Nearly 40 years ago, many of Scotland’s distilleries fell silent for what many thought to be the final time.

It was 1983 and several major whisky producers were closed due to falling demand for whisky across the globe, which seemed to put the industry into terminal decline.

Included in the closures was one of the country’s favourites – Dallas Dhu, in Forres.

It had been producing whisky for nearly 100 years but was shut and has been mothballed since.

But now proposals for a fresh use for the site will see new life breathed into one of the sleeping giants of whisky production and it could even start producing Scotch again.

More than 70 businesses responded to a call by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), which runs the site as a museum, to redevelop it, with the possibility of reintroducing distilling being proposed. 

Six different ideas are now being considered by the agency with the view of one preferred option being possibly chosen by the end of January.

Since its closure Dallas Dhu has been owned by the drinks company Diageo, which owns many of Scotland’s best known whisky brands. Although the site has not produced the famous single malt for decades it has operated as a museum under the guardianship of HES.

An HES spokesman said: “We have recently completed a request for ideas through Public Contracts Scotland, where we invited interested parties to express interest in exploring opportunities at Dallas Dhu. 

“Following on from this process we have selected a shortlist of six ideas which we will now explore in more detail.”

Dallas Dhu, whose name comes from the Gaelic for black water valley, first started producing whisky in 1898.

After surviving the Great Depression, a devastating fire in 1939, and the Second World War, it was finally forced to close due to falling demand, and the unreliability of its water supply from Altyre Burn.

Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has frequently called for the distillery to be better utilised and welcomed the news that there has been plenty of interest in redeveloping it.

He said: “I’ve been campaigning for many years for new investment in the historic Dallas Dhu distillery to maximise the potential for tourism and to capitalise on the growing interest in Scotch whisky. It is very encouraging
to learn that there were 74 notes of interest from various parties looking to be a partner and that HES is now working on six different ideas that have now entered what’s referred to as the exploration stage, with a preferred option being chosen hopefully by the end of January.

“This is great news and finally at long last we are seeing progress.”

Also closing in 1983 were two more of Scotland’s “lost” distilleries, Brora and Port Ellen on Islay, with both now expected to return to producing whisky after Diageo recently announced a £35 million investment.

Diageo says that it plans for both distilleries to reopen by 2020, suggesting a first release in 2032.

Last month Highland council granted planning permission for the Brora distillery to restore the original buildings which date back almost 200 years.

This also comes after Ian Macleod Distillers, announced plans to reopen the Rosebank distillery in Falkirk after Diageo transferred the trademark. 

The planning permission is currently under review by Falkirk Council.

Despite Diageo owning the site at Dallas Dhu, it is understood the drinks giant has no plans to start production of whisky there.

James Johnstone, chairman of the Malt Whisky Trail, was one of many to celebrate the interest in Dallas Dhu.

He said: “Interest in Scotch is booming with recently released figures showing record numbers of visitors, so we welcome proposals to produce whisky at this historic distillery again.

“Dallas Dhu is a popular visitor attraction with a fascinating history. This is great news and finally at long last we are seeing progress.”

A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “We welcome the interest in the site, which is good news for the local area and a positive signal for the Scotch Whisky industry overall.

“Last year, the industry broke a number of records, including exports by value, visits to Scotch Whisky distilleries, and a post-war record of operating distilleries – with 128 distilleries operating across Scotland’s five whisky producing regions.”

The Scotch whisky industry employs more than 40,000 people, with 7,000 supporting communities in rural Scotland.
The industry itself is now unrecognisable from the conditions which forced the closure of distilleries such as Dallas Dhu in the 1980s.

Figures released by the SWA last year showed that £4.36bn worth of whisky was exported to over 180 markets. 

Scotch remains one of the UK’s most profitable exports.