WHISKY, the water of life, has long had strong connections with the Port of Leith, and not just in the bars where it is downed to this day.
The Highland Queen warehouse on Commercial Street was perhaps the most obvious of Leith’s whisky bonds, its name scrawled in big white letters the length of the front of the building until the Eighties.
Equally famous was Crabbie’s on Great Junction Street, home also of another Scottish favourite Green Ginger Wine.
With Leith in my blood, it didn’t take a second asking when I was invited to head home this week for the launch of Crabbie’s new single malt, Yardhead, a non age declared single malt whisky.
“The company is the first to produce a spirit in the Port that will be turned into whisky for more than 100 years”, we were told proudly by the distillers.
It continues the tradition started by John Crabbie in the late 1800s.
A pioneer and a rule breaker, he was one of the first to blend whisky in order to ‘create consistency’, something that had been lacking up to that point.
Of course, little remains of the Leith that Crabbie would have inhabited, perhaps just the odd section of setts is a quiet pend or a refurbished facade .
A haven for smugglers and pirates, the 19th century Port was Scotland’s gateway to the world and Crabbie exported his Scotch far and wide.
Already famous for storing wine and brandy, when the wine harvest in Europe collapsed in the late 1880s due to the spread of a parasite, whisky took its place as Leith’s warehouses become bonds - around 85 bonded warehouses still existed as late as the 1960s.
The last, on Water Street, only closing around 1995 - today most have been converted into flats.
As an aside, it was the Water Street bond that Star Trek’s Scottie was curious about when he came to the Capital in 1995.
“I remember being here during the war and turning a corner to find whisky running in the gutters,” James Doohan told me, adding, “What was all that about?”
He was horrified at the thought of the amber nectar going to waste.
He’d most likely stumbled across a visit from the excise me, disposing of whisky on which the tax hadn’t been paid.
Leith folklore has it that locals would come out with pots and jugs to rescue the flowing spirit for themselves.
The only whisky flowing at the Yardhead launch - named after another area of Leith - was into glasses thankfully.
And appropriately, there were ginger laced cocktails to be tried as well as a modern twist on the old-fashioned, with added tea.
Today, Crabbie spirits are distilled in Granton, at their Chain Pier Distillery (Crabbie’s new Bonnington Distillery is expected to oprn in late 2019), from where Yardhead comes with the promise that it has ‘No Boundaries’ and is great in a cocktail, or mixed with favourite mixer.
I’ll have to give it a try with mine, Red Cola... I know, I know, I know.