Port Ellen revival promises a ‘trailblazing new light’ for Scotch Whisky 

Port Ellen’s lights are back on…

After 40 years on ice, Diageo has reopened the Port Ellen Distillery on Islay, citing its ‘pioneering’ heritage as the basis for its planned future pushing at the ‘boundaries of innovation, experimentation and sustainability’.

One of the so-called ‘ghost’ distilleries that closed in Scotland more than 40 years ago, the rebirth of Port Ellen represents the final chapter in an £185 million investment by Diageo, which has also seen the reopening of its other famously closed distillery, Brora, as well as investment in the company’s Scotch whisky visitor experiences.

Port Ellen’s new distillery building features ultra-modern design with a line of sight through the glass stillhouse to the coastline of Islay.

At the heart of the reborn distillery are two pairs of copper stills. The first of these pairs – christened the Phoenix Stills – are precise replicas of the original Port Ellen stills, and will be used to distil the ‘classic smoky liquid’ that has made Port Ellen single malt so sought after. The second pair – The Experimental Stills – will, said Diageo, ‘take the art and science of whisky exploration to levels of precision never before seen’.

Ewan Andrew, Aimée Morrison and Ali McDonald at the re-opened Port Ellen distillery

These Experimental Stills are linked to a Ten Part Spirit Safe that will allow the Port Ellen whisky makers ‘unprecedented’ opportunity for experimentation. While standard distillery spirit safes allow for three cuts of the spirit run – the head, the heart and the tails – the Port Ellen Ten Part Spirit Safe allows multiple cuts to be drawn from the heart of the run, giving distillers access to ‘previous unexplored’ flavours and characters.

The revived 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 president of global supply chain & procurement Ewan Andrew

Diageo’s president of global supply chain & procurement Ewan Andrew, who officially re-opened Port Ellen, said: “This is a landmark moment for Diageo and for 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.”

Master distiller at Port Ellen, Ali McDonald, said: “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 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 master blender, Aimée Morrison

Port Ellen master blender, Aimée Morrison, added: “Port Ellen will be defined as a distillery that will push boundaries, with our on-site laboratory giving us the opportunity to delve into scientific research, offering us a deeper look into this Islay malt.

“We will better understand how the nuanced flavours from cask-to-cask shine in different ways; with the rolling smoke weaving its way through the heart of Port Ellen. Collectively we will endeavour to maintain the undeniable quality of Port Ellen, create whiskies for the future and take the amazing opportunity to learn as much as we can about the enigma of smoke.”