The Rosebank Renaissance
Robbie Hughes is charged with revitalising Rosebank Whisky and ensuring that it is as good as the original, if not better. It’s no mean challenge, but he’s looking forward to it as we hear in this month’s journal.
Working for Ian Macleod Distillers, Robbie Hughes’ life was busy enough before the company announced it was buying Rosebank in October 2017. As Group Distillation Manager he was already responsible for two distilleries – Tamdhu and Glengoyne, when he learnt that he would be looking after the ‘King of the Lowlands’ as well. “What have they done!” he cried in disbelief. “But after an initial walk round, I thought it’s actually a really good idea,” he says. “We’ve got a Speyside and a Highland but not a Lowland, so it’s a very good fit for Ian Macleod, and it’s got such a great name.”
Rosebank’s long years in the cold since it closed in 1993 pose “a massive challenge for us,” says Robbie. “It’s something we’ve never done. We’ve bought a working distillery in Glengoyne and a mothballed one with Tamdhu, but now we’re going to build a new distillery.” Its chimney, a famous landmark in Falkirk, is being kept as well as the canal-facing old bonded warehouses, but with none of the original stills or washbacks, the inner workings of Rosebank will have to be reconstructed.
Asked what made Rosebank special, Robbie is convinced the secret lies in the unique double act at the heart of production process. “Triple distillation gives you a lighter spirit character, while worm tubs give you something heavier,” he says. “So you wonder why the previous owners were doing one thing at the start and then contradicting it at the other end. It’s really quite bespoke, but it’s something we’re going to maintain.” Whatever the motives of the original distillers, it worked beautifully as proven by the last few casks distilled in the 1990s that were inherited with the distillery. “Some of them are absolutely amazing,” he says. “They’re very fruity and there’s still that sweetness you get from triple distillation.”
Robbie had worked in whisky for twenty years before joining Ian Macleod to run Glengoyne in 2003. In that time, he had experienced distilleries with worm tubs but never triple distillation which, he says: “will be a challenge. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve searched high and low for some newmake spirit [from its previous owners], but it doesn’t exist, and there’s no big recipe book. So it’s kind of a blank page, but we’re starting with a good name and a vision.”
“Rosebank’s going to be huge for us, it’s not just another distillery,” he says with real heartfelt enthusiasm. In the past it was part of a group of around forty distilleries, now it is just one of three. “It’s going to be one of the crown jewels, and it’s going to get a tremendous amount of attention. We’ll make sure it gets the best wood like the other two,” he continues. “It’ll be fascinating. There’s lots to be done, but we will be given the time and freedom to get it right.” So, we can be confident the new Rosebank will be as good as the old? “I’m hoping it’ll be better.”