British-based drinks conglomerate Diageo announced last week that they would reopen to long shuttered, iconic Scotch Whisky distilleries: Brora and Port Ellen. Diageo expects to invest £35 million and reopen the facilities by 2020.
Whiskies made by this pair of distilleries before their closures are among the most highly sought after in the world by aficionados and collectors. When Diageo released a 40 year old Brora in 2014, it came with the highest retail price ever attached to one of their releases at that time, at £14,500. For its part, Port Ellen enjoys the mystique of being a closed distillery from Islay, the island beloved by fans of smoky Scotch everywhere.
Brora began life as Clynelish in 1819, but when another distillery was opened with the name Clynelish in 1968, curiously it was the original distillery that got the name change. Brora was closed in 1983. The old buildings are now used as a visitors center for Clynelish. Port Ellen started distilling in 1833 and was closed in 1930 and then again in 1983.
The move to reopen Brora and Port Ellen comes as a surprise to most observers, as Diageo has been zig-zagging on the whiskey sector in recent years. For example, they traded away Bushmills, Ireland’s second largest distillery and brand in 2014, only to return to Irish Whiskey a few years later by starting a sourced brand and announcing plans to build a new distillery. The company also canceled a major Scotch production expansion program in 2014, yet is now planning to spend (admittedly far less money) on reopening two classic distilleries. While many are celebrating the news, Diageo’s long-term intentions continue to confuse whisky enthusiasts.