Port Ellen Distillery on Islay reopens - here’s what visitors can expect including free tours

The famous ghost distillery on Islay has been officially opened.

Published 19th Mar 2024
Updated 21 st Mar 2024

Port Ellen Distillery on Islay reopened today (19 March) with a bold vision to be a trailblazing light for the future of whisky distillation. The ghost distillery closed more than 40 years ago, part of the ‘whisky loch’, but now a new chapter in the history of Port Ellen begins.

This opening represents the final chapter in the £185 million investment by parent company Diageo, which has also seen the reopening of the other famous ghost distillery Brora, as well as investment in the company’s Scotch whisky visitor experiences.

Drawing on Port Ellen’s heritage as one of the most pioneering distilleries of the 19th Century, the new distillery has been designed from the ground up to push the boundaries of innovation, experimentation and sustainability.

The striking new distillery building features ultra-modern design with an unobstructed line of sight through the glass stillhouse to the stunning coastline of Islay, across the bay to Carraig Fhada lighthouse.

At the heart of the distillery are two pairs of copper stills. The first pair - The Phoenix Stills - are precise replicas of the original Port Ellen stills and will distil the classic smoky liquid that Port Ellen is known for. The second pair – The Experimental Stills – will give the team the opportunity to be creative and really explore different flavours.

The Experimental Stills are linked to a signature Ten Part Spirit Safe –a truly innovative piece of distilling equipment - that allows the Port Ellen whisky makers unprecedented opportunity for experimentation. While standard distillery spirit safes allow for three cuts of the spirit run – the head, the heart and the tails - the Port Ellen Ten Part Spirit Safe allows multiple cuts to be drawn from the heart of the run, accessing previously unexplored flavours and characters.

The distillery has a dedicated on-site laboratory and a full-time laboratory technician to analyse and catalogue the new experimental whiskies that emerge.

Port Ellen reopen

In line with Diageo’s commitment to be carbon neutral in its direct production business globally by 2030, Port Ellen will be carbon neutral from the start, with every part of the distillation process optimised so that water and heat are both recycled, and all energy produced by a renewable-biofuel boiler.

Ewan Andrew, Diageo President of Global Supply Chain & Procurement, and Chief Sustainability Officer, officially announced the opening during a ceremony at the distillery.

He said: “This is a landmark moment for Diageo and for Scotch Whisky. Port Ellen is rooted in the land and the people of Islay, yet it is a name that resonates around the world as a watchword for quality single malt Scotch whisky.

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“Port Ellen has a proud heritage of leading innovation and experimentation and we have been true to that legacy in the reborn Port Ellen, creating a distillery grounded in tradition but prepared to be a trailblazing new light in the firmament of the Scotch whisky universe.”

Ali McDonald, Master Distiller at Port Ellen said of the return: “It is an honour to take up this new position at the helm of an iconic distillery and build on Port Ellen’s pioneering past.

"Port Ellen holds a very special place in the hearts of passionate whisky aficionados, and to see spirit flow off these stills once again is an incredible moment for the Islay community and wider whisky world.

"We are deeply committed to pushing the boundaries of Scotch through experimentation. I’m excited to see what we can now create.”

Aimée Morrison, Port Ellen Master Blender, spoke of the future of the distillery and its whisky: “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.

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"We will better understand how the nuanced flavours from cask-to-cask shine in different ways; with the rolling smoke weaving its way through the heart of Port Ellen.

"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 reopen
Ewan Andrew, Aimée Morrison and Ali McDonald open Port Ellen distillery

From today (19 March), Port Ellen Gemini, a new special release to celebrate the reopening, is available to purchase priced at £45,000. Presented in crystal decanters, Port Ellen Gemini presents twin 44-Year-Old Scotch Whiskies, drawn from three 1978 European oak casks.

The distillery brand home also features works by award winning artists, including multiple Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (of which Diageo is a long-term supporter) scholars Lucy May Schofield, Fung + Bedford, Eleanor Lakelin, and Harry Morgan, Daniel Brophy and Object studio.

Visiting Port Ellen - how to book a tour

Port Ellen distillery will welcome visitors - the whisky community, connoisseurs, collectors and invited guests - to experience the wonders of the new distillery.

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Available to book from June, the experiences range from a full day private immersion for connoisseurs, to shorter introductions to the production process.

Port Ellen will also open its doors on the first Saturday of every month for anyone on Islay to visit and witness Port Ellen spirit be crafted once again.

Port Ellen open days

Port Ellen will hold an open day on the first Saturday of every month to ensure that passionate followers from around the world will have a chance to see inside the re-envisioned distillery and witness Port Ellen spirit be crafted once again.

This will be a chance to meet the team, see inside the still house and learn of the latest experiments that have taken place.

Running from June 2024, dates will be released up to a year ahead, bookable online, for free.

Port Ellen reborn

The Port Ellen Reborn experience is for those looking to learn more about the production process at the distillery.

Guests will have the opportunity to draw Port Ellen liquid direct from historic casks, experience a tasting in the warehouse as well as nosing experimental new make spirit.

This also includes a tour accommodating up to twelve guests. It is a 90-minute experience priced at £200pp and is available to book online. 

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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