Last Updated on September 29, 2023 by Leah Hall
The first single malt distillery in Edinburgh, Scotland in almost a century, Holyrood Distillery makes whisky and gin!
Holyrood Distillery is the first whisky distillery in the city of Edinburgh for almost 100 years. The last distillery closed in 1925, known as Glen Sciennes or Newington distillery. Holyrood is in a 180 year old building that was a shed for St Leonard’s railway station. Until 2019, the nearest whisky distillery was Glenkinchie, which is about 15 miles from the center of Edinburgh.
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Holyrood Distillery says it has taken inspiration from Edinburgh’s identity, landscapes and the brewing and distilling heritage to create their products. Established in 2019, Holyrood knows established Scotch Whisky distilleries build upon their traditions, but this new wave Scotch whisky maker unrestrained by traditional long term production.
They want to create incredible spirits that reflects the historic city and put Edinburgh back on the Scotch whisky making map. We heard about the city’s brewing past, in which the distillery is surrounded by. They take inspiration from the surroundings and brewing heritage, which means exploring recipes, malts, and fermentation ideas from the past, to give Scotch whisky an interesting future.
Many breweries and distilleries once existed in the area Holyrood Distillery is in, because of its’ water source; underground springs that became known as the “charmed circle.”
Holyrood Distillery Beginnings
Holyrood Distillery was started by Canadian Rob Carpenter. Rob had the idea for a distillery and visitor experience in central Edinburgh in 2013. He founded the Canadian branch of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society with his wife Kelly, and has partnered with David Robertson, who has 25 years’ experience in the whisky industry.
David Robertson was born into Scotch whisky. His father, Ricky, was assistant manager at Royal Brackla distillery. Ricky then became manager of Aberfeldy in 1973, then to Glendullan in Speyside.
David earned a Heriot-Watt University’s Brewing & Distilling degree, did an apprenticeship at Benrinnes distillery and became the industry’s youngest distillery manager at 26, when he took over as manager of The Macallan distillery. Two years later he was Macallan’s Master Distiller. Now, he has established his own distillery, Holyrood.
Holyrood Distillery Whisky
Holyrood Distillery is still deciding on the flavor profiles of their whisky will be. From our tour and tasting, we would assume that at least one of their whiskies will be heavily peated and others little or no peat influence, but so much flavor.
Our tasting with their distiller led to some interesting flavors that they will have coming down the pipeline. There were different malts, yeast strains and flavors that were so exciting in their new make spirits. None of the New Makes have been aged, so already the flavors are exciting, so we cannot wait to try them after aging.
New Make spirit is taken right off the still, and is the spirit that will be matured to become Scotch whisky. Each of them have different ingredients not commonly seen in modern distilling, including heritage barleys, specialty malts, and an interesting range of yeast strains.
Holyrood Distillery Location
The building it is located in has been restored, the former Engine Shed building, dates back to 1835.
Distillery Tours, Tastings and Info
In their distiller’s lab hangs a yellow neon sign with four words: “Test, Learn, Improve, Repeat.” This is their whisky mindset in producing their products. They want to explore, learn and continue to create liquid that excites and inspires others. You will definitely see this while touring the working distillery.
Tours can accommodate up to 22 guests, are about an hour and available 11:00 am until 4:00 pm daily. The distillery tour tells of both Gin and Whisky and gives a sample of both. There are more in depth Gin or Whisky experience tours available, as well as a head distiller masterclass.
Crystal Malt is a lightly toasted malt and used in the brewing of bitters. This makes for caramel and toffee sweetness to the New Make. Malty note of digestive biscuits and tropical fruits.
Chocolate Malt is a heavily toasted malt, adding dark and rich cocoa. Used in brewing dark beers like porters and stouts. Has hints of bitter coffee and dark chocolate, rich. Made in Edinburgh is a heritage exploration. Using the Edinburgh Ale Yeast, with a mash bill inspired by 80 Shilling Ale recipe, is a combination of distilling malt and two specialty malts: Crystal and Chocolate malts.
There are others – we brought home a Japanese sake yeast New Make that screamed of strawberries and malt biscuits. Almost like strawberries and cream (honestly, it’s a trip), and we tried some others in our tasting. We were blown away by them all. Even their lightly and heavily peated options that they are working on.
Elizabeth Yard Rum
They have many different expressions of the Elizabeth Yard rums, so you will just have to try what is available. We tried one before our tour, and it was light, slightly sweet and amber colored!
Who owns Holyrood Distillery?
Tips & Tricks
- Holyrood Distillery has started an interesting Custom Cask Program. This involves a cask purchase for customers where the buyer can literally dictate the flavor of the whisky to be distilled.
- The Holyrood Distillery stills are 7 meters tall, which is very tall in proportion to still volume, they are some of the tallest stills in Scotland. Glenmorangie may have that title, though.
- The distillery does host various tasting events. This includes tours of the distillery and walking tours that explore Edinburgh whisky history with tastings along the way.
- Holyrood started a whisky festival the Mash Up in June 2022.
- Reservations: make sure to schedule ahead of time as times do fill up. Plus, this way you can make sure you get the time you want!
- After you do the tour and tasting, get a cocktail at the bar, too. They will tailor it to suit your flavor profile, or anything that you want to try!
- They do have an outside bar as well, when it is warmer!
- Parking: there is NO parking available at the distillery, but there is street parking nearby.
- Accessibility – The ground floor is level, with access to upper floors via wheelchair-accessible lifts. Wheelchair accessible toilets are located on the ground floor and 2nd floor. All public rooms are accessible.
Holyrood Distillery Information
Pre-booked tours are available online at Holyrood Distilling. If you have inquiries about a group of 10+, contact them before booking.
19 St Leonards Lane, Edinburgh, EH8 9SH
Places to Eat or visit in the Area
- Blonde – modern European food
- Macau Kitchen – Macanese and Malacca Portuguese Food
- The Auld Hoose Pub – best Nachos in Edinburgh
- The Royal Dick – Bar at Summerhall Distillery
- Royal Commonwealth Pool – public pool indoors
- Queen’s Hall – Live music venue
- Innocent Railway Tunnel – an old underground railway tunnel that is now a bike and walking path
- Arthur’s Seat – tallest hill in Edinburgh – can be hiked
- Escape the Past – escape room
- Pleasance Courtyard – performing arts center
- John Knox House – museum
- National Museum of Scotland
- Surgeon’s Hall Museum
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Other Distilleries to Visit
- Holladay Distillery – Weston, Missouri
- Humboldt Distilling – Humboldt, California
- KoHana Rum Distillery – Oahu, Hawaii
- Hotaling Distilling – San Francisco, California
- St George Distillery – Oakland, California
- Prohibition Spirits – Sonoma, California
- Lindores Abbey Distillery – Newburgh, Fife, Scotland
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