at the distillery since 1979. He says what he will do now depends on the redundancy package he is offered. There is a clear, almost silent sadness as he speaks. 'Everyone thought this place was safe. My grandfather and father both worked here.'