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The Rise and Fall of Rosebank Distillery

Rosebank is as mystical as a unicorn for some of us, perhaps a holy grail of sorts. It nestled along the banks of Forth and Clyde canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow, in the town of Camelon. As a closed distillery, its reputation grew as whisky lovers recognised the excellent liquid that the distillery once produced. There was, therefore, a lot of rejoicing, when Ian McLeod Distillers announced the intention of reopening Rosebank Distillery in October 2017. The esteemed company purchased the site from the Scottish Canals and the trademarks from Diageo with the full intention of rebuilding this once majestic Lowland distillery.

The Humble Beginnings of Rosebank Distillery

Historical records pointed to a distillery in Falkirk that existed as far back as 1798. Founded by the Stark brothers, this first distillery was the forefather to the currently mothballed Rosebank distillery. In 1817, a man named James Robertson opened another distillery nearby and called it Rosebank. The exact location was unclear, but it could be the same site as the current one. Unfortunately, the early Rosebank distillery closed permanently in 1819.

In 1827, John Stark (one of the Stark brothers) opened a distillery on the west bank of the Forth and Clyde canal and named it Camelon Distillery (after the town). He took charge of the distillery until his death in 1836. The distillery then passed to Thomas Gunn and his father. After four years, in 1840, a man named James Rankine approached the Gunns to lease or purchase the Camelon distillery malting grounds (on the east side of the canal). The deal went through, and Rankine set up a new distillery under the Rosebank name.

The Rise of Rosebank

The new Rosebank proliferated and expanded in 1845. Rankine also brought out the Gunns when Camelon distillery went bankrupt in 1861. He demolished the old distillery and left only the malting floors on the west side of the canal. By 1864, Rankine rebuilt the distillery, creating Rosebank as a distillery set across two sites on each side of the Forth and Clyde canal with a swing bridge to link them.

In 1886, Alfred Barnard visited the distillery, describing it as a distillery “set across two sites”. The former Camelon distillery’s malting floors on the west side of the canal produced the malt before transferring it to the distillery on the east side with the help of the swing bridge. Barnard also noted that Rosebank distillery had storage of 500,000 gallons of whisky in their warehouse.

By 1894, the Rosebank Distillery Ltd came into existence as further evidence of its success. It was also one of the many companies that amalgamated to form the Scottish Malt Distillers. The group later became part of DCL.

The Steady Fall of Rosebank

Rosebank was a premier Lowland whisky, but United Distillers decided to mothball the distillery in 1993. The company said that the distillery was no longer commercially viable as it needed a £2m upgrade to comply with the European standards of the time. Hence, the distillery closed with many historical features of whisky production within.

United Distillers sold off the warehouses on the west banks of the canals, and the new owners redeveloped it by 1988. In 2002, Diageo sold the distillery buildings and contents to British Waterways while the malting floors become a housing development. 2008 saw some hope for Rosebank’s revival as the new owners made plans to reopen Rosebank in Falkirk with its original equipment. Unfortunately, during the Christmas and New Year period of 2008/2009, metal thieves stole the original Rosebank stills, together with all the other material. Efforts of recovery were in vain.

The Planned Revival of Rosebank

The plans of revival continued despite the stolen equipment, culminating in the approval of the Scottish Government. News of setting the new building near the early distillery of 1798, near Laurieston, abound. Rumours float around with the hopes of the new distillery releasing its whisky under the Rosebank name, but Diageo, who owns the trademark denied it. In the meanwhile, it continued to release limited bottles of the original Rosebank whisky.

Finally, in October 2017, Lan MacLeod Distillers bought the Rosebank trademark from Diageo, purchase the land from the Scottish Canals and confirms the re-building of the Rosebank Distillery. The new distillery will produce the whisky in its old style, with equipment modelling after its original stills.

The Rosebank Whisky

Flora and Choc do not profess to drink many of the Rosebank whisky, but we have tried a few. Geek Choc loves Rosebank, and he believes that the new distillery will do well if it models the old style. Geek Flora agrees that Rosebank is a premium malt on its own, but she doesn’t like it as much as she loves Littlemill.

We did a couple of reviews of Rosebank earlier this week. The first one is an official bottling by Diageo – a 21-year-old whisky under the Roses series. The second is an independent bottling by Blackadder – a 14 years old cask strength Rosebank. Both have their merits, with Geek Flora liking the official bottling better and Geek Choc liking the independent bottling more.

The Future of Rosebank

We hope that the new Rosebank will be as successful as the old. With Ian MacLeod Distillers, we expect the distillery to flourish and grow under their able hands.

 

A Short Story about Saint Magdalene Distillery

Saint Magdalene, also known as Linlithgow, was a Lowland distillery that had its heydays back in the 1800s-1900s. It was a rather large distillery that occupied the coveted position between the Union Canal and the railway line. The distillery had both its railway line and pier, which was something that other distilleries did not have.

History of Saint Magdalene

Saint Magdalene was one of the five distilleries within the town of Linlithgow and outlasted every one of them. Sadly, it followed the paths of the other four distilleries. Sebastian Henderson built Saint Magdalene in the mid-1700s.  He aimed to oppose the Bulzion distillery that opened earlier.  Nothing much was known about the distillery in its early days. The fate of Saint Magdalene changed when distiller Adam Dawson bought the distillery in 1798.

Adam was an experienced distiller who operated the Bonnytoun distillery nearby. He transferred his operations to Saint Magdalene after purchasing the distillery. As the years passed, Dawson’s business grew by leaps and bounds, and he expanded the distillery to absorb the lands of the defunct Bonnytoun distillery. The distillery stretched across 10 acres of land in its most successful years.

