‘Dramming‘ was theoretically illegal, but excise officers usually turned a blind eye to the practice. It consisted of regularly supplying the distillery workforce with glasses of whisky which they drank while on duty.
The size of the drams and the frequency with which they were distributed depended on the brewer and the distillery manager, and there was a tradition that very dry and unpleasant jobs were rewarded with an extra dram. These tasks could vary from helping unload a lorry to climbing inside boilers and chipping off the burnt-on oil.
The introduction in October 1967 of the breathalyser test and drink-driving legislation probably ended dramming, along with an increasing awareness of the dangers of excessive drinking, and particularly excessive drinking in a place filled with machinery and flammable spirit.
Many brewers drammed the men – often from a large horn – with ‘clearic,’ or new-make spirit, sometimes known as ‘fresh,’ but more benevolent excise officers would allow them to use older, maturing whisky. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the men preferred clearic to mature spirit.
In the days of dreaming, old distillery workers would be known as ‘hoggieman‘, because they had been piled with the equivalent of a hogshead (250 liters) of whisky during their working lives.
It was not uncommon for distillery workers to want more than their allocated drams, and many ingenious ways were found to smuggle spirits out of the site. Rubber hot water bottles would be filled with whisky and strapped around workers’ waists beneath their coats, or copper tubes – known as ‘dogs’ – would be filled and secreted down trouser legs or the side of Wellington boots. If the spirit was for purely personal consumption, the might escape detection for a considerable length of time, but if, as often happened it was offered for sale in pubs, then the excise service’s intelligence network usually got to hear about it, and retribution was swift and sharp.