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Diageo-owned Port Ellen reopens after 40 years

Published:  20 March, 2024

In a landmark moment for Scotch whisky, Port Ellen Distillery, on the island of Islay, reopened today after a 40-year hiatus.

Arguably the most legendary of all the so-called ‘ghost’ distilleries, a term used to describe the cohort of producers who closed in the 1980s and 1990s amid a declining market, its whiskies today are highly sought after, costing as much as £15,000 per bottle.

Port Ellen represents the final chapter in the £185m investment by parent company Diageo, which has also seen the reopening of the other famous ‘ghost’ distillery Brora, as well as investment in the company’s Scotch whisky visitor experiences.

The striking new distillery building features a modern design with an unobstructed line of sight through the glass stillhouse to the coastline of Islay, across the bay to Carraig Fhada lighthouse.

At the heart of the distillery are two pairs of copper stills. The first pair – The Phoenix Stills – are precise replicas of the original Port Ellen stills, constructed in the 19th Century, and will distil the liquid.

The second pair – The Experimental Stills – will use innovative distilling equipment, allowing multiple cuts to be drawn from the heart of the run, accessing new flavours and characters.

The distillery also has a dedicated on-site laboratory and a full-time laboratory technician to analyse and catalogue the new experimental whiskies that emerge.

In line with Diageo’s commitment to be carbon neutral in its direct production business globally by 2030, Port Ellen will be carbon neutral from the start, with every part of the distillation process optimised so that water and heat are both recycled and all energy produced by a renewable-biofuel boiler.

Diageo’s chief sustainability officer Ewan Andrew said: “This is a landmark moment for Diageo and Scotch Whisky. Port Ellen is rooted in the land and the people of Islay, yet it is a name that resonates around the world as a watchword for quality single-malt Scotch whisky.

“Port Ellen has a proud heritage of leading innovation and experimentation and we have been true to that legacy in the reborn Port Ellen, creating a distillery grounded in tradition but prepared to be a trailblazing new light in the firmament of the Scotch whisky universe.”

Ali McDonald, master distiller at Port Ellen said of the return: “It is an honour to take up this new position at the helm of an iconic distillery and build on Port Ellen’s pioneering past. Port Ellen holds a very special place in the hearts of passionate whisky aficionados, and to see spirit flow off these stills once again is an incredible moment for the Islay community and the wider whisky world. We are deeply committed to pushing the boundaries of Scotch through experimentation. I’m excited to see what we can now create.”

Port Ellen Distillery will welcome the whisky community, connoisseurs, collectors and guests to experience the new distillery. Available to book from June, the experiences range from a full-day private immersion for connoisseurs to shorter introductions to the production process. Port Ellen will also open its doors on the first Saturday of every month for anyone on Islay to visit and witness Port Ellen spirit be crafted once again.