exterior of port ellen distillery on islay
Port Ellen Distillery

Port Ellen Distillery was founded on Islay’s southern coast in 1825, where it produced famously smoky whiskies that were primarily used in blends. It operated for more than 150 years, but the distillery made its last drop of Scotch whisky in 1983 and was shuttered.

Fast forward to 2017, when Diageo announced its intention to resurrect the famed distillery. That day has arrived, and Port Ellen Distillery is now back in business, operating out of a new facility that was designed from the ground up. The re-imagined distillery is ultra-modern, with a transparent glass stillhouse that looks onto Islay’s coastline.

Central to the new operation are two new pairs of copper pot stills, responsible for producing Port Ellen’s first whisky in more than 40 years. The Phoenix stills, recreated as exact replicas of the original stills from 1983, will run alongside a smaller set of experimental stills meant for innovation.

Two copper stills and distillery workers Inside Port Ellen Distillery
Inside Port Ellen Distillery

The distillery also features a 10-part spirit safe — a spirit safe is a locked glass box that’s historically been used to calculate excise taxes and to monitor the distillation process. Port Ellen’s version allows more cuts to be drawn from the heart of the run than a typical safe, so the distillers can access previously unexplored flavors and dial up the whisky’s character and complexity. Other new innovations include a six-part roller mill, a new lab, and sustainability initiatives to make the facility carbon neutral.

Port Ellen Gemini Whiskies

To commemorate the relaunch, Port Ellen is also releasing a pair of 44-year-old whiskies dubbed Gemini that were drawn from 1978 European oak casks and split into two paths of maturation.

Two bottles of the Port Ellen Gemini whiskies
Port Ellen Gemini 44-year-old whiskies

Port Ellen Gemini Original was matured in reserve European oak butts and left untouched since 1978. It’s said to have smooth, sweet, salty, and smoky characteristics. Port Ellen Gemini Remnant took its own maturation journey within a remnant cask. A feature of every distillery, remnant casks are used to measure excess spirit from a filling run. In this case, Port Ellen’s remnant cask is likely to have touched some of the distillery’s most historic whiskies. It was set aside when the distillery closed in 1983, and enlisted as a finishing cask for the 44-year-old Port Ellen. This finishing technique imbues the whisky with notes of sea salt, smoke, dried fruit, and oak.

Right now, Port Ellen Distillery is open on an invite-only basis, but a range of experiences will open to the public and become available to book in June. The distillery will also hold an open day once per month, so fans of the brand can see Port Ellen spirit being crafted once more after its four-decade hiatus.

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