Edinburgh’s reputation for distilling some of the best spirits on the planet stretches back for generations. With more than 100 working distilleries in operation to this day, it’s no wonder that a growing number of craft producers are choosing to make the capital their home.
The first recorded distillation of Scotch whisky was as early as 1494, with the earliest incarnation of known as uisge beatha, which literally translates as the ‘water of life’. It was the product of a primitive distillation technique, a far cry from the methods used today. Production of the whisky we know and love today can be traced more directly back to 1505, as King James IV gave the city’s infamous surgeon-barbers the right to exclusively distil whisky for use as an anaesthetic. Due to its medicinal qualities and reputation as a ‘poor man’s drink’, whisky was only discovered by the middle and upper classes in the 1880s, an unearthing that officially put Scotland on the map as a port for handling grain.
Almost a century later the distilleries that had sprung up throughout the city were beginning to close as competition from other parts of the world made it harder and harder for businesses to turn a profit. As a result, the site of many of the whisky distilleries were repurposed or knocked down and rebuilt as offices, blocks of flats or apartment buildings.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and the taste for Scotch whisky has returned in spades. In little more than a decade, the export of Scotch whisky has trebled, making it the UK’s single largest export.
But it’s not just the big businesses that are seeing a resurgence, the distillation of spirits as a whole is finding its feet in Scotland – and Edinburgh is right at the forefront of that trend. Rather than trying to follow the lead of other Scottish products, such as the famous Speyside single malt whiskies distilled in the North East of the country (with their light, sweet flavours), the resurgence of the distillery industry in Edinburgh has included gin and rum, courtesy of some fantastic craft producers.
One of the brightest new spirits on the market is Pickering’s Gin, distilled in what used to be the dog kennels at Summerhall (don’t worry, the kennels have been cleaned out now). The product of hardwork from founders Marcus Pickering and Matthew Gammell, Pickering’s Gin is part of a movement that is making gin the “in” drink in the capital right now.
Not far away from Summerhall, The Spencerfield Spirit Company has a mission to produce small-batch craft gin and whisky with a strong story and sense of heritage behind it.
Nearby West Lothian is also an important location for craft production, and home to North British’s distillery and warehouse. As any whisky boffin will know North British started as an independent group of whisky blenders back in 1885, so it’s no newbie to the market, but its recent change of ownership – it is now jointly operated by Diageo and Edrington Group – means that it can continue producing the grain spirit which is vital to the blended whisky market.
The future of artisan, handcrafted whiskies looks to be in good hands with plans for the new Holyrood Park Distillery well underway, located next to Tynecastle Stadium. Experts and whisky lovers alike predict great things for the whisky industry, with increasing activity expected in the coming months and years.
The great thing about many of these companies is that distilling goes hand in hand with education. Tours and tasting sessions allow customers to develop a deeper understanding of the processes in spirit production, not to mention the attention to detail required in order to generate different flavours.
Love what Edinburgh has to offer? Why not take a tour of Quartermile and see how you can have the best of the Scottish capital right on your doorstep. Call 0845 000 2525 today.