Distillery Focus

The King in the Wings

As Ian Macleod Distillers plans to resurrect one of Scotland’s most cherished distilleries, we have a look behind the scenes
By Rob Allanson
Down in the depths of the washbacks
Down in the depths of the washbacks
There is something intriguing about derelict buildings, that whiff of decay, rust, patina and cobwebs but also, in the case of Rosebank, the light of hope.

Before Ian Macleod Distillers starts to bring this ‘King of the Lowlands’ back to its former glory, the company sent in a photographer to capture the time capsule of a mothballed distillery, where things other than Mother Nature have stood still since 1993.

What has been captured by the photography firm Contagious is amazing. Washbacks, with their switchers rusting slowly, abandoned warehousing with the dust dancing in the wintery sunshine and the peeling paint and smashed window of the workshop. If you are a fan of whisky, there is a romance to the place, a faded glory that now stands on the edge of being revitalised.

Ian Macleod MD Leonard Russell said that since the news had been released, the response to Rosebank’s return had been overwhelming.

He added, “We got so many messages of congratulations from Falkirk residents too many of whom fondly remember the distillery when it was working and also from a few people who worked there before. Lots of people have already registered on our website to keep up with our developments and to hear about our future, very limited releases of old Rosebank. I am so pleased with this reaction and I don’t underestimate the responsibility we have undertaken in reviving Rosebank to its original glory.

“Rosebank has been dubbed ‘the King of the Lowlands’ and the late whisky writer, Michael Jackson had no doubt that it was one of the ‘greats’. He described its demise as “a grievous loss”, while fellow critic, Gavin D Smith, wrote of the region’s whiskies having, “subtle charm, and none is more charming than the elegant, floral, aromatic Rosebank produced by a triple distillation process in the traditional Lowland manner.”

That traditional Lowland character is set to make a comeback as Mr Russell revealed that the company had worked closely with former owner Diageo to aquire the original plans for the site from its archives.

If you are a fan of whisky, there is a romance to the place, a faded glory that now stands on the edge of being revitalised


He explained, “We were really fortunate to get the original distillery plans back and these will be extremely helpful to allow us to replace all of the distillation equipment with like for like and more often than not from the original suppliers.
"We will produce Rosebank Lowland single malt in exactly the same way as it is known, using the famous triple distillation and worm tub condensers. This way we ensure the revival of its classic style and taste.

"I can understand Diageo’s reasons for closing it back then because at that time the market for single malt was still small, not growing and there was general overproduction in the industry. Many distilleries were being mothballed or closed at this time as the big distillers focussed on consolidation and economies of scale. Happily the demand for single malts is growing again now and consumers are looking for genuinely interesting and well made brands. Small is beautiful again!
"Thus Rosebank with it’s triple distillation, worm tub condensers and small scale production should be even more relevant to today’s and tomorrow’s consumers.”

The history on the present site begins in 1840, when James Rankine acquired the maltings of the Camelon Distillery, which were on the opposite side of the canal to the main distillery.

When Alfred Barnard, the grandfather of whisky tourists, visited the site in 1886 he noted in his book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom the fact that it was set across two sites one on each side of the canal with a swing bridge linking the pair. The malt was produced in the former Camelon maltings on the west side of the canal, then would be transferred over to the distillery on the east side by means of the swing bridge.

He also noted that the warehouse at the time had storage for 500,000 gallons of pure malt.

He paints an interesting picture of the site, “We started early in the morning and spent the best part of the day at this interesting Distillery, Rosebank is one mile from Falkirk, and half a mile from the River Carron, and is built on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal. It is not so isolated as many of the distilleries are, being placed by the main road, on which there is a constant stream of traffic, and also fronting the canal, where boats and steamers are continually passing to and fro. The policies of Bantaskine are adjacent to the works, and form a lovely wooded background to the distillery, while on the left the grounds of Rosebank House, with their fine old elm trees, in which rooks have built their nests, add materially to the picture.”

Although the scene set out by Barnard may have changed, Mr Russell explained that the company would be looking to secure and celebrate the history of the site.

He added, “The distillery has a very special place in Scotland’s whisky heritage and we are committed to ensuring this is the case.

“Our investment goes way beyond production,” he continued. “We are looking to develop a Rosebank visitor centre to help tell the story of this remarkable whisky – as well as safeguard the atmospheric Canal side Bond and its important heritage. Falkirk is definitely on the up with amazing attractions such as the Falkirk wheel and the Helix (Kelpies). Hopefully the new Rosebank visitor centre will sit well alongside these existing attractions and further boost tourism in Falkirk.”

For those that cannot wait for this Lowland beauty to make its phoenix debut, one could speculate on a release date, Ian Macleod has acquired some precious existing casks.

“Over the coming months we will carefully review Rosebank’s rare stocks with a view to releasing some truly scarce and extraordinary whiskies,” said Mr Russell.

“We have no doubt that demand for these releases will be exceptionally high so we already have plans in place to make sure collectors and Rosebank lovers can keep up to date.”

For more information and to keep up with the developments at the site visit www.rosebankwhisky.co.uk
An abandoned warehouse
An abandoned warehouse
The top of the washbacks
The top of the washbacks
An engineer checks the plans
An engineer checks the plans
Outside the distillery chimney
Outside the distillery chimney
One of the switches on the washbacks
One of the switches on the washbacks