Holyrood Distillery: First look inside Edinburgh's newest whisky distillery

Those travelling to Edinburgh in the hopes of a wee dram with modern character are in for a treat as Holyrood Distillery open the first single malt whisky distillery in the city centre in almost a century.

Monday, 29th July 2019, 8:18 pm
Holyrood Distillery. Picture: Contributed
Holyrood Distillery. Picture: Contributed

The £6.7 million distillery has breathed new life into what was formerly the goods shed for St Leonards railway station, dating back to 1831. It is now a colourful and sensory experience for spirits lovers of all levels of expertise.

Holyrood Distillery is the notion of Canadian whisky enthusiast Rob Carpenter who, in 2013, first had the idea for a distillery and visitor experience in central Edinburgh. Rob, who founded the Canadian branch of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society together with his wife Kelly, has brought his vision to life in partnership with co-founder David Robertson, who has 25 years’ experience in the industry.

The building itself, which has now been repurposed to house both whisky and gin stills, retains its historic charm with original exposed stone walls throughout.

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Holyrood Distillery. Picture: Contributed

“Its been interesting for me getting the opportunity thanks to resurrect single malt whisky distilling in the city,” said David, “In Glasgow and other places like the United States, urban distilleries are the norm, and they were the norm in Scotland until the early 1900s, so for us to bring a craft distillery back to the city centre, I think it’s quite cool that as everyone over time has moved out, we’re trying to keep it in.”

The distillery focuses on innovation and the creation of robust flavours through different production approaches, initially on four flavour profiles: sweet, smoky, spicy and fruity / floral. This is clear from the tour’s first stop, the nosing room - designed specifically to test how well different flavours can be identified, where visitors can smell bottled aromas and try to identify the scents.

Guests then walk across a bridge which showcases the grandeur of their copper seven metre high stills which, in proportion to still volume, are the tallest stills in Scotland, and then enter the gin experience room where the focus is again on the robust flavours which make their product stand out.

Founder, Rob Carpenter said: “The whole thing, I hope, comes across as we don’t take ourselves too seriously, spirits should be fun, and I think there’s some pretentiousness around specifically whisky which I find off putting.

Holyrood Distillery. Picture: Contributed

“It’s meant to be enjoyed and shared and part of friendship and community, and while we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we do take our products seriously.”

The Holyrood Distillery team of 30 includes head distiller and astrophysicst, Dr Jack Mayo alongside distillers Ollie Salvesen and Elizabeth Machin, all three who are graduates of Heriot-Watt University’s renowned Brewing and Distilling course.

The team have the space to play with flavour and aromas to create a unique product without the pressure of a ‘heritage’ product. The spirits are young, fresh and vibrant, reflective of the heart of the distillery.

Visitors also get the chance to experience a replica of the whisky maturation room, where casks can be seen up close.

Holyrood Distillery. Picture: Contributed

Rob is especially thankful to the distillery’s neighbours, who have withstood the construction work over the past year. The space is tucked just off of the bustling streets of Edinburgh and offers a fantastic space for events and is full of opportunity for partnerships, markets and pop ups.

After the tour ends, visitors end in the bar where they can enjoy a taste of the spirits on offer, while being treated to a stunning and unrivalled view of Arthur’s Seat.

With spirits tourism on the rise in Scotland the founders have established themselves at a key time, and bring a unique and innovative twist to distilling in the Capital.