Is there that car that you never think you’ll ever own or drive? Or maybe a country that you’ll think you’ll never be able to visit? Or a famous singer you’ll never be able to see perform live? Well for me, Rosebank is the single malt that holds that perch in my mind.
But before we get all misty eyed, a brief history lesson
The distillery was built in the 1840’s within the maltings of an existing distillery, Camelon, on the banks of the Forth and Clyde canal, right next to a (what was considered then to be) a main road about a mile from Falkirk.
The distillery name actually came from the roses that used to grow along the banks of the canal next to the property.
It was an ideal location for the influx of raw ingredient and the export of the finished product. It was founded by a man called James Rankine a local grocer who was keen to invest his growing wealth in the Scotch whisky industry.
Sales were going very well and in the 1860’s the distillery, then being ran by James’ son R.W Rankine, expanded, this time flattening the existing Camelon Distillery and replacing it with a much more modernised red brick affair. The distillery prospered still and Mr Rankine afforded himself a luxury of a large country home aside the distillery, built within 3 acres of gardens; christening it “Rosebank House”.
In 1914 the distillery partnered up with a few other others such as Glenkinchie and Saint Magdalene to form Scottish Malt Distillers; in order to protect themselves from any dips in the market; a kind of ‘strength in numbers’ philosophy. This corporation was then swallowed up by the much bigger Distillers Company Limited in the mid 1920’s. A brief closure halted production during World War two, but production began in earnest soon afterwards and the malt was always in high demand throughout the 20th century.
It came as quite a shock then when in 1993 the distillery was closed by its owners. The distillery’s existing infrastructure needed to be upgraded in order to meet European standards and it seems that even though the spirit was held in very high regard by many whisky drinkers; including the famous whisky connoisseur Michael Jackson, who often scored it very highly in his Whisky of the Year awards; the distillery was deemed too expensive to upgrade. It may have also been considered that due to the sites restrictive geography being surrounded by a main road and canal on either side that there just wasn’t enough space for possible expansion. Either way; a Lowland gem was lost. Once closed one of its bonded warehouses was turned into a Beefeater pub; whilst in 2002 more of the site was purchased by British Waterways and promptly demolished to make way for a new housing development. Talks began of reviving the distillery in 2008 on a new site nearby; with the emphasis on trying to use the original stills and equipment (most of which had been saved) in the new structure. Unfortunately the equipment was stolen from the planned site where it was being stored by copper thieves posing as workmen. The equipment was lost and the thieves never caught.
So that was the end of Rosebank. So why is this my; for want of a better phrase, Holy Grail of whisky? Is it just its un-obtainability? Now it doesn’t exist I want it all the more? Well possibly; but then there’s plenty of closed distilleries that I’m not overly bothered about trying. I think it’s more to do with the fact that Rosebank has always had a really good reputation for creating good whisky. Right back to the 1890’s from some of my extended reading it was remarked that customers often had to receive reduced allocations of the spirit such was it’s demand.
So how does one unearth spirit from a whisky that closed its doors in 1993. For me; that was by going on holiday to that rare Scotch whisky capital that is South Devon, UK.
I’m partial to a nice craft or real ale so whilst down there on holiday we headed to Newton Abbot for the day to enjoy a few of its watering holes. Our 2nd or 3rd pub was called Teign Cellars; a craft ale pub that also served some rather tasty food. I ordered a pint and sat down with my better half and we enjoyed our first drink. On getting up to order our second drinks I, as I usually do, check out what malts they have on the go. I see the usual suspects of Jura, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray. And then I see something quite unusual nestled between them; Connoisseurs Choice: Rosebank.
What on Earth?!
As is my usual approach to seeing a rare whisky on the bar shelf I tentatively ask how much it is a dram, expecting it to be around £15-£20 per pour, the reply was a surprising one. . . . £3.90.
I casually remark I’ll probably have one later and head back to my table. Furious messaging, Googling and general giddy-ness occurs. My default setting if something is too good to be true, then it usually is. But surely if it was a fake, the bar would know it and would most definitely charge the £15-£20 a pour I expected. Anyway; I took the plunge and bought a dram and this is what I got out of it:
Nose: Pear Drops and banana.
Palate: Some fruit coming through, again pear, and maybe a faint hint of nutmeg? It’s been matured in a Refill Sherry Hogshead but I’d say its a third fill as there isn’t much cask influence from the sherry left. The triple distillation has given it a really light body too; refreshing almost.
Finish: Quite short, it doesn’t hang around too much but again that tends to be a characteristic of a Lowland malt, quite dry and oaty.
Scores on the doors . . .
Really enjoyed this malt; surprised me at how much as did. It’s a summery dram if that can be a thing; something to enjoy in the garden maybe with some fish on the barbeque.
I really enjoyed this malt that much that I went back to the bar and bought another dram. In fact; I bought quite a few drams; in fact I bought them all. And left with them in the bottle. With many thanks to Victor at Southport Whisky Club who suggested the idea. I offered to buy the rest of the drams in the bottle and the barman; after checking with the landlord; agreed.
After buying the bottle it transpired that the Landlord keeps a bottle of something special for when his family comes in for birthdays and what not. He probably didn’t expect a keen eyed whisky drinker to rock up in the pub and want to buy his prized bottle.
Landlords beware, the whisky nerds are EVERYWHERE!
P.S. Rosebank Distillery is set to open in Autumn 2020 with new owners Ian MacLeod Distillers. if they can get close to the original, we are on to a winner.