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The History of Rosebank Distillery

Updated: Jun 14

Rosebank Distillery logo on dark background

After 30 years of silence, the stills of Rosebank distillery in Falkirk ran for the first time in July 2023, following the filling of the first cask, 001, on 18 July. It took almost a year to officially reopen the distillery to the public on 7 June 2024.

With all the buzz about Rosebank's reopening, many might be unfamiliar with the celebrated distillery's history, which dates back to 1840. So, let's take a moment to revisit the history of the once-lost Rosebank distillery—now reborn.

All the images in this article have been compiled by The Whisky Ardvark from various websites and social media posts. We do not own the original pictures.


The Lowland Home

In the Victorian era, the Lowlands were an ideal place to establish a distillery—not only for single malt distilleries but especially grain distilleries. With excellent links to other parts of the British Isles, grain was easily transported through a vast rail network, which allowed whisky to be shipped in change.

The Forth and Clyde Canal, connecting Edinburgh and Glasgow, was opened in 1790. It facilitated the safe transportation of goods and people from coast to coast.

The distillery site in the town of Camelon, Falkirk, was originally home to another distillery called Camelon (also known as Lauriston 1821-1826). The distillery was established in 1798 by the Start brothers, but it was later passed down to John Stark in 1826. After John Stark's passing, Gunn & Co. took over the distillery in 1837. They sold the distillery's old maltings on the other side of the canal to James Rankin, a local wine merchant.

Rankin established Rosebank distillery in 1840, utilising the old maltings. The nearby Camelon was shut down in 1861 due to financial difficulties, and subsequently, the distillery was converted to serve as maltings for Rosebank until 1968.

Old Camelon distillery Rosebank distillery warehouse and maltings

Old Camelon distillery, Rosebank distillery warehouse and maltings

Between 1860 and 1893, Rosebank distillery was owned by James' son, Robert W Rankin. The distillery was rebuilt between 1864 and 1868 after the closure of the Camelon distillery. The two sites on opposite sides of the canal were connected by a swing bridge for easy access.

Misako Udo's 2005 print of The Scottish Whisky Distilleries for the Whisky Enthusiast mentioned that the five warehouses on site held almost 2.3 million litres of alcohol in the late 1880s. Rosebank whisky was highly popular in the 1890s, earning it the title 'King of the Lowlands.'

Rosebank distillery before closure

The distillery remained in the family until 1914, when it became one of the founding members of Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD). In 1929, SMD became part of Distillers Company Limited (DCL), which William Ross founded to unite Scottish whisky distilleries and help them survive the hard times. Being owned by the country’s biggest distiller for much of the 20th century gave Rosebank security, but the price was anonymity since most Rosebank whisky was destined for blends.


The Single Malts of Rosebank

In the mid-1970s, Rosebank released a 15-year-old 'unblended' single malt, primarily in small quantities for the Italian market. A 20-year-old release followed in 1980. These bottles were imported to Italy by Zenith Import and prominently displayed the age statement in large red numbers.

Rosebank whiskies bottled 1970s and 1980s

Rosebank's owners began laying down stocks for an eight-year-old single malt, which was first released in 1982. Unfortunately, the bottlings were released at a difficult time, as the 1980s turned out to be challenging for the industry. Four years later, in 1986, Rosebank became part of United Distillers.

Since almost all the malt produced at Rosebank was destined for blends without real recognition of its name, the distillery met its prolonged fate in 1993. The slump in the 1980s was caused by overproduction and a drop in demand, which made the distillery redundant, even though many considered it the true representation of Lowland-style whisky. (To note, Rosebank was triple-distilled using unpeated malt and known for using American oak barrels.) Rosebank was just one of the distilleries closed by its owner, United Distillers.

The distillery site was sold to British Waterways in 2002. The Camelon maltings were transformed into a Beefeater restaurant, and some Rosebank buildings were converted into apartments.

Some people believe Rosebank and its single malt whisky may have been forgotten if not for the owners' decision to include the whisky in the Flora & Fauna bottlings. This series was first introduced in 1991 to highlight the owners' lesser-known distilleries. Although Rosebank was still operating when the series was launched, the recognition and appreciation for the whisky grew only later. Unfortunately, it was too late to save it from closing down.

Rosebank whisky bottlings 1990s and 2000s

Rosebank single malt whisky has been bottled under the collections of United Distillers and later Diageo over the years. The whisky was first featured in the Rare Malts series in 1998, and a 25-year-old version was included in the 2007 Special Releases.

During the years of closure, Rosebank became a valued addition to any independent bottler's portfolio, further engaging whisky enthusiasts. Here are just some of them.

Rosebank single malt independent bottlings

The most collectable Rosebank whisky series was possibly bottled by London-based Speciality Drinks from 2016 to 2023. 'The Roses' is a collection of seven cask-strength 21-year-old Rosebank single malts, some of which have a Madeira cask influence.

The Roses Rosebank single malt collection Speciality Drinks


The Resurrection

The Rosebank distillery had amassed a loyal following among whisky enthusiasts, but the prospects for its revival seemed to diminish each year. These hopes were further dampened by copper thieves' vandalism of the stills in 2008.

However, the landscape began to shift with the growing interest in resurrecting lost distilleries like Brora and Port Ellen. In 2017, Ian Macleod Distillers acquired the distillery site and name with the aim of bringing it back to life. It would take six more years, but this time, the distillery would be celebrated in its own right.

But six years is a long time to wait. Therefore, Ian Macleod started bottling old Rosebank single malts before the distillery's official opening. Starting with single cask releases, the owner also introduced a series called 'Legacy Release', the last of which was officially launched at the distillery's opening on 7 June 2024. The 32-year-old Rosebank is the oldest official bottling to date.

Rosebank single malt releases under Ian Macleod New owner 2020 to 2024


The Grand Opening

New Rosebank distillery interior stills, spirit safe and mash tuns

After 30 years of silence, the stills of Rosebank distillery in Falkirk ran for the first time in July 2023, following the filling of the first cask, 001, on 18 July.

According to the distillery, the new Rosebank has sought to preserve as much as possible of the old distillery with its Victorian red brick and towering chimney stack and merge it with a striking new design.

Rosebank Distillery Before and After

The distillery officially opened to the public on 7 June 2024, but it is no secret that industry people were paraded with a first look at the distillery a week before. The distillery offers three tours for visitors, ranging from a 90-minute tour that costs £25 to a three-hour visit that costs £300.

In addition to offering whiskies from other Ian Macleod distilleries, the Rosebank shop also offers unaged 'new-make' spirits for purchase at 63.5% ABV for a 300ml bottle - available only at the distillery.

Rosebank New Make Spirit

The distillery said this about the maturing whisky: "The new spirit matures in refill bourbon barrels, creating a rich, fruity, and floral whisky reminiscent of the original Rosebank’s signature flavour, which was regarded as one of the lightest, most floral Scotch whiskies ever made."

We have to wait to see what the whisky from the reawakened distillery has to offer when it comes of age. However, the Rosebank distillery has undoubtedly got the industry buzzing and sparked the enthusiasm of whisky enthusiasts once more about the 'King of the Lowlands'. Not to mention that in May, Ian Macleod and the Islay Boys announced the news of the 12th Islay whisky distillery, Laggan Bay, which is currently under construction on the island.


Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark. Check out some of our other informative articles listed below.


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