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Caledonian Distillery
Haymarket, Edinburgh

Caledonian Distillery was built by Graham Menzies & Co. in 1855. This firm owned Sunbury Distillery, near Dean Bridge on the Water of Leith, and needed a more convenient location for carrying on a larger trade. It acquired five acres (2 hectares) of green fields, just beyond the city's built-up area, which then stopped at the Haymarket. The site lay between two railway lines, the Edinburgh & Glasgow and the Caledonian, from which branches were laid down, converging at the centre of the works. The distillery was one of the first to be sited to take advantage of railway transportation. An abundant supply of water was drawn from the Union Canal. It flowed by gravity along a subterranean pipe-line about 4000 feet long, with a fall of 65 feet, into the heart of the distillery.
An architect's drawing of the north and east elevations, dated 1855, depicts the still house, the mash house, the tunroom and the granary, much as they look today. All of these massive stone buildings are still used for their original purposes. The makings was built at a later date. It is mentioned in a description of the works in David Bremner's book, The Industries of Scotland, 1869, where Caledonian was stated to be one "of the two most extensive distilleries" in the country. Its owners stayed out of the combination of six Scotch grain whisky distilleries, formed as The Distillers Company Ltd. in 1877. They decided to join in 1884. The enlarged company took over Men-zies' gin rectifying business in London, for which Caledonian Distillery continued to make gin spirit for the next twenty years.
Alfred Barnard, author of The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, 1887, reckoned that Caledonian was "the model distillery of Europe", because it contained "every improvement of machinery and every patent" known to the industry. For instance, grain was delivered in bulk, every twelve hours, in trains of purpose-built waggons fitted with trap doors. When these were unbolted, the grain fell into a continuous screw, "which almost in an instant sends it to the elevators carrying it up to the top floors, and delivering it by the screws to the various grain departments -almost doing away with manual labour". All the machinery on the premises was driven by steam power, "there being seven powerful engines from 10 to 150 horse power, and eleven boilers each 30 feet long and7 ½ feet in diameter." There was one Coffey, "said to be the largest in Europe", which made grain whisky, and three pot stills; two of these, according to Bremner, had been "fitted up" around 1867 "to meet a growing demand for the variety of whisky known as 'Irish'". Scotch malt whisky, according to company documents, was being made in 1891.
The distillery was substantially re-equipped after the end of the Great War. An engineer's drawing of 1919 illustrates a "new power house" and a mechanical coal-handling plant, and another, dated 1921, accommodation for silos in the grain store. According to a contemporary description of the distillery in a trade paper, "electric and steam power arranged on a rigidly self-contained basis combine to render a complete breakdown of any part of the process a virtual impossibility". Steam for the Coffey still, and for power, was raised by means of seven Lancashire boilers, all mechanically stoked by under-feed screws. Generating power was supplied by two vertical double-acting steam engines, which had dynamos coupled to their main shafts. These supplied power for the working of the plant and for lighting the premises until they were replaced, before 1935, by an Adamson turbine and a reciprocal engine for standby purposes.

