Here is a closer look at eight of Scotland's most famous lost distilleries

With today’s whisky boom it’s hard to imagine a period when the industry would have been struggling enough to see the closure of any distillery.

With new distilleries being announced up and down the country it’s easy to forget that times weren’t always so easy and that at several key points in this century some of Scotland’s biggest distilleries were forced to close their doors.

Here we take a look at eight of the most famous of those lost Scottish distilleries:

1. Rosebank distillery 

Rosebank Distillery. Picture: TSPL

Rosebank Distillery. Picture: TSPL

Situated: Falkirk

Status: Dismantled

Region: Lowlands

Founded – Mothballed: 1798 – 1993

Once part of the dying breed of triple-distilled Lowland malts – which has recently shown some signs of resurgence – Rosebank sat proudly beside Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie as shining examples of the style.

The malt had a strong and loyal fan base even after it fell silent, however 17 years or so after being mothballed, with no rumblings from owners Diageo about a reopening the distillery building was renovated and turned into flats.

2. Port Ellen

Tunnocksboy

Port Ellen distillery. Picture: Jan Kuchenbecker\Wikimedia

Situated: Port Ellen, Islay

Status: Dismantled

Region: Islay

Founded – Mothballed: 1825 – 1983

Probably one of, if not the most, recognisable names on this list, Port Ellen was the victim of the success of its two Diageo stable mates.

When the drinks giant had to choose which of its three Islay distilleries to close in 1983, it was obvious it couldn’t pick either the highly popular Lagavulin or its workhorse Caol Ila, therefore the smaller and less popular Port Ellen was chosen. Its stills were removed to be sold on and the rest of its equipment was dismantled.

The distillery now serves as the malting base for most of the island’s distilleries as well as some on the mainland and its bottlings have seen a bit of a resurgence on the market as more are released from old stock due to rising demand.

3. Brora

Tunnocksboy

Brora distillery. Picture: Pete Rowbottom/Flickr

Situated: Brora

Status: Closed (largely intact)

Region: Highlands

Founded – Mothballed: 1819 – 1983

A personal favourite of the author of this piece, Brora was built in 1819 by the Marquess of Stafford. Originally named Clynelish it made way for a new, updated distillery built on the same site by DCL (Distillers Company Limited) in 1967, and was set to be closed. However, increasing demand for peated whisky saw the original distillery remain open under the name Brora.

Between 1969 and 1973, Brora produced a heavily peated whisky to supply for Johnnie Walker, in lieu of a shortage of Islay whisky caused by a drought in that region. The whisky produced up until its closure in 1983 remained peated but to a much lighter style.

The release of Brora 40 in 2014 was the most expensive single malt ever released by Diageo at just under £7,000. We imagine it was worth every penny.

4. Glenugie

Glenugie distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

Glenugie distillery. Picture: Africa23 \Wikimedia

Situated: Peterhead

Status: Dismantled

Region: Highlands

Founded – Mothballed: 1831 and 1983

Located to the south of Peterhead, Glenugie was once the most easterly of the distilleries in Scotland (that accolade now lies with Glen Garioch).

Glenugie was silent during most of both the world wars, however the distillery’s outlook seemed to be improving in the 50s when new ownership saw it updated and production doubled.

The success was not to last and Glenugie became part of a swathe of malt whisky distilleries that were mothballed in 1983, a sad year for whisky (strangely the year this writer and whisky lover was born).

 5. Imperial distillery

Imperial distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

Imperial distillery. Picture: Anne Burgess\Wikimedia

Situated: Carron

Status: Demolished

Region: Speyside

Founded – Mothballed: 1897 and 1998

Operating for less than half the time it’s been in existence, Imperial was never the most prolific of distilleries. The distillery has been opened and mothballed several times in its history and strong rumours were being banded a few years ago that it was about to be reopened.

Those rumours have been laid to rest with the news that the distillery has been demolished by Pernod Ricard with a new distillery named Dalmunach distillery having now been constructed and opened in its place.

6. St Magdalene

St Magdalene's distillery. Picture: TSPL

St Magdalene’s distillery. Picture: TSPL

Situated: Linlithgow

Status: Demolished

Region: Lowlands

Founded – Mothballed: 1795 and 1983

Originally named for the town it was situated in, Linlithgow, which had no less than four other distilleries. It moved to the St Magdalene site (previously home to a leper colony, convent, and hospital)  in 1834 to be closer to the local canal.

The distillery then took its name from the site and survived up until 1983 when it was changed into a block of flats which still retains the distinctive pagoda roofs.

7. Littlemill distillery

Remains of the excise man's house at Littlemill distillery. Picture: Geograph

Remains of the excise man’s house at Littlemill distillery. Picture:  Lairich Rig \Geograph

Situated: Bowling, West Dunbartonshire

Status: Demolished

Region: Lowlands

Founded – Mothballed: 1772 – 1997

Situated on the border of what defines the lowlands and the highlands, Littlemill was one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and could trace its origins back to 1772 and possibly earlier.

Littlemill was an experimental distillery, which used Saladin boxes for its maltings and its copper pots were aluminium coated and used rectifying columns instead of swan necks to have greater control over the distillation process.

The distillery produced 3 main types of whisky, made possible by its use of rectifying columns; the first was the eponymous malt which was a light-bodied, traditional lowland while the second was a heavier malt named Dunglas and the third, a heavily peated whisky named Dumbuck.

8. Dallas Dhu distillery

Dallas Dhu distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

Dallas Dhu distillery. Picture: Wikimedia

Situated: Moray

Status: Closed

Region: Speyside

Founded – Mothballed: 1899 to 1983

Dallas Dhu, which means “Black Water Valley” in Gaelic, is situated between Inverness and Elgin and remains intact but has been mothballed since 1983.  Diageo sold the distillery to Historic Scotland and it now operates as a museum.

Rumours have circulated that it could once again return to production but nothing has so far been confirmed.

 

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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