Leith, a district in Scotland just North of Edinburgh, has hundreds of years of distilling history. This ancient place, which is first mentioned in the Royal Charter during the construction of the Holyrood Abbey back in 1128, has since become a port town.
The port handles over 1.5 million tons of cargo every year, but residents could soon see a return to its days of distilling thanks to a new £5 million distillery construction project.
Two friends and entrepreneurs, Ian Stirling and Patrick Fletcher, have announced that they have purchased and secured a piece of land in Leith where they intend to build a £5 million distillery. This ends a search that took four years by the pair to locate the perfect place in the region, where they can set up and bring back this long-missed tradition.
The new distillery will be located within the port district of Edinburgh, right near the Royal Yacht Britannia – bringing together this ancient profession with the area’s latest economic powerhouse.
A Century-Long Hiatus
Should Fletcher and Stirling’s plan to bring back whisky distillery to Leith, it will be the end of an almost 100-year-long hiatus in the production of Scotch. Though, it is not the only proposal being put forward to bring back the industry. This will be the second malt whisky distillery that has been proposed for Leith, with David Robertson (the previous Macallan master distiller) beginning work on a Newmake Ltd distillery located just outside Holyrood Park.
The proposed distillery is expected to produce more than 400,000 liters of alcohol every year once it has reached its operational capacity. When complete, the site is also expected to boast a shop, as well as a floating bar and restaurant which could attract extra revenue as a tourist destination.
Talking about the plan, Fletcher explained “It took a long time to find the ideal site. Ocean Terminal bought into our vision when we had no money and only a plan. Leith was once the national hub for the Scotch industry and it’s really exciting to be restarting that tradition. Our business will boost the local economy by drawing more tourists and residents down to the harbor and providing many new jobs.”
The Race for the Edinburgh Whisky Throne
The Holyrood Park Distillery and Visitor Centre is currently well under way with its construction. Located nearby in Edinburgh, the distillery is a project being co-managed by aforementioned David Robertson, along with the founders of the Canadian Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Kelly and Rob Carpenter.
The work on the distillery began just months ago, and when operational, the plan is for the site to produce 53,000 liters of alcohol this year. This is significantly less than the Leith-based distillery’s plan for 400,000 liters per year – but as we know, quality always counts more than quantity in the whisky world. The single malt distillery is expected to be functioning and open to the public in 2018. Assuming the project arrives on time, it could be the first single malt distillery in the region since the Glen Sciennes distillery closed back in 1925.
The Sciennes distiller was renamed the Edinburgh Distillery in 1859 by Andrew Usher, but the region became best known for its whisky blenders, including William Sanderson & Sons and their Vat 69 Blend.
Like the Fletcher and Stirling distillery plan, Robertson intends to introduce extra attractions to the project. There is a distillery courtyard planned that may host weekend markets for local craft enthusiasts, which will bring more people to the area.
Talking about the project, Roberson said “After years of hard work, our team’s dream of bringing single malt whisky distilling back to Edinburgh is set to become a reality”.
The game is on – whichever Edinburgh distillery completes the project first will be the first distillery functioning for almost a century, and that attention will certainly help their brand move forward in this growing global whisky market. Though whoever makes it first, we’re confident that either of their whiskies can be enjoyed with our very own Sip Dark soapstone whiskey stones.
Some Local Knowledge
- The Sanderson Distillery was established in Leith in 1863, where it became famous for its Mountain Dew scotch blends. The distillers, in 1896, became the William Sanderson and Son Limited distillery, and its production was moved from Leith and into Queensferry.
- As well as distilling, the area was known for its whisky storage. Wine and whisky storage in Leith and Edinburgh goes back as far as the 1500s, with the Henderson Street vaults and more than 100 warehouses locally storing a wide range of local whiskies. The storage switched from brandy and wine storage in the 1880s when the production of wine almost completely halted in Europe.
More than 85 bonded warehouses still existed in Leith in the 1960s, which matured more than 90% of all Scotch whisky produced in the country.
- In the Vaults of Henderson street, keen whisky-loving tourists will find the Scotch Malt Whisky Society as well as the Anfora Wine Bar. Staying true to the area’s roots and the long history of the Vaults, Henderson Street remains a key tourist attraction for the area.
Henderson Street is also known for the stone tablet which is known as the Porters Stone – a stone carving that dates back to 1678, and visually describes the process of wine being unloaded and transported in Leith.
- While the port is an industry that has grown to be one of the biggest economic providers for the region, Leith has a long history with shipping and shipbuilding. The area specialized in the production of hotel ships and tug boats, which meant that the building of large commercial ships was moved region in 1988.