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The first single malt distillery in Leith for nearly a century, the Bonnington Distillery is the home of Crabbie whisky as well as the Bonnington range of Scotch whisky.

Owners Halewood Artisanal Spirits unearthed the ruins of the old Bonnington House when building the foundations of the distillery in 2018. By chance, just as construction was wrapping up, the remains of the 17th-century building were found by an archaeologist the brand hired, as was evidence of an 18th-century distillery, furnaces from a bronze foundry, and remnants from the Siege of Leith, when French troops were camped in the port in the 16th-century.

Sounds delightful, but not for Halewood, who saw progress set back by six months and £500k in change go towards its preservation. The first mash was then due to be made in December 2019, but further bureaucratic nonsense delayed a distilling licence. Production didn’t start until March 2020. Any idea what happened then?

Yes, COVID. The Bonnington team, fearing the worst, spent 20 hours over two days distilling all the wash on-site, only to find out that they would shut down for a grand total of one day. Since then, the small, dedicated team has finally been able to do its thing undisturbed, manning the semi-automated distillery, and now fills around 2,200 casks per year.

The whisky making process at Bonnington’s begins with crystal clear water untouched for over 1,000 years, a totally unique source of hydration and dilution that the team got to by spending tens of thousands of pounds on a borehole to gain access to an aquifer beneath their Leith distillery. Two enormous 30-tonne grain silos and a two roller Alan Ruddock mill enables the distillery to process a tonne of barley an hour, twice a day. In a single 2.5-tonne mash tun, 12 mashes of 2.2 tonnes of barley take place. Local farmers take the slurry for now, but there are plans to introduce biomass and fertilisers to make this part of the process greener.

Peat heads will be excited to learn that 50ppm of peated barley from Muntons is distilled for two months a year, with blending primarily in mind. Fermentation uses Pinnacle distillers yeast and goes from 48-115 hours in six 10,000-litre stainless steel washbacks, depending on how much is being mashed.

The stills are based on designs gathered from the old John Crabbie archives, and are designed to create a heavy, waxy spirit, so there’s little reflux thanks to big wide bulbs and flat lyne arms. Typically cut points are at 76% ABV then 62% ABV, but two different receivers in the spirit safe allow for different cuts of high and low cuts, allowing greater variety and room to experiment. Just past them is a smaller still called Judy, the first Holstein Halewood Artisanal Spirits bought which is now used to make Crabbie’s range of gins.

As for maturation, you can expect some interesting cask finishes in the future. Think virgin oak, bourbon, Calvados, Tokaji, Cognac, and Tequila, as well as some Chateau Margaux wine casks which are particularly cool as we know that in 1918 John Crabbie sourced the exact same type. A century later they became the first casks filled at Bonningtons (on the 24 March 2020, to be precise). Around 2,200 casks are filled a year, and eventually coopering will happen on site.

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