The city of Port Ellen situated in Islay is definitely one of Scotland’s most famous whisky regions, especially since it’s the home base of the lost -but mostly legendary Port Ellen Distillery. Port Ellen was closed down and remained mothballed in 1983. Nevertheless, the Port Ellen whiskies are still one of the most desired and collected Scotch single malts internationally. The distillery has quickly established its name into releasing exclusive and rare series such as the much desired Port Ellen 9th Release and the Port Ellen 37 years old, 16th release.
The original Port Ellen Distillery's premises remained in its original state, leaving the distillery maltings as the only still operating section of the legendary distillery in use to supply the demand for malted and peated barley to the surrounding distilleries. Therefore, the Port Ellen Distillery is a still vivid -but yet silent piece of Scotland’s distillery history. But in October of 2017, Port Ellen has awaken out of its hibernation when the distillery’s owner Diageo made a huge announcement. Diageo issued their anticipated plans to invest a staggering £35 million upgrade to re-open both Port Ellen- and the Brora Distillery in the year 2020!
The Port Ellen Distillery was founded by Alexander Ker Mackay in 1824, who successfully converted his home-made malt mill to a whisky distillery. Alexander Mackay named the distillery after its home base, the city of Port Ellen. The Port Ellen Distillery started to operate shortly after its establishment under the supervision of the appointed distillery manager John Morrison, who unfortunately didn’t turn out to be very successful as a distillery manager. John Morrison could not achieve to have the Port Ellen Distillery run on full production capacity. This was very much acquired, since the demand for single malt whisky was increasing rapidly in that period of time.
A few years later, one of the distillery’s shareholders by the name of Ebenezer Ramsay, requested for his nephew John Ramsay to position as the new distillery manager, who was only eighteen years old at that time. John Ramsay was a very talented and hard working young business man who already had a lot of career perspectives and job offers lying ahead of him, but by the request of his uncle he accepted the challenge and traveled to Port Ellen in order to take charge as the new distillery’s manager. John Ramsay quickly realized the Port Ellen Distillery could become a very prosperous project. The following months, John followed a crash course in whisky distilling and was finally appointed as the new Port Ellen Distillery manager in 1833. John Morrison stayed involved in the operation acting as the Port Ellen’s operating sales agent in Glasgow, but sadly enough this didn’t go well neither and Morrison eventually became dismissed from the partnership.
John Ramsay, a talented and hard working as he was, managed to achieve to let the Port Ellen Distillery to become a huge success. Throughout the following years, the distillery’s production capacity increased eminently and a second warehouse was constructed in order to provide for the distillery’s expansion. The Port Ellen Distillery did very well under John Ramsay’s command, who established a good reputation as the renowned distillery manager.
But then, fate struck the when the Port Ellen Distillery’s lessor of the property, Major James Adair, passed away around the year 1840. The distillery was put up for sale to the highest bidder for the Port Ellen Distillery, which off course could have changed Port Ellen’s future for good. Fortunately enough, John Ramsay managed to purchase the Port Ellen Distillery despite some well-off rivaling competition, thanks to his well-maintained relations and outstanding reputation in the Port Ellen city council. John Ramsay was now entitled as the new legal owner of the Port Ellen Distillery, which would guarantee Port Ellen’s inheritance for almost a century.
John Ramsay’s passed away in 1892 and the distillery was inherited by his much younger wife Lucy, who passed away approximately a decade later. The Port Ellen Distillery was then passed over to their son Captain Iain Ramsay, but unfortunately he didn’t manage to maintain the legacy and sold the distillery in 1920 to James Buchanan & Co. and John Dewars, who established the Port Ellen Distillery Company Ltd. Five years later this partnership merged with Distillers Company Limited (D.C.L.), that we know as Diageo today.
Like numerous other distilleries, Port Ellen was shut down during the economic crisis in the early 20th century, which left the Port Ellen Distillery mothballed for almost four decades. In the midst of the 20th century, the global demand for Scotch single malt whisky was continued, and therefore Diageo had the Port Ellen Distillery rebuild, refurbished and brought back to its full production in the year 1967. A few years later a drum malting was established adjacent to the distillery’s premises, whose production capacity was enough to supply for the surrounding distilleries need for malt. Once again Port Ellen was piggybacking to its former success, but a few years later the intentional single malt whisky market became saturated due to its overproduction. Diageo was no exception to this snowballing effect, and once again mothballed the Port Ellen Distillery in 1983 for the very last time.
Who would have thought that Diageo had some great plans for the future of the Port Ellen Distillery in 2020? The historical story of Port Ellen’s success might just continue its legacy once again....Read more