Allen Associates enjoying a dram or two in the capital

Monday, 12 October 2020

Scotland’s leading distillery designer may be spreading its international wings, but there is no doubt the consultancy’s work closer to home remains at the core of the business.

Over the past few years Allen Associates team of 17 professional chemical engineers have worked on a growing number of projects across the country, with their expertise and skills bringing them to the attention of some of the industry’s highest profile names.

New holyrood distillery

Part of Allen Associates project portfolio are three unique and ambitious distillery projects in Edinburgh; Holyrood Park Distillery, John Crabbie’s Bonnington Distillery and Port of Leith vertical distillery, with each requiring a different creative approach to the design process.

In the heart of the capital, Holyrood Park is Edinburgh’s first whisky distillery in almost 100 years. Located in a 180 year old B-listed former railway building, the new distillery and visitor centre opened its doors to the world in summer 2019 to great acclaim.

Over a four year period, the Allen Associates team worked with Holyrood and specialist contractors LH Stainless, Muirton Controls and Blyth & Blyth consulting engineers to bring the distillery to life.

Allen Associates Engineering Director, Martin Smith, picks up the story. “This was a hugely prestigious project and a real milestone in distilling in the capital. We knew there would be challenges due to the age and location of the building but it was only when we started looking in detail at the layout that we realised how tight it would be to incorporate everything that was required.

holyrood distillery and visitor centre

“The client wanted a very flexible distillery for both single malt whisky and gin that could deliver on their ambition of crafting an amazing range of flavours. The small batch size, flexible FVs and stills all help to deliver on this ambition, evidenced by their custom made cask programme selling out in their first year’s offering.

“We used state-of-the-art 3D modelling to ensure that every available space on the site was utilised to minimise space for plant and equipment and maximise space for visitor centre operations, however, the team quickly identified there was a need for additional "plant room" space. This resulted in the creation of a small building to house the steam boiler and chiller. As a result of careful planning, creative design layout, innovative process design and close consultation with the client we brought the project to fruition within budget and on time.”

Across town, a name from the past has returned to the capital after a break of over 150 years. From his premises in Leith John Crabbie produced and exported a variety of drinks products, including whisky, to countries as far afield as the Americas, China and India. Though John died in 1891 his family continued to grow the Crabbie’s brand until its eventual sale in the 1960s. Current owners, Halewood, who purchased it from then owners LVMH in 2006, have brought the brand and production back to life. The Bonnington Distillery is the next part of a 219 year project that ensconces Crabbie’s back in its rightful home Edinburgh.

“One of the biggest challenges facing us on the Crabbie’s project was time,” explains Martin Smith. “The new 0.5mla Bonnington distillery was being fast tracked and we were looking at project completion in a year and a half. This required a very tightly managed programme, however, as the project developed a change in client focus meant that significant design changes were required and the team had to be extremely flexible.

“The end result was a well thought through and well designed distillery incorporating an efficient layout, increased process flexibility and with a focus on process safety throughout.”

Over the centuries Edinburgh has played an enormous role in Scotland’s rich whisky heritage, with Leith at the epicentre of this growth. Some of today’s biggest brands, including Johnnie Walker and Ballantines, started life on the banks of the Forth, and now a new single malt is set to take its place amongst these giants of the industry.

New port leith distillery

Located in Leith, Edinburgh's historic port, and overlooking the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Port of Leith Distillery will be housed in a bold new building rising over nine storeys. At the heart of the structure will be a vertical production process, with grain milling and mashing at the top, leading down through fermentation to distillation at the bottom. At the very top will be a spectacular rooftop bar with panoramic views across Edinburgh and over the Forth to Fife.

“The team at the Port of Leith Distillery wanted a plant capable of producing over a million bottles of single malt whisky a year,” explains Allen Associates Engineering Director, Martin Smith. “Achieving this on their site required some new thinking and has resulted in a vertical arrangement of the process equipment, a first in Scotland.

“Space for the distillation plant is at a premium requiring the Allen Associates team, working closely with LH Stainless, to optimise the process design to ensure the equipment installed can produce the maximum quantity of whisky. In addition, the waterside building and process flow will be a great draw for visitors and we've ensured the journey of tourists through the distillery will be unique in the whisky world.”

Whisky production may be forging ahead in the capital, but a look back to Edinburgh’s distilling past shows the importance of other spirits to the city’s economic prosperity. The 1700s saw an explosion in the trade of luxury spices and other ingredients which ultimately led to almost 400 unregistered stills springing up across the city as the gin craze took off in the 1770s.

Fast forward 250 years and gin is still playing a pivotal role in Scotland’s spirits business, with the industry’s most progressive companies creating a range of new and exciting products to satisfy the needs and desires of an ever more sophisticated consumer.

With a growing international reputation in gin distilling, Allen Associates, is ideally placed to support this boom and is helping to bring a number of ambitious projects to life in the capital.