After 40 Years of Closure, This Iconic Scotch Distillery has Reopened

Scotland boasts several esteemed ghost distilleries, a term reserved for those that ceased operations decades ago but still yield whisky from barrels aging in warehouses across the nation. Among the most renowned is Port Ellen, whose whisky, once distilled there, fetches astronomical prices upon release by its parent company, Diageo. This week marks the official reopening of the distillery, and we’re here to share all the exciting details.

But before we delve into the present, let’s journey into the past: Port Ellen was established in 1825 on the rugged Isle of Islay, celebrated for its peaty whiskies. For over 150 years, the distillery crafted peated whisky, predominantly destined for blends rather than as single malts. However, in 1983, Port Ellen ceased operations due to a slump in whisky demand. In the subsequent years, the site transitioned into malting barley production.

Yet, whisky enthusiasts, collectors, and connoisseurs soon uncovered barrels of Port Ellen whisky hidden in warehouses across Scotland, elevating its allure—and price. In 2017, Diageo, the parent company, announced plans to resurrect and revitalize the distillery. After seven years and a staggering £185 million investment, this vision has finally materialized.

The revitalized Port Ellen distillery boasts a contemporary design, featuring a glass-clad stillhouse, two pairs of copper pot stills meticulously replicated from the originals, and a series of experimental stills dedicated to crafting small-batch whiskies (whisky production commenced earlier this year). Additionally, the distillery underwent comprehensive modernization, encompassing the roller mill, laboratory, spirit safe, and a sustainability initiative rendering it carbon neutral. Notably, the team introduces the “Atlas of Smoke” program, utilizing algorithmic imagery to decode how peat levels in the whisky evolve with aging.

“In delving into the nuanced flavors across different casks, with the wafting smoke permeating the essence of Port Ellen, we embark on an enlightening journey,” remarked master blender Aimée Morrison. “Through our bespoke algorithmic image machine unveiled today, we deepen our understanding of the smoke enigma and invite enthusiasts worldwide to partake in this odyssey, from Islay to the global stage.”

To commemorate the reopening, Port Ellen unveils “Gemini,” a pair of twin decanters housing 44-year-old whisky distilled shortly before the distillery’s closure. Originally aged in European oak casks, the spirit was split into two batches for further maturation (SRP £45,000, approximately $57,000). From June onwards, enthusiasts can book visits to the revamped Port Ellen, with options ranging from brief sessions to immersive daylong experiences; express your interest on the website today.