LOOKING back, a less dramatic time could perhaps have been picked to make its debut in the Scotch whisky world.

Holyrood Distillery and visitor centre, based a short walk from arts venue The Pleasance in Edinburgh, opened its doors just days before the Fringe kicked off last summer.

Rob Carpenter, who developed the business with wife Kelly and Scotch whisky veteran David Robertson, jokes that it was an “interesting” time to begin welcoming visitors. But the baptism of fire would certainly not appear to have done it any harm.

“We have seen fairly constant growth since we opened,” Mr Carpenter said. “Right now I think we are number 13 on TripAdvisor for things to see and do in Edinburgh, so that is great.

“We are quite happy with things. Awareness is going to keep growing.”

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The roots of the project, which is the first to distil single malt in the centre of Edinburgh for nearly a century, go back to the early years of the millennium. Mr and Mrs Carpenter, who hail from Canada and came across the Atlantic to spend a year in the Scottish capital between 2004 and 2005, when he studied for a masters at the University of Edinburgh.

“That was when we were both bitten by Edinburgh/ Scotland bug and the whisky bug,” Mr Carpenter said.

“I have had an idea in my head to do something like this somewhere for a number of years and it was really late 2013 that we formulated something that David and I thought would work in Edinburgh, and we started pushing forward on it.”

Mr Carpenter quips that Mr Robertson, a former master distiller of The Macallan and one of the best-known figures in the industry, “stupidly said yes” to his approach after he had mapped out a business strategy and initial financial projections. By that stage the Carpenters had founded the Canadian branch of the Edinburgh-based Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which they established in 2011 (it is now mostly run by Kelly).

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The next steps were to find a site, and then work up designs, secure planning permission and then to raise funds. The location they chose provides a good talking point itself.

Tucked in behind St Leonard’s police station, around a 15-minute walk from the Royal Mile, the distillery and visitor centre has been developed in a building dating from 1835.

It was once owned by the so-called Innocent Railway, developed in the 1820s to bring coal from Dalkeith to Edinburgh.

“This building was part of that terminus in Edinburgh, and it is the last remaining piece,” Mr Carpenter said.

While some Scottish distillers and brewers, including BrewDog and Innis & Gunn, have used crowdfunding to get projects up and running in recent years, Holyrood has raised investment in the more traditional way. To date some £5.8 million has been raised from as many as 60 investors, with Mr Carpenter himself holding the biggest stake. Among its backers are the Scottish Investment Bank.

Taking some debt finance into account, around £6.7m has been invested in total to get the distillery up and running.

“There is a high barrier to enter the whisky industry,” Mr Carpenter said.

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What Holyrood does have in common with other fledgling distillers is that it is making gin.

Noting that the distillery is equipped to make both whisky and gin, the store at the Holyrood visitor centre stocks four types of gin, as well as four gin liqueurs based on those spirits. Four whiskies, sourced from other distillers, are also sold, marketed as the Holyrood Spirits Merchants range.

In charge of making the spirits is a relatively young team of distillers, including Jack Mayo, who was recruited from the Glasgow Distillery Company.

Mr Carpenter described Mr Mayo as “very creative and very knowledgeable”.

He added: “He is a very smart guy too – he has a doctorate in astrophysics. There is no shortage of creativity and brainpower there.

“He has also got three pretty talented young distillers working with him as well, who are also pretty energised by trying to create different flavours and just doing different things.

“They are really excited about our cask programme, for example.”

The cask programme allows collectors to acquire a barrel of Holyrood single malt whisky and play a role in shaping its flavour.

“It’s a very bespoke approach which is a bit of a nightmare for operations in trying creating all kinds of different styles, but is very exciting for distillers who get to do different stuff all the time and learn all the time,” Mr Carpenter said.

Asked when he hopes to release the distillery’s maiden single malt, Mr Carpenter said: “We hope we can bring out a pretty good young single malt.

“The reason we are hopeful is that we are following a very different approach than most new distilleries in that we are doing a lot of work with speciality malts. Things like caramel malt, crystal malt and chocolate malt, and also doing lots of work with different yeasts.

“We have done a fair amount of research and experiments into this, and it is quite possible to create much more robust flavours early on. So we are hopeful we can produce a young whisky that is quite full of flavour, and that is our goal.”

Pressed on when he hopes the release will be, Mr Carpenter replied that his challenge to the operations team is to produce a “fantastic three year old.”

He added: “They have that challenge in front of them and I am fairly confident that we can pull it off.”

Six Questions

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why? 
Scotland. After that, anywhere with good wifi, cold beer and a lack of revolutionary potential.
When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal? 
As a Canadian kid, I wanted to be a Mountie for a long time. It appealed because it seemed always different and challenging.
What was your biggest break in business? 
Working for some really great bosses, although I didn’t always appreciate it at the time.
What was your worst moment in business? 
There have been a few; they’ve almost always been connected with politicians doing something populist or to cover their backsides.
Who do you most admire and why? 
People who follow their own path, think things through carefully, before acting and are considerate of others.
 What book are you reading and what music are you listening to? 
Just finished The Outsiders, by Thorndike. Music preferences lean towards 1970s through 1990s, but a big fan of jazz and blues too.