Port Ellen Distillery
The recent announcement by Diageo of their intention to bring Port Ellen, like Brora, back into production can only enhance the value of surviving bottlings of the original Port Ellen and perhaps even more so once the new expressions are eventually made available, which will be some years hence.
Port Ellen played a very significant role in the development of the Scotch whisky industry and much of the credit for that goes to John Ramsay who purchased the distillery in 1836 from the original owners who had built it in 1825 based on a converted malt mill. Amongst other things, Ramsay pioneered the export of Scotch whisky to the United States and did so directly from Port Ellen. The spirit safe was first introduced at Port Ellen and Ramsay pioneered the adoption of duty-free bonded warehousing and even had research work done on the use of the patent still for the production of grain whisky. The distillery remained with the Ramsay family until 1920 when it was acquired jointly by James Buchanan and Company and John Dewar and Sons Ltd, both of which merged with DCL in 1925. Inexplicably, Port Ellen then went silent from 1929 until 1966 when major renovation and expansion took place. This included in 1973 new drum maltings, which were erected alongside the distillery, initially to supply malt for DCL’s three Islay operations, i.e. Caol Ila, Lagavulin, and Port Ellen. The latter was closed, however, in 1983 never to re-open.
Up until then Port Ellen had been used exclusively in blending but a number of casks from the 10,000, which were present when I made my visit in 1985, were released to independent merchants. As a result, an array of Port Ellen expressions has appeared over the years and an occasional official bottling, particularly in the Rare Malts and Special Release series.