August 28, 2015 – The last malt whisky distillery in Scotland’s capital city closed 90 years ago this year when Edinburgh’s Glen Sciennes distillery went under. Now, longtime whisky maker David Robertson and a group of investors have received the green light from Edinburgh Council to move ahead with plans to turn a historic railway building into a malt whisky distillery. The Council-owned Engine Shed building was last used as a cafe and bakery, but Robertson fell in love with the site because it resembles a traditional distillery malting barn.
“There are urban distilleries popping up in a number of distant cities across the world, but it seems very odd to me that the country of whisky’s birth, arguably Scotland, its capital city doesn’t have one…so delighted to try and at least think about putting that right,” Robertson said in a telephone interview. While the Council approved a lease for the distillery project, the backers will still need planning approval and are raising the estimated £2 million ($3.1 million USD) needed to construct the distillery along with a visitors center and event space. Robertson believes the distillery could begin production in mid-2016 if everything goes smoothly, but projects a mid-2017 opening as a more reasonable timetable given the industry’s booming demand for distillery components. “There are a number of suppliers, whether it’s Scottish-based, Continental Europe, or maybe even the States,” Robertson said. “We’re speaking to a number of different suppliers just now, both from a mash tun point of view, a fermentation point of view, and arguably the most important part is obviously the copper stills.”
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s entire interview with David Robertson:
Robertson previously served as distillery manager at The Macallan, and later with Whyte & Mackay in charge of the company’s rare malts portfolio as Innovation Director. He describes the rest of the investor group as “like-mined individuals that are excited about bringing single malt distilling back to the capital city.” While the North British grain whisky distillery has been a fixture on Edinburgh’s west side for decades, the nearest malt whisky distillery is Diageo’s Glenkinchie Distillery in East Lothian.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include the audio of our interview with David Robertson.