Making whisky is hard work – and selling it an even trickier affair. Distilleries have to plan production decades ahead, as it takes upwards of a dozen years before the first bottles can hit the shelves.
Anytime during that period, booms and busts can wrest the fate of distilleries out of their own hands. The industry could receive a boon from a thirsty, phylloxera-struck world, or lose footing in an entire continent due to prohibition. And so the business goes, with even the most remarkable of liquids failing to guarantee many a distillery’s existence.
Yet as the whisky renaissance crests new highs in growing markets and drinkers get choosy, some are seeing fit to revive and bankroll the fallen, ‘silent’ distilleries, particularly the ones which bottles have attracted a cult following and even command record-breaking prices. Can we blame the growing trend? Sounds like a win-win investment strategy – getting to peddle an extremely sought-after luxury good, or ending up with a supply of whisky that’ll last lifetimes. Here are 4 names to take note of if you’re following the scene.
Founded in 1825 and shuttered in 1983 along with many others, the Islay distillery is set to reopen in 2020 following a £35m infusion between them and Brora from owners Diageo. This means the first 12-year-old expression will only reach us 2032 – what a wait. As with Islay expressions, expect peat.
Formerly Clynelish, founded in 1819. Unlike the case in Port Ellen, the precious stills from Brora’s earlier days still exist, and will be refurbished for use in the rejigged Highlands site. Brora bottles have commanded well over five-figure sums. Business resumes 2020, under Diageo as well.
The Lowland distillery has the longest heritage of them all, having been founded in 1798. It was picked up last year by Ian Macleod Distillers (Tamdhu, Glengoyne) who snagged it from Diageo. A whopping £80m will be dedicated to resurrecting what has been hailed by top critics, Jim Murray among them, as the top name out of Lowland. No open date announced yet.
The word just went out weeks ago – Scotland’s government body Historic Environment Scotland threw up a beacon for potential investors and partners to redevelop this Speyside distillery – yet another one that went down in 1983. The open-ended nature of the public contract notice doesn’t explicitly state the refurbishment has to be production-focused, but it does appear to be the most lucrative choice.
We expect more of these distilleries to come online over the decades – after all, over 100 lie dormant in Scotland, each with its own characteristic styles, many of them with cult followings. As an aside, you may also be interested in the offerings of a firm called The Lost Distillery Company creating whiskies in the style of some of the silent distilleries – essentially playing somewhat a cross between historian and distillery.