Our Master of Malt meets the man behind Edinburgh’s first single malt whisky distillery in 100 years
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David Robertson was born into whisky. He arrived on this earth while his father, Ricky, was assistant manager at Royal Brackla distillery. He then headed south to Aberfeldy in 1973 when Ricky became manager of that distillery (it was Ricky who gave me my initiation into cask strength single malt at Aberfeldy distillery in 1976.)
Following a happy childhood in Aberfeldy, David headed north again to Glendullan in Speyside when Ricky became manager of that distillery. So, with such a journey in the first 22 years of his life, you could say that David’s future had already been mapped out for him.
David completed Heriot-Watt University’s Brewing & Distilling degree, served his apprenticeship as a trainee manager at Benrinnes distillery and became the industry’s youngest distillery manager when, at just 26-years-old, he took over as manager of The Macallan distillery. Two years later he became Macallan’s Master Distiller. Since then he has fulfilled several roles within the industry before establishing his own distillery, Holyrood, in 2019.
Holyrood is the first whisky distillery in the city of Edinburgh for almost 100 years, following the closure of Edinburgh (which was also known as Glen Sciennes or Newington) distillery in 1925. Holyrood was established within a 180-year-old-building that was formerly the goods shed for St Leonard’s railway station. David tells me that Holyrood distillery will have two house styles of whisky and that they have not yet settled a decision on what the flavour profiles will be. Having seen what other new distilleries have done and what whisky drinkers have bought into, I would assume that one of these will be heavily peated and the other have either very little or no peat influence.
At Holyrood, they have initiated an innovative Custom Cask Programme for cask purchase customers where the buyer can literally dictate the flavour of the whisky to be distilled. David says that they have “lots of recipes” created by utilising different yeast strains from brewing, distilling and the wine industry or by using different barley varieties and malted barley handled in several different processes – “we have drawn inspiration from the craft brewing industry with chocolate malt, toasted malt and roasted malt,” he says.
They can carry out a longer fermentation, which will pull out more of the fruit characters; and they are prepared to offer a faster or slower distillation and give a later cut for the heart of the run, which will add an oily touch to the spirit. Using their tall stills, triple distillation is also an option, giving a more refined and sweeter spirit and higher alcohol level.
Holyrood offers different cask types and cask sizes: new oak, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry (in all sherry’s styles), ex-wine casks and even mizunara, the Japanese oak. Obviously, the length of maturation also impacts on eventual flavour. All of these variations will have an influence on the flavour of the whisky being supped at the end of the day.
■ The Single Cask Ltd is an independent bottler, some of whose whiskies I have enjoyed in recent months. Today’s is a Caol Ila 11 years old, filled on 14th October 2008 and bottled from cask no 318694 on 15th September 2020. The aromas are medium-bodied, of chocolate smoke and bonfires on the beach; with the addition of water, the aromas open up considerably with green fruit (melons) and tea notes. The flavour is big-bodied and powerful with a good richness, a little brioche note, definite peat smoke, some ginger spice and dark chocolate dipped chillies finishing long and smoky with charred oak, smoked cheese and the spiciness continuing. Alcoholic strength is 57.1% abv and the cost is £70 (US$95). As these are single cask bottlings, the quantities available are small and stock is quickly depleted, but they generally replace depleted stocks with another cask with similar characteristics. thesinglecask.co.uk
■ Another Islay Single Malt, this time from an unnamed distillery, Port Askaig 8 years old is a bottling from Speciality Drinks at 45.8% abv. The nose is dark and full-bodied with charred oak, salted smoky bacon crisps and a little splash of citrus; with water, the charred oak becomes a little liquorice with bonfire embers and the citrus is a juicy lemon. The flavour is powerful and dry, but with a sweet edge of demerara sugar and some peppery spice finishing long with powerful peat smoke and the spiciness lingering. The cost is £40 (US$55). portaskaig.com
■ The Good Spirits Company is Glasgow’s leading spirits retailer. Established in 2011 and originally focusing on whiskies, the recent boom in gin sales now sees them carrying in excess of 100 different gins. Despite that, at any one time nowadays, their shelves hold around 400 whiskies from all around the world. Regular tastings are held within the store – in these pandemic times, these are virtual. The Good Spirits Company, 23, Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW. 0141-258-8427. thegoodspiritsco.com
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