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New £5m single malt distillery planned for Leith

It has a proud heritage in the whisky trade dating back more than 200 years.

Published: March 8, 2017
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The £5 million complex, which has been around four years in the planning stages, is expected to become a major new visitor attraction on the waterfront, with its own bar, restaurant and gift shop.

Ian Stirling and Paddy Fletcher at Leith Docks. Picture: contributed

Ian Stirling and Paddy Fletcher at Leith Docks. Picture: contributed

If given the go-ahead by the city council, it would be the first purpose-built single malt distillery to be created in the city for more than a century.

The idea was dreamed up by Edinburgh schoolfriends Ian Stirling and Patrick Fletcher, who developed a love of whisky while sharing a flat in London and started experimenting in their garden with a 40-litre pot still. The pair have struck a deal with the Ocean Terminal shopping centre to take over a site next to a multi-storey car park.

The site of the new Port of Leith Distillery is just a few minutes walk away from the original home of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which was opened in 1983 in former wine cellars on Giles Street.

However Leith’s links with the whisky trade go back to the late 18th century when Bonnington’s Distillery was set up and became renowned as the first in Scotland to install a Coffey still for continuous whisky production.

Other famous whisky names in Leith included William Sanderson & Sons, on what is now Maritime Street, whose founder would go on to help set up the North British Distillery, in the Gorgie area, which still operates to this day.

Maccdonald & Muir of Leith, a wine and spirits merchant set up by entrepreneurs Roderick Macdonald and Alexander Muir in Commercial Street in 1893, would go on to produce Highland Queen, which celebrated the landing of Mary Queen of Scots at Leith in 1561.

Brothers Walter and Robert Pattison, who set up the Pattisions Whisky Company in 1887 to try to capitalise on a collapse in the wine trade, were behind a number of famous advertising campaigns and publicity stunts, including training 500 African Grey parrots to repeat phrases like “Buy Pattison’s Whisky” before giving them away to publicans across the country.

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The pair behind the Port of Leith Distillery have vowed to create a “beautiful, bold and modern building” in Leith, which was once Scotland’s main trading port.

Mr Fletcher said: “Leith was once the national hub for the Scotch industry and it’s really exciting to be restarting that tradition. Our business will boost the local economy by drawing more tourists and residents down to the harbour. Ocean Terminal bought into our vision when we had no money and only a plan. They’ve made an enormous contribution to our business and, we hope, to Leith.”

Mr Stirling added: “The first step to making whisky is making a beer and as any beer fan will know, there is a whole world of possibilities in that process. We want to play with those possibilities, ferment something special, and then distil a delicious lowland whisky.”

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