An old picture of Littlemill distilleryAn old picture of Littlemill distillery

What are Ghost Distilleries?

March 25, 2024
 / 4 mins

Port Ellen, Islay’s legendary “ghost” distillery, reopened recently after more than four decades of closure. 

After an £185 million restoration (close to AUD $358,000,000), the new distillery has been “re-envisioned and designed from the ground up to push the boundaries of innovation, experimentation, and sustainability,” according to owners Diageo.

“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,” Master Blender Aimée Morrison said. 

“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.”

Port Ellen was founded in 1825 as a workhorse distillery but mothballed in 1930. Between 1967 and 1983, the distillery fired up its stills for a brief period.

To celebrate its revival, the distillery has released Port Ellen Gemini, twin 44-Year-Old Scotch whiskies that was drawn from three 1978 European oak casks. Only 274 sets are available.  

Port Ellen Gemini


So, ‘what’s a ghost distillery?’ we hear you say (and picture you scratching your chin). It’s more than just a wonderful opportunity to go to town on spirit puns. Read on to find out about these relics from whisky history and how you can win one of them.

What are ghost distilleries?

Ghost distilleries is the term given to a distillery that has ceased production, but still has some of its stock available — the spirit of the distillery remains… until they run out of stock, of course. 

What’s the difference between a ghost distillery and silent whisky?

People use the term ghost distillery or ‘silent distillery’ interchangeably. You may also hear the term ‘ghost whisky.’

What happens to the whisky from ghost distilleries?

Whisky from ghost distilleries will eventually be no more. These rare liquid relics of a bygone era often become the stuff of whisky legend and are highly sought after by whisky drinkers and collectors alike, eager to get hold of them because of their scarcity, legacy or as an investment. Or of course, to drink them. 

Why does it happen?

Ghost distilleries are sometimes the victim of financial hardship, demolition or fire. Or their operators make the commercial decision to turn off the stills and close the doors. Some ghost distilleries have been resurrected and reopened, such as Brora and Port Ellen. 

Right now, there’s more than 30 known ghost distilleries in Scotland. 

A lot of distilleries fell prey to the ‘Whisky Loch’ in the ‘80s, AKA the ‘bad old days’ for whisky.

Translating to ‘whisky lake,’ the term refers to Scotland’s surplus of whisky. The 80s saw more Scotch whisky distilleries succumb to overproduction and under demand, and many were forced to close their doors. 

For instance, during that period, drinks giant Diageo — at the time called United Distillers/Guinness PLC — closed the doors on several of its distilleries including Banff, Coleburn, Convalmore, Pittyvaich and Port Ellen. Other casualties of the decade include Coleburn, Dallas Dhu, Glenesk, Glenlochy, Glen Mhor, Hillside, Linlithgow, Millburn, Moffat, Glen Albyn, North Port, Glen Flagler and many more. 

Keep your eyes glued to this space because we've got some big news coming your way. 

Littlemill Distillery

Littlemill was mothballed in the early 80s but then reopened in 1989. The distillery eventually fell silent in 1994 and then sold to Loch Lomond and was dismantled. Then in 2004, the remains of the distillery were sadly destroyed by fire. 

So, there will never be any more Littlemill whisky once the last casks are gone. Loch Lomond released a limited number of its Littlemill Private Cellar Editions in 2015. Since then, a mere handful of bottles have been released annually, which have become ridiculously sought-after by collectors and whisky enthusiasts. The Littlemill 25 and 29 Year Olds are selected from some of the last remaining casks to be laid down at the Littlemill Distillery — ever. 

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