Rosebank’s Revival: The King of the Lowlands returns

It’s been 30 years since spirit flowed through Rosebank’s stills. Now the iconic distillery famed for its elegant single malt Scotch whisky has returned, welcoming visitors for the first time in its 180-year history

Words by Becky Paskin

the exterior of relaunched rosebank distillery

When Leonard Russell visited Rosebank distillery in 2017, he was aghast. This once iconic distillery, known as the ‘King of the Lowlands’ for its elegant, fragrant single malt Scotch whisky, had fallen into a sad state of disrepair. Left to languish since its closure in 1993, weeds overtook Rosebank’s decaying, 19th century walls, which had become an attractive canvas for pigeon excrement and graffiti.

Still, this derelict monument caught Russell’s eye. The managing director of Ian Macleod Distillers, owner of Tamdhu and Glengoyne distilleries, had been seeking a third site to add to its portfolio, and here lay an opportunity to breathe new life into one of Scotland’s most iconic ‘ghost’ distilleries.

Now, following seven years of restoration work, including the navigation of a global pandemic, crumbling walls and building restrictions, Rosebank is set to open to the public this summer for the first time in its 184-year history.

‘I could see that Rosebank Distillery was held in extremely high regard and it was a huge shame that it closed when it was distilling some of the best spirit for the Scotch whisky industry,’ Russell says.

Rosebank has been a Falkirk landmark since it was built in 1840 on the banks of the Forth & Clyde canal, its towering 108ft chimney a bastion of a time gone by. It’s why a faithful restoration was important to Ian Macleod, but the road to revival was never going to be easy.

‘They tried to preserve as much of the old buildings as possible, but during construction there were bits of wall falling down unexpectedly, so they had to rethink plans,’ explains Katie Burns, assistant brand manager. ‘Covid was right in the middle of it so the build had to stop and prices went up.’

The pandemic gave the Ian Macleod team time to rethink the design of the distillery, converting the former warehouse and maltings into a visitor centre and six tasting rooms, while a new, modern glass-fronted still house was constructed on the corner, giving views of the gleaming copper stills from both the roadside and canal. ‘The architects had to carefully think about how the old blends with the new, for instance we’ve used the old floorboards of the warehouse which are now on the walls of the new still house space,’ Burns says. ‘It’s a timeless design that really brings it into the 21st century.’

tasting room inside rosebank distillery

It’s an ethos that carries through to Rosebank’s spirit, which was once revered by blenders for its elegant, floral yet weighty style, something of a contradiction thanks to its unique triple distillation and worm tub set up.

I would like to think the spirit we are producing is a modern-day reimagining of what the old Rosebank would have been

Although ‘a little bigger than the originals’, Rosebank’s three stills have been meticulously restored using blueprints kept safe by Diageo Abercrombie copperworks, while new wooden washbacks and worm tubs have also been installed. In fact, the only recovered piece of equipment is the Boby mill, a piece original to Rosebank which is still miraculously in full working order despite being an estimated 103 years old.

Despite best efforts, Malcolm Rennie, Rosebank distillery manager, believes replicating the original spirit would be ‘nigh on impossible’. He explains: ‘Our aim is to try and produce a spirit which would have similar characteristics to that which was produced historically. Variables in the process, such as barley varieties, yeast strains and modern mashing processes will all have different influences on the final spirit. I would like to think the spirit we are producing is a modern-day reimagining of what the old Rosebank would have been.’

The spirit is also filled predominantly into traditional refill American oak casks, to allow Rosebank’s floral character to shine without being overwhelmed by oak. The first cask was filled in July 2023 – 30 years after the site closed – and will be laid to rest in the on-site warehouses for ‘as long as necessary’ before bottling.

stills at rosebank distillery

In the meantime, Rosebank’s mature whisky is becoming more and more scarce. A small selection will be available to purchase at the distillery when it opens for public tours on 7 June, alongside a regular distillery exclusive, a bottle-your-own and 20cl bottles of Rosebank’s new make spirit.

Visitors will be able to participate in one of three distillery experiences: Rosebank Reawakening (£25) will include a tour through the original buildings and new stillhouse with an immersive multimedia experience culminating in a tasting of 12-year-old expressions from Rosebank’s sister distilleries, Tamdhu and Glengoyne. The Rosebank Rekindled tour (£95) additionally includes a tasting of Rosebank 31-year-old alongside some ‘higher age’ expressions from Tamdhu and Glengoyne.

Rosebank distillery tour

Finally, the Rosebank Revered experience (£300) is a deep dive into the distillery’s history for dedicated enthusiasts. Guests will be given a welcome reception in the Rosebank Lounge before an opportunity to taste the new make spirit, visit the newly constructed warehouse and experience a guided tasting of three ‘exceptionally rare’ Rosebank whiskies. More bespoke tours will also be available on request.

After a long journey, a new chapter begins for Rosebank. Finally, the King of the Lowlands has returned.

Tours of Rosebank distillery are available to book now for dates starting from 7 June 2024. Find out more at www.rosebank.com/visit-rosebank.