The Story of two Leith Distillers
A glimpse into the worlds of Port of Leith Distillery and Electric Drink Co
Above: Impression of Port of Leith Distillery Building
Below: Achroous Gin, the Dundee Utd of gins
In three fields outside Edinburgh, the wind that sows the barley is growing, and with it, the dream of a single malt whisky made solely in Leith comes nearer to fruition.
There was one missing piece missing in the puzzle…
Barley is grown across the UK and most distilleries will buy it as a commodity from a variety of sources at the best price they can find. Paddy and Ian (of Lind & Lime gin fame) chose to take a different approach.
For them, a product is most exciting when it conveys something unique about the place and time in which it is made. So they wanted to ensure that this grain was sourced as locally as possible.
In three fields outside Edinburgh, the wind that sows the barley is growing, and with it, their dream of a single malt whisky made solely in Leith comes closer to fruition.
Better still, they will be working with a single estate called Upper Bolton Farm to grow all of their grain in perpetuity.
So the company’s upcoming whisky distillery will use a grain that will not just showcase the stunning terroir of East Lothian, but the subtle variations that will transpire with each passing harvest from a handful of fields.
Along with farmers James and Andrew Clark, Paddy and Ian have formed an enduring partnership that will see them evolve together over time.
They expect the first shoots to start appearing above ground in the next few weeks and they’ll be watching their barley’s growth closely over the coming months.
Paddy and Ian grew up together in Edinburgh before sharing a flat in London. One became a wine merchant, the other an accountant, all the while dreaming of owning a distillery in their hometown.
The 6-year (and counting) journey, begun by two whisky fans on a sofa, towards building this distillery is now reaching fruition, thanks to the generosity and passion of scores of whisky veterans, visionary investors and supportive colleagues, friends and family.
The boys can’t remember whose crazy idea it was to build an enormous, steepling, heavy distillery on a tiny spit of land next to a harbour wall behind Ocean Terminal.
Whatever the kernel of the notion, they have spent years designing, and now constructing, that remarkable distillery.
With every step taken on the construction of the building they understand a little more of what an incredible challenge their company has undertaken.
There is not a consultant on the project who hasn’t uttered the immortal line “this is the most complicated project I’ve been involved in” at some point or other.
The establishment of the foundations has been painstaking to say the least, the good news though is the last concrete pour was completed a couple of weeks ago.
Now things are going to get a little bit more exciting with the arrival on site of the tower crane in mid-April, swiftly followed by a large amount of steel. The building is about to start rising upwards and it will happen relatively quickly.
When this remarkable project (vertical distilleries are fairly unique) is complete, Paddy, Ian and crew will be offering tours as well as various other fun projects they have up their sleeves.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that… Leith. Can’t. Wait!
James Porteous is an Edinburgh man too, who studied product design at Glasgow School of Art before pitching up in Shoreditch to work in service design, which involved a lot of post-it notes and felt tipped pens (before you ask, he was far too badly dressed to be considered a hipster).
Returning to Edinburgh, and Heriot Watt University, he focused on botanicals for his dissertation project achieving a first. Before putting together a plan that would, after a fashion, become the Electric Spirit Company.
Electric Spirit Co. launched in 2014, and started distilling in the summer of the following year. In an inadvertently hipster move they set up stall in the old James Dunbar lemonade factory at 68 Albion Road, becoming in their turn the first distillery to operate in Leith since the closure of Melrose Drover* 40 years earlier.
Modest beginnings included a 10-litre glass still, a sink and some benches, but soon enough they gave birth to Achroous gin, its distinctive tangerine bottle proving a particular favourite of this Dundee United fan!
Since then, things have grown. James and the team behind the Port of Leith distillery moved into the Tower Street Stillhouse together. Where they share a 500 litre Genio g-still, a forklift, and a frankly palatial shed, which does duty as the distillery ‘office’.
James says, “to the best of our knowledge, the way we work together is unique in the distilling world. We regularly bicker like an old couple, but we love each other really.”
He remains his only full-time employee, and loves a negroni.
Melrose Drover were distillers, rectifiers, wine importers and methylated spirit makers of Mitchell Street, Leith, Whose leading blend was MD Golden Crown. Also distilling Old Tom Gin, possibly named after the famous golfer, at their Links Distillery