In the early 19th century, due to the heavy taxes on spirit production imposed by the government, many whisky producers were forced to operate illegally. The area around Glengoyne was full of hills and forests which provided excellent cover for the distillers. Records show that at least eighteen illicit whisky stills were operating in the area.
In the 1820s an Act of Parliament was passed, which reduced the cost of the licence required to distil, and the duty payable on spirit sales. Shortly after the introduction of the 'Excise Act of 1823' (or 'Walsh Act') the first of these illicit stills came into official existence, with Glengoyne following later in 1833. Although Glengoyne only officially existed from 1833 and no records exist from before this date, it is believed that distilling on the site pre-dates that with a local historian writing that the smoke of "illicit stills" was visible in the area in the early 19th century.