PLANS to bring an Islay distillery back into production nearly four decades after it was closed have been submitted to Argyll & Bute Council.

The plan to bring Port Ellen Distillery back to life is part of a £35 million investment programme, unveiled by drinks giant Diageo in October 2017, which also includes the return of the Brora distillery in Sutherland.

Both the Port Ellen and Brora distilleries were closed in 1983, and Diageo aims to bring both back into production by 2021.

Port Ellen was established as a malt mill on Islay’s south coast in 1825 by Alexander Ker MacKay. Soon afterwards, it was developed into a major distillery under John Ramsay, who was exporting significant amounts of Port Ellen single malt whisky to the US as early as 1840.

Diageo has submitted detailed plans for the Port Ellen project following community engagement and pre-application consultation with stakeholders.

The drinks giant noted that, subject to planning approval, Port Ellen would be brought back into production in a “combination of modern and heritage buildings housing traditional and innovative approaches to distilling under one roof”.

It noted that, following the 1983 closure, very few of the original distillery buildings remained.

Diageo added that the resumption of production would be achieved through two pairs of copper pot stills and two separate distillation regimes.

It said the primary distillation regime, using two stills which replicate the original Port Ellen stills, would “carefully recreate the original spirit character of the distillery that made its single malt Scotch whisky amongst the most sought-after in the world”. The second, smaller pair of stills would allow “Port Ellen whisky-makers the freedom to experiment with new styles”. 
Diageo noted that Port Ellen Distillery, having “fallen silent” in the early 1930s, had been rebuilt in 1967 to meet an expected growth in the demand for Islay single malt whiskies and was in production throughout the 1970s. There was no single malt release, “not least because there was then no aged stock”. A 12-year-old marking the Queen’s visit to Port Ellen Maltings in 1980 is thought to have been the first official bottling of modern times, Diageo noted.

It added: “When the distillery closed in 1983 it had been in production for just 16 years, after 35 years of closure, so there was as yet no knowledge of how well Port Ellen would age – it turned out to be some of the finest character found on the island of Islay.”

Georgie Crawford, the master distiller leading the Port Ellen project, said: “This is another hugely significant milestone on our journey to bring Port Ellen Distillery back to life.  This is no ordinary distillery project. We are bringing a true whisky legend back to life and we believe our plans do justice to the iconic status of Port Ellen and will capture the imagination of whisky fans from all over the world.”

Diageo said that the original kiln building with its classic pagoda roofs and traditional sea-front warehouses would be restored as integral parts of the revived distillery, with a new stillhouse created.