As the news broke this week of Ian Macleod Distillers’ plans to reopen the mothballed Rosebank distillery in Falkirk, Visitor Assistant at the Scotch Whisky Experience Finlay Duff looks at the burgeoning growth of whisky distilleries in the Lowlands of Scotland…
“Be a Sassenach, teuchter or anything in between, no one denies Edinburgh to be the hub of the country with a magnetic pull to all. And why not? At its highest point stands the domineering structure of Edinburgh Castle in all its regal glory book-ended by the parliament at the foot of the Royal Mile. The people and the princes all immortalised in one mile of cobbles.
Through those cobbles once used to flow whisky, reduced these days to merely a trickle (it was said that there were once 400 illicit still in the capital). Scotland boasts no less whisky than it once had but that whisky allure is firmly rooted in the north, and anyone wishing to fill their boots (or their quaichs) now travels towards Speyside, the Highlands and the Western Islands.
This may not persist to be the case, as the rejuvenation of the south is already in motion. Scotland is home to five whisky producing regions; Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown. The Lowland region is defined, like the others, by strong geographical features with a line crossing the map from the Firth of Clyde on the west coast to the Firth of Tay on the east. In the south the region extends to the border between Scotland and England.
Kingsbarns Distillery in Fife and Clydeside Distillery in Glasgow are just a couple of upcoming whisky distilleries adding to the Lowlands, whose number currently remains a single figure. Flavours found in Lowland whiskies are characteristically light and fruity, with aromas of grass and citrus abounding: Glenkinchie, Auchentoshan and Ailsa Bay are some of the most notable Lowland whisky distilleries, all with those distinctive Lowland flavours. However, the outcrops of fledgling whisky distilleries are nowhere more prominent than the Scottish Borders.
Less than an hour by train from Edinburgh, the Borders are already worth visiting for the 11th century abbeys, the home of Sir Walter Scott, or for finding out the reason why the roman emperor Hadrian was so keen to put up a wall to keep the people out. The reopening of the historic railway, initially constructed in 1849 and revived just a few years ago, boasts some of the finest views from any railway in Scotland. The whisky industry now seeks to sweeten this rich treat even further, and this convenient connection will undoubtedly strengthen the hand of the Lowland distilleries.
Annandale Distillery, situated in Annan just west of Gretna Green, is making waves with its recent 2015 spirit releases: Man O’Words, and Man O’Sword; one unpeated, the other peated, both are refreshing new examples of the Lowland spirit meeting contemporary distillers’ craft. Annandale reopened in 2014 having been rescued in 2007 after a near 90-year closure: you can visit Annandale Distillery for a whisky tour and explore how they make their famous Robert Burns-inspired Scotch.
Mossburn Distillers, who are responsible for the upcoming Torabhaig distillery, the second distillery to be established on Skye, have planning permission for a distillery to be built in the Border town of Jedburgh. This £40 million investment is one of the largest start-up investments ever seen in a Scottish distillery.
Another among the first legally distilled whiskies in the Scottish Borders in 200 years is The Three Stills Company. This relatively new company has established a distillery in the historic town of Hawick, with plans to translate its rich legacy of producing some of the finest and silkiest textiles and cashmere in the country into a fine and silky spirit.
While the distilleries have not commented on their proposed specific flavour profile, they are likely to follow the typical Lowland style, the likes of which is typically described as ‘aperitif: light and delicate, offering a typically malty whisky with an undertone of citrus.
In essence this had been a period of anticipation. The Lowland whisky giant is stirring from its slumber and we can expect it to awaken in the near future. For the meantime do indulge in the north and its spirit culture, enjoy Edinburgh and all its charms. Visit the Borders and fall in love with all it has to offer, a love that will no doubt pull you back once the region flows once more with the water of life.”
Find out more about the features and flavours of Lowland Scotch whisky by taking a tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience. Find out more here.
*Edit: The original blog post made reference to R&B Distillers’ plans to construct a distillery in the Borders town of Peebles, which were put on hold in October 2018.