Single-malt-loving visitors to Edinburgh might expect endless local options for exploring their favorite spirit, but that ship sailed almost a century ago, when the last single-malt distillery in the city closed. The quest for the country’s legendary whiskies has since required treks to Speyside or Islay or the like.
In July, however, the spirit came back to town. A quick jog off the Royal Mile, in the heart of Edinburgh, Holyrood Distillery (named for its proximity to Holyroodhouse palace and Holyrood Park) is opening its doors to visitors. The distillery is inside a historic engine shed, constructed in 1835 as part of one of the first railways in the United Kingdom.
As head distiller Jack Mayo sees it, the new distillery, with its unusually tall stills, is a blank slate. “It’s designed to focus on flavor and flexibility,” he says. “We’re willing to create something different, as opposed to the same consistent spirit.” His focus is on four flavors in particular: sweet, spicy, smoky and fruity/floral. And the quest to mix it up among them involves every step of the process. For their malted barley, the team will be searching out old and new varieties, and varying the peat levels from high to medium to low to none at all. They will make like craft brewers and work with specialty malts to deliver tones of chocolate and coffee. And on the yeast front, they’ll use a range of distilling, brewing and wine styles to individualize—the results could be fruity, citrusy, tropical, malty, sweet or spicy. Oh, and there will be gin.
The sparkle in Mayo’s eye as he describes the tools he has in the new facility makes it clear this distilling project is about playing around, not following the same path his stodgier counterparts have taken. And it’s a good bet that the geekiest of visitors will delight in a guided tour, where they can test their palates and even bottle whisky straight from a cask.
Possibly the most innovative move of all is Holyrood’s program for, shall we say, extreme connoisseurs: the chance to customize an entire cask of single malt to their own tastes. A consultation with co-founder David Robertson (a former master distiller at the Macallan) and Mayo will set a course through all of the variables described above, to arrive at a whisky singularly suited to the customer. The cost for the cask runs from $5,450 to $12,700 and includes flavor consultation, cask selection (there are many choices), whisky creation, 10 years of storage, sampling, insurance, labeling and bottling.
The new distillery might be housed in history, but the spirit inside (literal and figurative) will send a lighter breeze through the heart of Edinburgh.
Check out more pictures of the distillery below: