Port Ellen: The Silent Distillery

The Port Ellen distillery is located in the small town of Port Ellen, on the island of Islay.

In 1825 Port Ellen was first established as a malt mill, and then later developed into a distillery in 1836 by John Ramsay. Under his charge the distillery became the first to trade with North America, and Ramsay also played a large role in imports and exports to and from the isle of Islay. For a time, the man also served as the chairman of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. He was a man of passion and influence, who carried the great distillery forward for years.

After Ramsay’s death the distillery stayed in his family until it was bought over in 1925. The distillery shut down in 1929 and re-opened in 1966, which marked the time when the distillery started producing the world renowned Port Ellen whisky. Unfortunately, in 1983, the distillery was shut down for good.

Today Port Ellen is a silent distillery, meaning that, even though the stills are no longer in use and no whisky is produced on site, there is still well-aged, extremely rare whisky remaining in casks at the distillery.

The distillery has a malting house which is still in use today and supplies most of Islay’s distilleries with malt. This is due to the expansion of the distillery’s malting facilities in 1973. In between the distillery’s re-opening in 1966 and its final closure in 1983 Port Ellen built a reputation of producing the finest whisky on Islay during those years.

This high quality whisky combined with the distillery’s closure has seen the releases of Port Ellen bottlings skyrocket in price over the last decade and a half. Diageo, the stock owner of the distillery, released the first bottles in 2001. Those bottles are now valued three or four times higher than the time of their release.

Older bottlings and independent releases are valued at well over £500 and as the distillery grows more famous and bottles start diminish, it is safe to say that products from the silent distillery will only grow rarer and harder to come by.

Port Ellen single malts differ greatly from bottling to bottling. The common character of Port Ellen whisky presents a high level of peat and complexity. Sherry-cask aged Port Ellen whisky brings forth rich sweetness to balance out the peat, while bourbon-cask aged bottles deliver spice and peppery notes to compliment the smokiness.

There is no question why the Port Ellen distillery has become renowned worldwide and why its bottles are steadily disappearing from the market.

Port Ellen’s 35-year old release is one of the world’s rarest bottles and is available here at the Whisky Foundation today!

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