Whilst enjoying Edinburgh’s Fringe offerings, I took a moment out of my musical arts and falafel eating schedule to visit the city’s first [& very recently opened] distillery since the closure of Glen Sciennes in 1925.
Opened on 30th July 2019 [as announced on their twitter feed], Holyrood distillery is the vision of Rob & Kelly Carpenter, co-founders of the Canadian branch of the SMWS, and David Robertson of former Macallan master distiller.
Edinburg’s newest distillery is housed in a former goods shed on St. Leonard’s Lane, used by the railways up until 1831. Our tour guide Ali didn’t labour on the history of the original building nor use it as leverage to gain tenuous or false provenance for the distillery. Well played Holyrood. We move on, walking onto a stunningly designed walkway that takes visitors over the stills, under the lyne arms and past the condensers.
The walkway leads us to the lab where our noses are put to the test and Holyrood drive the #FlavourMatters message. From memory, Glenturret & Macallan [old distillery certainly], offer similar attractions.
We are told the smell part of our brain is closely located to the memory banks! Further reading: labroots.com
With regards to taste we discuss trigeminal [wiki], physical/biological reactions of flavour – onion tears, tannic mouth dryness and chill sweats for example. As per usual, I don’t do very well at spotting all the key flavours in these ‘laboratorised’ conditions. We move on.
Whilst experiments continue on the whisky front, Holyrood are cracking on with gin production in the meantime using incredibly neat, compact and very shiny apparatus that surely Caractacus Pott’s would have been incredibly proud of. This bijou setup allows Holyrood to produce enough spirit to fill around 450-500 bottles a week. They achieve this in one 12-13 hour run using a five shot concentrate technique. Using five times more botanicals than is regular, they make a dense concentrated solution coming in at around 80% abv that is added to neutral grain spirit before being spring-water diluted. The retort is used for the more delicate flavours that wouldn’t survive the initial boil. We try some!
Holyrood Dry Gin Batch 3  Ob. [btl #140/500] 43% [50cl]
Flavours include coriander, angelica, citrus and juniper amongst others.
- C: Very neat nose and crisp palate with a surprisingly long chew. Consistently flavoursome from start to finish. Recommended.
With a firm focus on innovation, Holyrood are experimenting with all aspects of the whisky process. You only have to see their cask ownership options to see where the innovations are taking place. Purchasers can chose:
- How long the barley is dried and roasted
- Which yeasts to use for fermentation and the length of time
- The distillation approach, cut points, flow rates and the distillation date
- Oak species, cask size and previous fill (bourbon, port, sherry, etc) for maturation and date we fill your cask.
Crisp in Alloa provide Holyrood’s malted barley but they are also playing with stouts, pale ale, brown and chocolate malts [Eden Mill springs to mind], as well as experimenting with alternative [lower yielding] barley strains and various toasting levels. Using standard malted barley, they can produce 575 litres of spirit per run. By contrast, when working with black malt, only three litres of spirit are realised – yes three!
- Semi lauter mash tun
- 6 washbacks (4 visable, 2 underneath)
- Fermentation around 60-70 hours
- The 5000 litre wash & 3750 litre spirit stills, both made by Speyside Copper Works, are the tallest stills in Scotland in relation to their volume.
- Head distiller is astrophysicist Jack Mayo [SW], who spent 3 years at Glasgow Distillery [SW].
- Bourbon and European sherry casks will shape Holyrood’s whisky profile in the main though there are plans to use the odd mizunara cask or two.
In the mock warehouse we are poured a dram in the form of Glen Scotia’s Double Cask [WLP], which is offered as the whisky closest resembling the profile Holyrood are aiming for at this time. I’m surprised that it’s Glen Scotia over say Springbank, or even Loch Lomond given those yeast experiments that include champagne and chardonnay as well as rum yeasts.
Tasted blind, I would never have guessed Glen Scotia. After a few Speyside-bound distillery guesses, I nearly said Loch Lomond when offered to think in a more Westerly direction, but wrongly offered Ben Nevis instead. As for the Glen Scotia, their Double Wood is proving to be a consistently decent expressions [83 points again].
We place our preference votes on the flavour board before ending up in the bar from where views of Arthur’s Seat can be taken whilst enjoying a dram or two. I shall return next year to see how the innovations are coming along.