Rosebank, together with Talisker and Lagavulin, was one of the first single malts bottled by DCL in the mid-1980s. It was well-loved by the trade, by critics and by whisky drinkers – so why on earth did its owners decide to close the distillery a decade later?
In the early 1990s Rosebank found itself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that explains why it was put to sleep. The Whisky Loch – the result of years of over-production by the Scotch whisky industry, was now full to the brim and this led to the culling of almost twenty distilleries. Although Rosebank survived that first wave of closures, it was not selected to be one of the so-called ‘Classic Malts’ launched in 1988.
Foolishly, in the eyes of many people, Rosebank’s owners instead chose Glenkinchie to represent ‘the Lowlands’ in this line-up of six regional single malts. That decision sealed the fate of both distilleries, but it had absolutely nothing to do with quality. “It was a big mistake,” says Leonard Russell, MD of Ian Macleod Distillers. “Being small, Rosebank was one of the more expensive whiskies to produce, but in my view that’s no reason to close a distillery.”
With its solitary pair of spirit stills, Rosebank was too much of a boutique distillery, and it suffered from being beside the Forth & Clyde canal which closed in 1963. This once vital waterway, whose bustling trade had attracted Rosebank to the site in the first place, had become lifeless and stagnant. After the last cask was filled, the distillery was closed on June 30th 1993 with the loss of all 15 jobs.
Eight years later the canal was reopened, signalling a real sense of revival in the region. In 2002 the magnificent Falkirk Wheel was installed, followed by the giant horse head sculptures, known as the Kelpies. Sadly it all came too late to save Rosebank … or so it seemed.