The North British Distillery Company was established in 1885 by Andrew Usher, William Sanderson and John Crabbie. Their chosen location on the western outskirts of Edinburgh soon became an exciting addition to the commercial and industrial heartbeat of Edinburgh.
The site in the developing suburb of Gorgie and Dalry provided the ideal backdrop for this group of independent blenders and purveyors of their own brands of Scotch whisky to build and operate a distillery which would provide access to their own grain spirit. The distillery was to be financed by the trade for the trade, a “cooperative” agreement as such which would remain the ownership structure for the next hundred years.
The distillery came on stream in September 1887, producing just under one million litres of alcohol in the remainder of that calendar year. In the first full year of production, the output of the Distillery amounted to 3.6 million litres of alcohol. In fact, the early years were so successful that in 1897 the Chairman Andrew Usher commented “there is no whisky more popular in Scotland than North British”.
Production, like most things, was affected by the First and Second World Wars but by 1955 the levels had returned to what they were before the outbreak of the wars and additional warehouses were built. By 1961 distillation activities had expanded to 13 million litres of alcohol requiring yet further investment in warehouses.
The late 60’s and early 70’s were vintage years for the industry and the distillery. With both home and export sales booming, Distillery output had virtually doubled by 1968.
The Company celebrated its Centenary in 1985. One hundred years of operation had seen the company change significantly but the founding principle of a “cooperative” structure remained resolutely in place. The closure of Edinburgh’s other grain distillery, The Caledonian, was announced in 1988 leaving North British as the last remaining producer in the capital.
In 1993, after 108 years of remarkable achievements, the first significant change to the ownership structure of the company was witnessed. Robertson & Baxter combined forces with International Distillers & Vintners to form a joint venture called Lothian Distillers which bought out all other shareholders. The North British trading name was retained.
The Company undertook a major strategic rationalisation of its business when it sold its Maltings and Warehousing site at Slateford Road, Edinburgh in 2002, followed by the sale of its Warehousing site at Westfield Road, Edinburgh in 2003. The Company now operates on two sites with the majority of its maturation warehousing concentrated at Muirhall in West Lothian.
Whilst it took just over 100 years for the company to produce 1.5 billion litres of alcohol, the 2.0 billion litres milestone was reached just ten years later in 2008 and 2.5 billion was reached in 2015.