An industrial-scale grain spirit distillery located on Wheatfield Road in Edinburgh, the North British Distillery lies next to the Western Approach Road, 2 miles (3 km) southwest of the city centre and is the last remaining spirit producer in the capital. Established in 1885 on what was then a green-field site on the outskirts of the city, the distillery was a joint venture between Andrew Usher, William Sanderson and John Crabbie, with numerous other whisky-blenders as shareholders, all keen to co-operate to ensure a reliable supply of bulk grain alcohol for their products at competitive prices. Within a year of opening, the distillery was producing 3.6 million litres of spirit per year. Production reached almost three times this level by the outbreak of World War I, but declined rapidly as wartime priorities lay elsewhere. The plant was almost converted to acetone production, for use in munitions, although the war ended before this was completed. Distilling resumed in 1920 but suffered setbacks because of prohibition in the USA and the depression of the early 1930s. It had barely recovered when World War II brought a further suspension of operations. Thereafter production grew and the site was expanded, incorporating the former Edinburgh Corporation tram depot which lay adjacent to provide space for new warehouses.
The economic down-turn of the 1980s reduced demand and brought job losses. However, it also brought a renewal of the plant and a change in the ownership, with the various shareholders bought out by two of the larger enterprises: International Distillers & Vintners and Robertson & Baxter. With IDV being taken-over and Robertson & Baxter changing its name, it is now a partnership between multi-national Diageo plc and the privately-held Edrington Group, supplying grain-spirit to Diageo subsidiary UDV for their numerous brands, including Smirnoff Vodka and Johnnie Walker whisky, and Edrington as a constituent of their blended whiskies (Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark). Remarkably the distillery has traditionally used imported maize as its primary raw material (3000 tons per week at full production brought from France via the Port of Leith), along with a lesser amount of malted barley. The plant produces around 61.6 million litres of alcohol annually, while also making pelletised cattle-feed from the spent grain and liquefying carbon dioxide, a bi-product of the distillation process, for sale.
The associated maltings and warehousing sites on Slateford Road and Westfield Road were sold for redevelopment in 2002-03. Although one warehouse for cask maturation remains adjacent to the distillery, the company now largely depends on its extensive complex of bonded warehouses at Addiewell in West Lothian.
Tynecastle Stadium lies immediately to the southeast.