The recent announcement that the seemingly abandoned Rosebank Distillery is to re-open was great news for lovers of the amber nectar and local history enthusiasts.
The group which has purchased the buildings on the canal bank have also, as I understand it, acquired the name as well as existing stocks of the whisky so it may be that this famous old lowland malt will reach the market in the not too distant future. Although Rosebank was already in production in the 1840s, the taste for single malts is a fairly recent phenomenon. Most were used along with grain spirits to produced blends which were what the drinkers were used to and could afford. Even 50 years ago it was almost impossible to find malt whisky on sale and I remember down in the dear old 1066 in Meeks Road (part of the RB Buffet, now called Baristas) being offered a glass of Glen Grant, a straw coloured malt which was regarded by the drinkers as something of an oddity. It was the only one on the gantry. Certainly there was no sign of Rosebank though it was distilled just half a mile away.
Before the iron revolution which transformed Falkirk district, the only ‘‘industries’’ of note were those linked to agriculture like tanning, brewing and distilling. No doubt this had been the situation for centuries in Falkirk where the ample supplies of grain and soft water provided the necessary raw materials. Not everyone was happy!
In 1791 one local minister complained that: “Whisky-houses are very numerous. It has even got the better of some of the fair sex who . . . then become the abhorrence of sober men. It general it is observed to be hurtful to the health, morals and usefulness of mankind.”
However the arrival of the canal in the 1770s had encouraged enterprise and around 1827 John Stark. who had been making whisky in Laurieston for 30 years, opened Camelon Distillery on the west bank of the canal near Sunnyside using water from the Tophill Burn. On the opposite side he erected buildings for malting the barley. The business passed into the hands of the Gunn family and in 1840 they sold the maltings site to James Rankine who opened his own distillery and gave it the name ‘‘Rosebank’’, which might refer back to the earlier venture in Laurieston.
Under Rankine’s management Rosebank prospered, taking over the small Camelon Distillery in 1862 and turning it into the maltings. Many new buildings were constructed and steam engines were employed to pump the water and spirit throughout the works. The annual output by the 1880s was over 120,000 gallons and the bond had space for half a million. As a ‘‘triple distilled’’ lowland malt it was in high demand and for most of the 20th century as part of United Distillers the business was a financial success. However by the early 1990s the company complained about the costs of meeting E.U. directives and they suspended and eventually ended production. The bonded warehouse (now the Beefeater) had already gone and over the following years key equipment like copper stills and worm tanks disappeared into the metal black market killing off plans to revive production. Part of the site was cleared for housing but the range of buildings adjacent to the canal. Now there is just a chance that the business will come back to life.
Today you can still buy a bottle of Rosebank but be prepared to fork out three figures for it! Or you could be patient and wait a year or two ...