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20 July, 2024
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What's in a name? The romantic tale of Rosebank whisky

A whimsical journey through time at the reborn Rosebank distillery

Shemaine Bushnell Kyriakides

Rosebank. What a romantic name, isn’t it? To me, it conjures up images of blooming roses and tranquil riverbanks. No one really knows the true origin of the name, but rumor has it that it might have been inspired by roses growing along the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal. This canal, opened in 1790, connected Edinburgh and Glasgow and allowed goods, and of course, Rosebank whisky, to be shipped worldwide.

After my incredible experience at Glengoyne Distillery with the entertaining Arthur, I didn't think it could get any better. But surprise, surprise, it did. I was eagerly anticipating the tasting of an aged whisky where no bottle was less than £2,500, as they only had whiskies from before the distillery closed in 1993.

Our adventure began on a warmish day in Scotland. The weather was truly behaving during our trip as we ventured to Falkirk for an exclusive preview of the newly rebuilt Rosebank Distillery, ahead of its public reopening on June 7th. We were greeted by Lucy, a Rosebank Ambassador, dressed in the attire of an 1890s woman, enhancing the historical ambiance. She looked as though she had stepped out of a time machine, ready to guide us through the distillery's storied past and promising future.

Nestled on the banks of this historic canal, Rosebank Distillery has a rich and intriguing history filled with ups and downs. The distillery first fired up its stills in 1840 and quickly gained a reputation for its high-quality whisky. For decades, it thrived, producing exceptional single malt whisky. However, economic downturns led to its closure in 1993, leaving the building in ruins and parts of the valuable copper stills at the mercy of thieves.

But the story of Rosebank did not end there. In 2017, Ian Macleod Distillers, a whisky blender and bottler, stepped in to revive Rosebank. They purchased the distillery site and the Rosebank trademark, bringing this historic producer back under independent ownership. Along with the site, they inherited barrels of whisky previously casked, making any existing bottle of Rosebank Whisky rare and extremely valuable, with none available for less than £2,500.

Lucy led us through the beautifully restored distillery, where the old and new blended seamlessly. Original materials like wood and metals were incorporated into the new structure, creating a tangible connection to the past. As I touched the wood, which was over 100 years old and reclaimed from the original factory, now forming a wall in the new distillery, I could feel the energy of the people who once worked there. This place was the pride of Falkirk, providing most of the jobs for the local community. But more than that, the distillery's reach was global, with its whisky being exported as far away as Australia.

Throughout the tour, I could hear in my mind the noise and discussions of the workers of yore. The hustle and bustle of the distillery's heyday echoed in my thoughts. The technical tour was detailed, similar to what I experienced at Glengoyne, but with its own unique charm. Lucy explained how the stills, rebuilt due to theft, had retained their original shape, contributing to Rosebank's unique flavor. The washbacks, essential to the fermentation process, are made from unique Oregon pine, known for its distinct color and flavor.

During the tour, we explored the storage area, a treasure trove of whisky aging since the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and even older! It was cool, still, and silent—a rather 'zen' experience, if you ask me. I could have easily pulled out my yoga mat and practiced some warrior poses, but Lucy was eager to show us the next room, so we continued on. As we slowly filtered out, the temptation to "borrow" a barrel with a fellow journalist was strong, considering the millions of euros worth of whisky stored there.

And then, there it was, the tasting room...the pièce de résistance!  I would finally get the chance to taste a rare gem. There, set elegantly in front of me on the table was my glass.  A beautiful tasting glass with a rose carved into it, along with a touch of whisky inside.  It was a 32-year old, distilled when I was in my twenties—a time that now seems like decades ago. The light, fruity flavors and rich aromas transported me through time, evoking the distillery's storied past.  It was indeed a unique experience.

As we concluded our visit, I glanced at the original chimney, which had taken pride of place in the city, looking down on its locals for over 200 years, preserved amidst the renovations. I pictured, in my mind's eye, workers in ascot caps preparing for their day, possibly warming themselves with a sip of whisky. The sounds and sights of days gone by echoed in my head, making Rosebank feel like a living, breathing entity. This historic distillery, revived from the ashes, stands as a testament to Scotland's enduring whisky heritage, ready to enchant new generations of whisky lovers.

The original chimney at the entrance of Rosebank Distillery, taking pride of place

Rosebank's revival is not just about the whisky; it's about reconnecting with history and celebrating the craftsmanship that has been passed down through generations. This journey through Rosebank was more than just a tour; it was a step back in time, an exploration of heritage, and a celebration of one of Scotland's most beloved distilleries. As I left, I felt a deep appreciation for the efforts to preserve and revive this iconic establishment. I can't wait to return and taste the newly bottled Rosebank whisky, knowing the rich history and dedication that goes into every drop. And hopefully, this time, it will be a bottle I can afford!

Tasting a 32-year-old

See more pictures below:

The history presentation before the tour

The rebuilt stills

 The room worth millions of Pounds

...just waiting to be tasted!

 A rare sample of days gone by


**Rosebank is distributed in Cyprus by Vassos Eliades Ltd. and can be purchased at major stores where spirits are sold. @varietyofexperience #variety_of_experience.

Cyprus  |  Scotland  |  whisky

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