Edinburgh’s role in the Scotch whisky story began in 1505, when James IV of Scotland granted the Guild of Surgeon Barbers a monopoly to produce “aqua vitae” – a spirit valued for its medicinal properties – in the city. Distillation in the capital peaked in 1777 with eight licensed (and a suspected 400 unlicensed) stills operating in the city. But when the last remaining distillery at Sciennes Street closed its doors in 1925, it signalled the parting glass for the production of malt whisky in Edinburgh.
That was until the end of July, when the ribbon was cut at the Holyrood distillery. The new £6.7 million facility (which sits at the edge of Holyrood Park) is the latest evidence of the Scotch whisky boom which has taken place in recent years. 2019 has already seen the opening of Ardnahoe (Islay) and Lagg (Arran) distilleries, with more due to open at Falkirk and Cabrach later in the year.
These new producers have good cause for optimism. 2018 saw record breaking highs for both exports (growing 7.8% by value) and distillery visits (exceeding two million for the first time on record). This is good news too for the wider economy – not only is Scotch whisky the UK’s largest food and drink export, but it out-performs the next seven of the remaining top ten combined.
The industry, of course, is not without its challenges. One third of Scotch whisky exports are made to the European Union. Increasingly long summers and hot summers are causing springs to run dry. And overseas producers continue to attempt to use protected terms such as “Highland” and “Scotch” to cash in on distillers’ goodwill. Despite these hurdles, the opening of the Holyrood distillery is clear and welcome evidence of the industry’s strength in modern Scotland.