A MANAGER has been appointed to the famous Port Ellen Distillery on Islay for the first time in nearly four decades.

Alexander McDonald, who has previously worked for Kilchoman, Caol Ila and Lagavulin on the island, takes up the role as Diageo ramps up work to restore production at the distillery.

Port Ellen was mothballed in 1983, and is one of two “lost” distilleries Diageo has been bringing back to life through a £35 million investment programme. The drinks giant restored production at Brora in Sutherland last year after nearly 40 years in mothballs.

Mr McDonald, who is originally from Argyll, has spent the last year overseeing the construction work that will bring Port Ellen back into production next year.

He said: “It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed as Port Ellen distillery manager. This is an incredibly exciting time for everyone at Port Ellen and I look forward to leading the team as we prepare for the historic moment when spirit flows through the stills once again.”

Diageo said Port Ellen will be brought back into production in a combination of modern and heritage buildings housing both traditional and innovative approaches to distilling under one roof, with two pairs of copper pot stills and two separate distillation regimes.

One pair of stills will replicate the original Port Ellen spirit character, the company said, while a second, smaller pair of stills will produce alternative spirit characters. This will allow the Port Ellen whisky makers the freedom to experiment with new whisky styles, Diageo added.

The experimental stills pay homage to John Ramsay, who owned Port Ellen in its formative years and is credited with making it one of the most innovative distilleries of the 19th century, pioneering many of the techniques and equipment that would become mainstays of the Scotch whisky industry.

Few of the original buildings remain at Port Ellen further to its most recent closure nearly 40 years ago. The original kiln building with its classic pagoda roofs and the traditional sea-front warehouses will be restored as integral parts of the revived distillery, while a new stillhouse will be created for distillation.

Laura Beadell, Diageo’s senior manager on Islay, said: “In his relatively short time in the industry Alexander has established himself as a highly skilled operator and a committed leader. He is passionate about Islay and Scotch whisky, and he will make an exceptional manager of Port Ellen.”