In the course of an enemy raid on 29 September 1940, a 500 lb. bomb struck the warehouse in Duff Street. The explosion and the resulting fire largely destroyed the warehouse and many neighbouring tenement houses. No fewer than 148 firemen and 30 engines were deployed to control the fire. About 1,0 original proof gallons of whisky were lost. One cask, blown out of the warehouse, crashed through the roof of a tenement and came to rest on a table, still half full of blazing spirits.
Production on a long-term basis restarted after the end of the war, with home-grown barley as the raw material. Maize was not available until 1956, and Canadian barley was not used until 1958. By that time, a programme of re-equipment and reconstruction was in full swing. A new copper column had supplanted the wooden analyser of the Coffey still in 1948, although the wooden rectifier was not so replaced until 1955-56. Between that time and 1960, Colclad washbacks superseded their wooden predecessors at the rate of two every year. Three coal-fired boilers were installed in 1957, and converted to oil-burning in 1967. The power house supplied direct-current electricity for all purposes until 1959, when alternating current from the mains began to be installed. The steam turbines disappeared in the course of the gradual change to the public electricity supply, completed in 1964; so did the hydraulic lifts (mentioned by Barnard) in the warehouses.
Carbon dioxide gas has been collected from the fermentation process at the distillery since 1927. Since 1971, Caledonian also processes the C02 produced by the North British Distillery Co. Under another agreement, spent wash from Caledonian's distillation process is pumped along a second pipeline to North British, where it is evaporated, together with that company's spent wash, into a syrup, for inclusion in an animal feedingstuff, distillers' dark grains.
The floor makings worked until 1965, since when all malt has been supplied by the Company's Saladin plant at Kirkliston, West Lothian. The makings on the "Old Side", dating from the last century, lies empty; the makings on the "New Side" has been demolished to make way for the present C02 recovery plant.
Water for reducing spirit is drawn from the Edinburgh town supply and cooling water from the Union Canal. The Canal was officially closed to navigation in 1965.
The distillery is owned and operated by Scottish Grain Distillers Ltd., a subsidiary of The Distillers Company p.l.c., of Edinburgh.

Caledonian was, for several decades, the largest distillery in Scotland. It initially housed one Coffey still, which James Grant described as ‘the greatest still in Scotland’ in Old and New Edinburgh, Vol. 2 in 1882.

The distillery also produced an Irish-style grain whisky distilled in two large pot stills, a style revered among blenders at the time for its consistency.

Some old parcels of Caledonian have been bottled as a single grain by indie bottlers in recent years. It has never been bottled as a single grain, save for a commemorative bottling for the 1986 Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh, while Diageo released a 40-year-old, 1974 vintage under ‘The Cally’ label, as part of its 2015 Special Releases.

Built in 1855 by Graham Menzies & Co. of the Edinburgh (Sunbury) distillery, Caledonian was the largest distillery of its time. It was perfectly positioned for success, located close to Haymarket station, which had opened 13 years prior, and the Forth & Clyde Canal, from which cooling water was drawn. Covering five acres of land on the western side of Dalry Road, Caledonian was built during a boom in new grain distillery builds – by 1857 there were 17 distilleries operating patent stills in Scotland.

The boom led to an oversupply of grain whisky and an ensuing period of financial difficulties, so to secure their businesses, in 1856 six of the largest grain distilleries, including Caledonian, banded together and divided the market up between them for a short period. Despite only being one year in business, Caledonian was allocated 41.5% of the market, owing to its size and significant stocks. In comparison, Carsebridge was given 15%, Seggie 13.5%, Glenochil 11.5%, Cambus 10.5% and Haddington just 8%.

In 1867, Caledonian became one of a growing number of distilleries to install pot stills for the purpose of distilling ‘Irish style’ grain whisky, which was in high demand among blenders looking for a more consistent product. The pot stills remained until around 1900.

In 1884, Menzies’ son, William, inaugurated Caledonian as the seventh member of Distillers Company Ltd, seven years after the corporation’s formation. The addition of the Cally, along with Menzies & Co’s rectifying business in London, brought DCL’s combined annual output to 8.8 million gallons. William went on to become the second chairman of DCL in 1897, building the business alongside general manager W. H. Ross.

Caledonian was transferred to Scottish Grain Distillers in 1966, and became part of United Distillers following the Guinness/DCL merger 20 years later. Sadly it fell victim to United Distillers’ mass consolidation of the business in 1988, and was finally closed.

Though its interior was renovated into residential housing a decade later, Caledonian’s 300ft chimney stack still stands as a historical monument, and is one of the tallest Victorian towers remaining in Scotland.

Graham Menzies & Co. builds a new grain distillery near Edinburgh's Haymarket station
Two large pot stills are installed at Caledonian for the purpose of making an 'Irish-style' grain whisky
Caledonian distillery joins DCL as its seventh member
Caledonian is transferred to Scottish Grain Distillers
The distillery is closed permanently
The building's exterior remains largely unchanged but the interior is renovated into flats

1997 - present

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