Halewood revives Crabbie whisky and aims to build a distillery in Leith

Peter Ranscombe tries the first two Crabbie whiskies from the label’s new owner and hears about its plans to build a malt distillery in Edinburgh.

SOMETIMES it feels like distilleries are like buses – you wait 90 years for a malt whisky producer to come along and then three turn up at once.

Planning permission has already been granted for the Port of Leith distillery next door to Ocean Terminal and for the Holyrood Park distillery in the heart of Edinburgh.

And last night Halewood – the Liverpool-based company behind Crabbie’s ginger beer, Lambrini sparkling perry, Red Square vodka and The Pogues Irish whisky – unveiled more details about its plans to open a distillery in Edinburgh.

The family-owned company said it wants to build the facility “ideally in Leith” and to have it up-and-running within the next four years.

Last year the firm applied for planning permission from City of Edinburgh Council to turn a disused warehouse on the Forth industrial estate in nearby Granton into a whisky and gin micro-distillery.

Further details about the project were revealed as the company entered the Scotch whisky market with the official launch in Edinburgh last night of its eight-year-old single malt and a 30-year-old single malt.

The younger whisky has been made for the company by an unnamed distillery in the Highlands, while the older spirit has been supplied by a producer on Speyside.

Both are being marketed under the “Crabbie” brand, which the company is reviving.

John Crabbie & Co traces its roots back to 1801 and was a key player in the Scotch industry during the 19th century, producing blended malts and later blended whiskies.

Crabbie bottled whisky up until the company’s sale to the giant Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1963, with the owner of Glenmorangie buying the brand in the 1980s and then selling it to the present owner in 2006.

As well as the alcoholic ginger beer, Halewood already sells green ginger wine and non-alcoholic ginger beer, lemonade and raspberry under the “Crabbie’s” label.

Building a distillery in Edinburgh will allow Crabbie to make its own whiskies instead of buying in Scotch from contract producers.

A rival project to construct a distillery in a former railway engine shed in St Leonard’s Lane on the edge of Holyrood Park looks set to pip Crabbie to the finish line.

The Holyrood Park distillery is expected to open next year after last summer launching a crowd-funding scheme to raise £5.5 million.

The project was granted planning permission in 2016 by the City of Edinburgh Council, a year after the local authority had agreed to lease the building to the developer.

Holyrood’s distillery is being built by David Robertson, a former master distiller at The Macallan, and Rob and Kelly Carpenter, founders of the Canadian branch of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Meanwhile, back down on the shore, Ian Stirling and Patrick Fletcher were granted planning permission in December to build the Port of Leith distillery next to the Ocean Terminal shopping centre.

Construction work is expected to start this year and, in the meantime, the company is preparing to produce gin at The Tower Street Stillhouse in Leith, as well as shipping its own brand of sherry.

Edinburgh’s last malt distillery – Glen Sciennes – closed in 1925.

The Scottish capital is also home to the North British distillery, which produces grain – as opposed to malt – whisky, an essential component in making blends.

The facility in Gorgie is owned jointly by Diageo – Scotland’s largest whisky maker and the owner of brands including Bell’s, J&B and Johnnie Walker – and Edrington, which is behind labels such as Famous Grouse, Highland Park and The Macallan.

Tasting Notes

Crabbie 8-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (£30)
Really enticing tropical fruit notes on the nose, with pineapple leading into peach and then on to honey and vanilla. The honeyed sweetness burst through even more on the palate, with fruity peach and apricot flavours. The 46% alcohol was softened by the sweet vanilla and honey, but it’s perhaps just a tad too assertive to sip on its own and so the dram definitely benefited from a drop of water.

Crabbie 30-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (£500)
I love Speyside and Highland malts at this age, especially when they offer milk chocolate and orange aromas. There was also a malty Ovaltine-like note too. On the tongue, it’s rich and warming, with brown sugar and caramel weaving in amongst the vanilla and orange. As expected, a much more complex drink, but one that again opened-up with a tiny amount of water.