Saint Magdalene in the early 2oth

The Dawson family owned the distillery until 1912 when the family ran into financial issues. Faced with a decline in the market and the intense competition within the Scottish whisky industry, the Dawson family liquidated their company, A&J Dawson. With the liquidation, Saint Magdalene had to go. Distiller Company Ltd (DCL) bought the distillery and further licensed it to William Greer and Co. By 1914, Saint Magdalene joined four other distilleries to become the Scottish Malt Distillers. The other four distilleries were Glenkinchie, Clydesdale, Rosebank and Grange.

Closed for Good

DCL (now Diageo) continued to operate Saint Magdalene throughout much of the 1900s, but unfortunately, the distillery closed down in 1983. Saint Magdalene was one of the nine distilleries that were closed by the company. Diageo removed the stocks and renovated a part of the distillery into residential flats in the early 1990s.

Nonetheless, you can still see the malting barn and kiln at the original site, as they are C grade listed buildings (under protection). The pagoda roof (you can see it in the above picture) is the last reminder that this was once the magnificent Saint Magdalene distillery.

Saint Magdalene (Linlithgow) Whiskies

Saint Magdalene (Linlithgow) whiskies may not be affordable, but they are mostly good whiskies which you can try at whisky bars that serve old and rare whiskies. For example, we had a pleasant experience at The Swan Song where we got to taste a (Signatory Vintage) Linlithgow 1982 (25 years old). The sweet and fruity experience was not something to forget quickly! If you look to own a bottle, watch out for them in auction sites but do be prepared to pay heavily for a bottle.

 

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A Brief History of Littlemill Distillery

Littlemill Distillery was one of the mysterious distilleries in Scotland in which we do not have a clear idea of its founding year. Rumours have it that George Buchanan of Glasgow founded the distillery after he took over the Auchentorlie Estate in the 1950s. George built Littlemill Distillery together with the houses that he constructed for the excise officers on site. If the dates were right, Littlemill Distillery was the oldest distillery in Scotland.

History of Littlemill Distillery

The history of Littlemill Distillery is long and adventurous. It all started with George Buchanan in 1772 (so it seems). The distillery then went through a period of rapid instability between 1817 to 1857 where it changed hands multiple times. Below is a short timeline of how it happened:

1817 – Matthew Clark & Co. bought Littlemill Distillery

1823 – Jane Macgregor became the licensee of Littlemill after the Custom and Excise Act of 1823

1840 – Hector Henderson took over the distillery (He also founded Caol Ila Distillery)

1875 – William Hay bought the distillery.

Littlemill saw new stability after the Hay family took over the reins. The distillery was rebuilt, expanded and improved by the family. They remained in charge until 1913, when neighbouring grain producer, Yoker Distillery Co. bought Littlemill. With the Hay family gone, the distillery fell into a period of instability again. Blenders, Charles Mackinlay, as well as J&G Thompson, were owners of Littlemill before selling it to the first of its American owners.

The succession of American Ownership

In 1931, Duncan Thomas, the first of Littlemill’s American owners, bought the distillery. Duncan ran the distillery under his company “Littlemill Distillery Co.”. He stopped the triple distillation that was (and still are) popular in the Lowlands and changed the direction of the distillery for a double distillation. He changed malting methods by installing a Saladin box with two ventilation towers and a single kiln. Duncan also introduced innovative hybrid stills with aluminium-coated bodies and rectifying columns to gain better control of his distillation. The changes allowed the distillery to produce three different whiskies – Littlemill (light and unpeated), Dunglas (unpeated full-bodied) and Dumbuck (heavily peated).

Barton Brands (based in Chicago) became a shareholder in Littlemill Distillery in 1959. The injected funds from Barton allowed the building of Loch Lomond Distillery in 1965 and eased the supply problem. By 1971, Barton Brands bought out Duncan Thomas’ share, and Littlemill Distillery went along in the deal.

Mothballed

Littlemill Distillery continued to produce three different whiskies until 1984 when Barton Brands was bought over by Argyll Group. The new owners mothballed the distillery. Argyll then sold the distillery to Gibson International (Barton’s Scottish arm) in 1989. Littlemill reopened and operated until 1992 when Gibson International went bankrupt and mothballed the distillery. In 1994, the banks liquidated Gibson International, and Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd bought Littlemill Distillery. However, they did not reopen Littlemill. As the owners also bought Loch Lomond Distillery in 1986, they removed the stills from Littlemill and moved them to Loch Lomond.

Shutter for life

After the new owners emptied Littlemill Distillery, they briefly contemplated running the distillery as a museum. However, they dropped the idea and shuttered the distillery for life in 1996. The owners sold it to a developer in 2004. Unfortunately, the emptied distillery caught fire shortly afterwards. Nothing was left on site when they finally put out the fire.

A housing development now sits on the site of what was once Littlemill Distillery.

Littlemill Whiskies

The distillery may be gone, but the whiskies are still floating in the market. There are both official bottlings, and independent bottlings for Littlemill and some of these bottles are going at high asking prices. Prevailing prices for an independent bottling of Littlemill can be as high as SGD$500-$600. While it does not cost as much as a Port Ellen, it is still a hefty sum to pay!

It is a pity that Barton Brands discontinued both Dunglas and Dumbuck in 1972, so whatever is left now are the bottlings for Littlemill, the distillery’s namesake. If you ever spot a Dunglas or a Dumbuck bottle in an auction, do check the authenicity before bidding!