One of the key drivers of collectability in whisky over the past 30 years has been the undeniable allure of the closed distillery - those that once prospered, but now lay dormant or demolished entirely. From the knock-on effects of American prohibition in the early 1900s to a wave of distillery closures during the 1980s, Scotland's whisky industry has a storied history to tell. Discover below a selection of Scotland's most iconic closed distilleries (some awaiting a revival), from the delicate Rosebank to the robust Port Ellen, there is something for all whisky lovers to enjoy.
Brora distillery (originally known as Clynelish) has a facinating history. Originally built by the Duke of Sutherland in 1819, Clynelish spirit became prized by blenders during the mid-20th century, so much so that a new, larger distillery was built next-door to supply the demand. The original distillery was later closed in 1967, but soon re-opened as Brora distillery, producing heavily-peated whisky for blending purposes (never bottled as a single malt during its years of operation). Brora remained operational until 1983 when it was mothballed like many other distilleries in Scotland, making any Brora distilled between 1967 and 1983 incredibly sought-after. Diageo's Rare Malts Selection bottlings in 1995 were the first distillery releases to bear the name Brora, and in 2017 it was announced that Diageo planned to re-open this formerly lost gem, filling its first casks on 19th May 2021.
Whisky Auctioneer Highest Hammer Price to date: Brora 1972 Cask Strength 40 Year Old (£31,000)
Brora Single Malt Whisky. [Source: Whisky Auctioneer]
Port Ellen (Islay)
Arguably the most legendary of all closed distilleries, Port Ellen is the lost jewel in the Islay crown. The distillery opened in 1825 and experienced a series of closures during its history, the most recent being in 1983 when it was closed by DCL (now Diageo) due to an oversupply of peated malt for blending. This, combined with a perceived lack of interest in Port Ellen as a single malt, resulted in the distillery remaining closed to this day. Produced exclusively for blending purposes during its time in operation, Diageo's Rare Malts Selection provided the first publicly available distillery bottlings of Port Ellen as a single malt, with many independent bottlings released in the years that followed. However, it's not all bad news for Port Ellen fans, as Diego plan to re-open the iconic distillery in 2023.
Whisky Auctioneer Highest Hammer Price: Port Ellen 12 Year Old Queen's Visit 1980 (£100,000)
Port Ellen Diageo Special Releases. [Source: Whisky Auctioneer]
Rosebank is considered one of the greatest Lowland single malts; a non-peated, triple-distilled spirit with a distinctive floral character. There are records of distilling around the Rosebank site from as early as 1798, with the Rosebank distillery we now think of founded in 1840. Despite multiple periods of decline in the Scotch whisky industry, Rosebank remained continually operational (bar a brief closure during the First World War), until 1993 when it was closed by United Distillers. The story thankfully doesn't end here: in 2017 Ian MacLeod (owner of Tamdhu and Glengoyne) bought the Rosebank site, as well as the trademark name and remaining stock from Diageo, with a view to resurrecting the lost distillery. Rosebank is due to open its doors once more in 2023.
Whisky Auctioneer Highest Hammer Price: Rosebank 1989 Beatson Single Cask 29 Year Old / Bottle No.1 of 1 (£16,000)
Want to know more? Read our Ultimate Guide to Collectible Rosebank.
Rosebank 'The Roses' series, Edition 1 & 2 [Source: Whisky Auctioneer]
Dallas Dhu (Speyside)
Established in 1898, Dallas Dhu was a key component of the Roderick Dhu blended Scotch during its time, one of the most popular blends during the early-20th century, and was rarely seen as single malt. As with much of the DCL portfolio, the distillery was deemed surplus to requirements during the market downturn of the 1980s, and closed in 1983. Very few official bottlings exist, with a handful of rare independent bottlings occasionaly appearing on the secondary market. For now, Dallas Dhu shows no signs of returning to Scotch whisky production, however, it remains intact and is run as a distillery museum by Historic Environment Scotland today.
Whisky Auctioneer Highest Hammer Price: Dallas Dhu 1921 Private Cask 64 Year Old #296 (£15,500)
Dallas Dhu 17 Year Old Sestante Independent Bottling [Source: Whisky Auctioneer]
Hazelburn was once the largest and most successful distillery in Campbeltown, operating from the early-19th century until its closure in 1925. Faced with a market dowturn following the First World War, the company was sold to Mackie & Co. in 1920, and was absorbed by DCL in 1927. Hazelburn's warehouses were used by DCL for many years, however distilling halted in 1925 and never returned. Whilst very little of the distillery still remains in Campbeltown today, the Hazelburn name lives on through 'Hazelburn' single malt whisky, produced at a neighbouring Campbeltown icon, Springbank distillery. Hazelburn is a triple distilled, unpeated single malt that has been produced at Springbank distillery since 1997.
Whisky Auctioneer Highest Hammer Price: Hazelburn (Springbank distillery) 1997 Fresh Rum #02/232-7 / Cask (£43,000)
Hazelburn Springbank Society Bottling [Source: Whisky Auctioneer]
Stromness, also known as Man o' Hoy, was once one of Orkney's great distilleries. Located in the south-west of the mainland, Stromness was founded in 1817 and enjoyed more than a century of distilling, eventually closing its doors for good in 1928. The distillery was unusual for its time in that it bottled its whisky as a single malt, as opposed to a component of blends which was by far more common during that time. In an ode to one of Orkney's most famous landmarks, the Old Man of Hoy (a 449-foot sea stack off the coast of Hoy), the Stromness single malt brand was originally named 'Man o' Hoy', later remarketed in the late-1800s as 'Old Orkney' or simply 'O.O.'. Following the closure of Stromness in 1928, the then owners, J&J McConnell, continued to bottle the last remaining stocks until the mid-1930s, one of which was sold at Whisky Auctioneer in 2020 as part of The Perfect Collection Part One.
Whisky Auctioneer Highest Hammer Price to date: O.O. Old Orkney Real Liqueur Whisky circa 1930s (£26,000)
O.O. Old Orkney Real Liqueur Whisky circa 1930s [Source: Whisky Auctioneer]
The whisky industry in Scotland is currently booming, with many lost distilleries awaiting their immenent revival. Time will tell wether the spirit from these awakened distilleries will match that of their bygone past, however, as old stocks continue to dwindle, only a lucky few will have the opportunity to find out.
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