Rosebank Distillery’s history is obscure, the founding date varying between sources. There was a distillery on the site in 1798. It’s generally considered that the distillery properly got up and running in 1840, when James Rankine bought the maltings from the Camelon Distillery (itself a lost distillery) from the other side of the Forth and Clyde Canal, which provided an easy access route for shipping away whisky.
In 1970 the maltings at Rosebank were demolished. United Distillers mothballed the distillery in 1993, whereupon the site was sold to Scottish Canals. Despite Rosebank being considered one of the premier Lowland malts, redevelopment work was considered not economically viable at the site and it stood dormant for years. In 2008 there were plans to open a new distillery in Falkirk, using the original Rosebank Distillery equipment, but that winter the old stills were stolen by metal thieves, and police reported a significant financial loss. As of 2015, Rosebank remains a wonderful development “opportunity”, and not much else. It’s now remembered as one of the great closed distilleries.
Like other Lowland malts, but unlike almost every other Scottish distillery save Auchentoshan, Rosebank used triple-distillation in its process, which gives a much lighter spirit. The legendary whisky writer Michael Jackson described Rosebank as the “finest example of a Lowland malt”.
And so I came across the Rosebank 12 Year Old, bottled by George Strachan Ltd, who are still in business today. It’s another sample provided by my fellow whisky nut, Whisky Rover, who acquired a hefty sample himself from the folks at Just Whisky auctions, and was kind enough to share it. It’s estimated that this Rosebank comes from the 1950s or 60s. A bottle recently went at auction for £600.
Colour: pale straw, white wine. On the nose: gosh, now that’s interesting. Very curious smoke (inland peat?). Ashes. Cigars. Tobacco. Leather shoes. And yet, there’s no heaviness to this – it’s quite like and breezy, almost coastal and fruity.
In the mouth: All the nose comes through – bonfires and so forth and then… well, I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a whisky quite like this. The smokiness is odd. It’s like drinking an ash tray. Quite a thin and light texture, too, not at all like peated whiskies from Islay. It comes along with the sort of mild bitterness you get from green tea. Hay barns and freshly mown lawns, cut flowers. A peated Lowland – a strange light, floral ash tray.
This is another time where I’m glad I don’t assign a numeric score to whiskies. Where on earth would this Rosebank stand on the scale? It’s so utterly alien to anything else I’ve tried. A few old-school whisky geeks go on about these old-fashioned whiskies being more interesting than many drams produced today. You know what? I think they might be onto something…