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Issue 82 - The unsung saint

Whisky Magazine Issue 82
September 2009


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The unsung saint

Gavin D Smith charts the history of one of the founding distilleries of DCL (Distillers Company Limited) that still entralls enthusiasts.

For so long the ‘poor relations' of the single malt world, Lowlands have staged something of a revival in recent years, with Fife's existing Daftmill ‘boutique' distillery likely to be supplemented in the not too distant future by a new small-scale venture at Kingsbarns, near St Andrews. There are also ongoing plans to create a start-up distillery in the Falkirk area, using the Rosebank name, and to redevelop the former Annandale distillery, near Dumfries.

This seems an apt time, then, to take a look at one of our ‘lost' Lowland distilleries – namely St Magdalene. The plant was located in the historic West Lothian royal burgh of Linlithgow, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and some 20 miles west of Edinburgh.

The site ultimately occupied by St Magdalene distillery was a historic one, with a leper colony operating there under the auspices of the Knights Templar of St John of Torphichen during the 12th century. The land was later occupied by a convent.

By the late 18th century, Linlithgow was a noted centre for brewing and distilling,and was ultimately home to five licensed distilleries. The first of these was Bulzion, which was established in the 1750s, followed by Bonnytoun in 1795. Two years later, St Magdalene was licensed. It occupied land beside the Union Canal, which provided ready access for raw materials and the transportation of casks filled with spirit. The distillery also fronted a major road and ultimately boasted its own railway sidings.

Bonnytoun had...

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