It was in the Lowlands that Scotch whisky really came of age, though its subtle and complex single malts may have been eclipsed by the smoke of Islay and heather-honey of Speyside. Now, with the rebirth of Rosebank – ‘the King of Lowland whiskies’, it’s time for a reappraisal and a chance time to celebrate this once great whisky region.
Lowland malt whisky distilleries like Rosebank deserve to flourish once more
For all the sentimental, misty-eyed romance of the Highlands, the Scotch whisky industry was really forged in the Lowlands in the early 18th century. With its rich barley fields and plentiful fresh water it was here that the Scots began distilling on a commercial scale. Dedicated distilleries began producing whisky every day unlike Scotland’s myriad farm distilleries that operated seasonally after the harvest.
Rosebank in Falkirk is just ten miles from Kincardine and the ruins of Kennetpans – a distillery founded by Andrew Stein in the 1720’s which became the largest in Scotland within a decade. Through marriage, his family spawned a great whisky dynasty that included the Haig’s and the Jameson’s and stretched from the Lowlands to Dublin.
While these early whisky barons were sending their spirit south for rectifying into English gin, the roots of Rosebank were very different. Whisky would have been distilled here soon after the Forth & Clyde canal opened in 1790. The canal brought coal to feed Falkirk’s burgeoning iron foundries, and as the town grew its thirst for whisky grew with it.
There were soon plenty of smaller distilleries across the Lowlands, with 18 recorded in the parish of Falkirk alone. Of these, Rosebank is the sole survivor and that speaks volumes about the quality of its whisky. As we have explored in a previous blog, the distillery may well be older than its official birth-date of 1840, but from then on it was in more or less continual production.
Its small pot stills would have bubbled away at the same gentle pace as distilleries on Islay or Speyside. Whatever its Lowland setting lacked in drama – no roaring stags or Atlantic storms – Rosebank’s spirit was every bit as complex and beguiling, perhaps more so.