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Four Vintage Scotch Whiskies Due A Comeback

Rare whiskies from Scotland’s closed distilleries are more popular than ever. Here are the bottles to grab now

There are more than 120 working distilleries across Scotland. A lot by anyone’s standard, given there are only 5.4 million people, but what is perhaps more extraordinary is that 10 of them were only opened in the past couple of years. Galvanised by a growing appetite and appreciation for the water of life, Scotch exports hit £4.7bn last year. Gone is the image of stuffy old geezers knocking back endless wee drams. The appeal of the malt has broadened and the world can’t drink enough of it.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the early 1980s, whisky went through, well, a dry patch and distilleries that had been producing fine, distinctive liquors for decades were mothballed. Brora, Port Ellen, Rosebank, Dallas Dhu and many more were closed, and have come to be known as the silent, or ghost, distilleries.

More than 30 years on, their whiskies have become increasingly rare and collectible. Suddenly, there was talk about the possibility reopening them. Well, 2019 is the year that possibility came to fruition. Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank are indeed all reopening and that’s just for starters. Here’s a guide to the most collectible ghost whiskies, the distilleries which made them, and alternatives if your pockets don’t run deep.

Port Ellen

  • Photograph courtesy of Diageo

Port Ellen on Islay closed in 1983, a victim of the success of its neighbours. It shuttered because the single malts it produced weren’t ever used in blends, such as Johnnie Walker, as with other distilleries. Now, releases from its finite original stocks have gained cult status on the island of Islay. So renowned is its name, in fact, that Port Ellen’s owner Diageo announced plans to reopen the distillery in 2021, whetting everyone’s appetites even further for bottlings from the last of the older casks.

Earlier this year, a limited edition of 1,500 bottles was released for sale, the Port Ellen Untold Stories The Spirit Safe – a 39-year-old, single malt, distilled in 1978, and matured in ex-bourbon and European oak sherry casks. “We’ve released these liquids because they’re the best of that distillery and of that expression. Naturally they’ve gained in popularity and collectability,” explains Mr Tod Bradbury, head of rare and collectable whiskies at wine and spirits merchant, Justerini & Brooks. “The combination of American, European and smoke is very moreish, almost savoury; a bit like sticky toffee pudding.”

  • Photograph courtesy of Diageo

  • Photograph courtesy of Johnnie Walker

Port Ellen Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 37-year-old, £6,000
justerinis.com

A bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Ghost and Rare Port Ellen. Yes, it’s a blend, but Johnnie Walker master blender Mr Jim Beveridge hand-selected eight whiskies to balance the distinct maritime signature of Port Ellen; tasting notes of creamy vanilla, waxy citrus and nutty smoke sing through.

Johnnie Walker Blue Ghost & Rar: Port Ellen, individually numbered 70cl bottles, £275
whiskyshop.com

Brora

  • Photograph by Mr Jakub Iwanicki, courtesy of Diageo

Built in 1819, this distillery was originally named Clynelish – a name now used by its next-door neighbour – and up until 1973 was known for producing peaty whiskies to be used in Johnnie Walker blends. The distillery then continued making lighter, still slightly peaty whiskies until it closed in 1983, and it is these bottles that are now available for sale. The Brora 40, released in 2014, was the most expensive single malt ever, selling at just under £7,000 a bottle. No wonder the Brora name still has so much cachet.

The best place to find a collectible bottle is on an auction site. Brora is hot property right now, according to Ms Kate Johnston of Scotch Whisky Auctions. “Brora is a wee bit more expensive than it has been. The last few auctions, you’d be lucky to get anything under £800; but that’s not gospel, as auction prices vary all the time,” she says.

  • Photograph courtesy of The Whisky Exchange

  • Photograph courtesy of Clynelish

Brora 1972 Connoisseurs Choice, from £800
scotchwhiskyauctions.com

You could wait until bottles from the reopening Brora distillery begin to emerge in a decade or so, but for a foretaste of what’s to come, Clynelish, next door, has remained in production, and has a waxy mouthfeel, which tastes equally as distinctive.

Clynelish 14-year-old single malt Scotch whisky, £46.75
malts.com

Rosebank

  • Photograph courtesy of Rosebank

Most of us associate whisky with the Highlands and Islands, but the Lowlands had their own style, too. Ian Macleod Distillers – the name behind Edinburgh Gin – announced they’d bought and would be reopening the Rosebank distillery in Falkirk, with plans to begin making a Lowland-style, triple-distilled malt from 2020.

The Whisky Exchange sells several bottles from Rosebank, including a big, extremely spicy 25-year-old single malt from 1981. An aged Rosebank such as this has a much heftier profile to its lighter eight-year-old brethren.

  • Photograph courtesy of The Whisky Exchange

  • Photograph courtesy of Glenkinchie

Rosebank 1981 25-year-old Lowland single malt Scotch whisky, £2,500
thewhiskyexchange.com

Indulge in a bottle from another Lowland distillery, such as Glenkinchie. For the truly dedicated to bag a collectible bottle without breaking the bank, visit the distillery itself and pick up a limited-edition exclusive single malt Scotch. Matured in Amontillado sherry casks and specially-charred hogsheads, only 6,000 bottles were produced in 2016.

Glenkinchie Single Malt Scotch whisky, distillery edition, £80
malts.com

Dallas Dhu

  • Photograph by Crown Copyright Historic Environment Scotland

Meaning “Black Water Valley” in Scots Gaelic, Dallas Dhu was one of four distilleries built by Victorian entrepreneur Mr Alexander Edward, the brains behind Aultmore, Craigellachie and Benromach. Dallas Dhu also closed in 1983 (a bad year for distilleries all round) and it’s unlikely that it will ever produce whisky again. In 1986, it was sold to Historic Environment Scotland and has been preserved as a museum ever since.

However, you can still find the bottles available for auction, or on sites such as Whisky Exchange, including a single malt taken from the last year of Dallas Dhu’s production. Bottled after 23 years, the drink honours Historic Environment Scotland’s commitment to preserving the distillery’s history.

  • Photograph courtesy of The Whisky Exchange

  • Photograph courtesy of Benromach

Dallas Dhu 1983, 23-year-old Historic Scotland, £750
thewhiskyexchange.com

Benromach, one of Dallas Dhu’s sister distilleries was also closed in the 1980s, but blazed the trail for reopened distilleries by beginning production once more in 1998. Now, 21 years on, it’s producing a rich, gently smoky, complex Speyside whisky. Try a Benromach 15-year-old single malt, aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry barrels, with notes of fruit cake and cocoa for a chocolatey finish.

Benromach 15-year-old Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, £51.83
thewhiskyexchange.com

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