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Diageo to revive Port Ellen and Brora distilleries

Diageo has pledged a £35 million (US$46m) investment to restart production at closed distilleries Port Ellen and Brora by 2020.

Port Ellen and Brora ceased production in 1983

Both distilleries were mothballed in 1983, and have since gained cult status among malts fans.

The brands are two of the most highly collectible in the Scotch whisky industry, garnering significant attention through their appearances in Diageo’s annual Special Releases series, which has been running since 2001.

According to Diageo, the investment is a “powerful statement of confidence on the future of Scotch whisky”. The group expects work on both distilleries to be completed by 2020.

Nick Morgan, Diageo’s head of whisky outreach, said plans to reopen both distilleries have been “talked about for years” but conversations became “more serious in the last 12 months”.

“This is a truly exceptional moment in Scotch whisky,” he said.

“Port Ellen and Brora are names which have a uniquely powerful resonance with whisky-lovers around the world and the opportunity to bring these lost distilleries back to life is as rare and special as the spirit for which the distilleries are famous.

“Only a very few people will ever be able to try the original Port Ellen and Brora single malts as they become increasingly rare, so we are thrilled that we will now be able to produce new expressions of these whiskies for new generations of people to enjoy.”

Port Ellen, based on Islay, and Brora, based on the eastern coast of Sutherland, will be “reinstated to distill in carefully controlled quantities”. Diageo will aim to “replicate where possible the distillation regimes and spirit character of the original distilleries”, which will produce whisky with a medium peated character.

Both sites will have a capacity of 800,000 litres a year – making them two of Diageo’s smallest distilleries, alongside Oban. Cask filling, traditional warehousing and visitor centres have been included in plans for the distilleries.

Work on Brora will involve the restoration of its existing buildings and old pot stills, which remain on site. Diageo will also install new worm tubs.

Port Ellen’s work will involve the construction of completely new buildings, as well as the restoration of some existing buildings. New pot stills will also be installed.

Speaking to The Spirits Business, Nick Morgan called the news “the whisky announcement of a lifetime”. He added that Diageo is considering launching 12-year-old whiskies as the “benchmark” from both distilleries.

Distilling teams have not yet been decided, according to Morgan, while planning applications for both projects will be submitted “imminently”.

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