The Return of the Lost Distilleries – Why We Should Pay Attention to Scotch’s Revival
With the recent growth and success of the Irish whiskey market, it seems unusual to be writing about our neighbours across the water in Scotland. However, it would be unwise to not check up on our Scottish counterparts every once in a while.
Within the last year – though we’ve been excited about events here at home –world whisky has also been going from strength to strength. New distilleries have crept up all over; with at least three set to open in Ireland and ten in Scotland this year.
Conversely, it wasn’t the news of the upcoming distilleries that caught our attention, but rather the return of the lost distilleries in Scotland.
In October 2017, Ian MacLeod Distillers were the first to announce that they would be re-igniting the stills at Rosebank Distillery. A perfect fit for the company, acquiring one of the finest Lowland brands to accompany their Highland and Speyside distilleries (Glengoyne and Tamdhu respectively).
Twenty-four hours later, Diageo revealed that they would be investing £35 million to reopen two mothballed distilleries, Brora in Sutherland and Port Ellen in Islay.
Brora and Port Ellen both closed their doors in 1983 due to the industry over-producing and the lack of demand for single malts. Ten years later, Rosebank would follow suit; yet this later production halt was not the result of quality issues or demand, but rather the owner at the time not wanting to upgrade their effluent plant.
Since the closures of these iconic brands, all three have become serious collector’s items with one bottling fetching £6995 – a Brora 40-Year-Old. These jaw-dropping prices not influenced by just outstanding quality but also rarity. Today – as has been the case for many years – single malts only make up a small percentage of global whisky sales; massively overshadowed by their blended whisky counterparts. However, this small slice of the cask-matured pie chart is expanding and whisky enthusiasts all over the world have been longing for these famous brands to make a return.
That being said, Rosebank, Brora and Port Ellen will be joining over 120 operating distilleries in Scotland, with at least ten more set to open. Which poses the broader question, is this really sustainable?
The need for brands to differentiate themselves is becoming greater by the stave. The growth in Scottish distilleries has – similarly to Ireland – gone hand in hand with consumer demand. However, purchasing one bottle doesn’t necessarily mean brand loyalty.
Such doubts have not phased brands like Macallan, Kilchoman and Benromach; all of which are investing capitol into building new visitor centres, still houses or increasing warehouse capacity. Leaving the impression that there is room for all to join this brave new whisky landscape.
Nevertheless, it is important as ever to create a tangible brand. Loyal whisky fans still look for history and proven credentials, which is why, we believe the return of these lost distilleries will fledge long and prosperous brand lives.
This month’s top picks might not be a 40-Year-Old Brora but are still very, very tasty:
€60.00 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop
A no-age-statement Kilchoman that has been matured in both ex-Bourbon and Sherry barrels. The latter adding richness and apparent maturity giving this whisky a mouthfeel normally only found in much older whiskies. Kilchoman’s neighbours on the island of Islay could learn a few things from this expression.
The heavily peated style of the distillery works in perfect harmony with the dried fruit and spice flavours from the sherry casks, something that can be hard to get right. In this case the smoke shines right through to the end but the journey getting there is very enjoyable. Highly recommended!
Arran 14 Year Old
€57.99 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop
The 14 year old Arran replaces the 12 year old in their iconic range, and is matured entirely in first fill bourbon and sherry casks.
Consumer feedback on this release has been amongst the best in the distillery’s armory.
The quality of the oak is evident and there is a wonderful mix of gingery fruit, toffee apples and roasted nut flavours.
€85.99 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop
Ceòbanach is a copper gold liquid with an unusually rich, complex character marrying ex bourbon cask sweetness with intense Islay malt peatiness and subtle hints of the sea.
As with all Bunnahabhain expressions, Ceòbanach is unchill-filtered meaning that nothing is added or taken away, leaving the whisky exactly as nature intended.
Celtic Whiskey Shop & Wines on the Green on Dublin’ Dawson Street is a multi award winning retailer and a mecca for any whiskey, wine or spirits lover. The store stocks a superb variety of Irish whiskey including many rare and exclusive bottlings. Expert staff serve up free whiskey tastings all day every day, and are on hand to offer any assistance you may need to purchase your favourite tipple. The store hosts a variety of exciting whiskey tastings each month.
Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder Killarney is home to one of Ireland’s most expansive whiskey ranges, stocking an enormous selection of Irish and international whiskey, creative cocktails, Irish craft beers & spirits. Irish Whiskey Experience hosts a range whiskey masterclasses in Killarney and Dublin.