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Another ‘Whisky Phoenix’ is Reborn from the Ashes of a Once Ghost Distillery

Another ‘Whisky Phoenix’ is Reborn from the Ashes of a Once Ghost Distillery

The 1980’s were a devastating decade for many whisky distilleries in Scotland. Over production and recession decimated the trade, resulting in the disappearance of many once revered brands.


Left as ‘ghost distilleries’ fans of the whisky they once created formed an almost cult like following, and the residual casks of whisky which were quietly maturing in forgotten warehouses have started being bottled and sold for some eye watering amounts. 

But these ghost whiskies, as wonderfully mature, flavourful and sought after as they are, are becoming increasingly scarce.  And while that’s great for investors and collectors lucky enough to lay their hands on a bottle or even luckier, a cask, at some point they will run dry and that bespoke flavour and character once unique to a particular distillery, will be forever lost.

The news that another ghost distillery is being resurrected is therefore music to many a whisky devotees’ ears. That the most recent one is Port Ellen on Islay, is simply the icing on the cake. Such is the popularity of Port Ellen Whisky; a rare 1979 cask was auctioned at Sotheby’s for £875,000 in June 2022.

A new beginning

But the haunting silence no longer lingers amongst the disused stills and empty warehouses. Dust that had smothered all sound for the last 40 years has been swept away and replaced with a state of the art working distillery, courtesy of owners Diageo and £185 million investment. Opened in March 2024, the distillery now boasts not only working stills, but an onsite laboratory to cater for experimental whisky production using two dedicated stills.

While original warehousing remains, keeping alive the history of the site, the new buildings are adorned with modernity.  Gleaming wall to ceiling glass, contemporary, whisky themed art and a balconied visitors lounge have along with applied technology, pulled Port Ellen into the carbon neutral era.

However, as with all Islay whiskies, Port Ellen is famed for its smokiness, derived from the peat over which the barley is malted. And this characteristic flavour will be retained as the first pair of stills are Phoenix Stills which are replicas of the original ones used. So as with the building itself, both a testament to its past and its future, Port Ellen will produce both traditional whisky and modern experimental batches via the creative skills of master distiller Ali McDonald;

‘It is an honour to take up this new position at the helm of an iconic distillery and build on Port Ellen’s pioneering past,’

‘We are deeply committed to pushing the boundaries of Scotch through experimentation. I’m excited to see what we can now create.’

Limited edition twin whiskies mark momentous rebirth

Owners, Diageo have released a unique whisky pair, perfectly portraying old and new paths.

Gemini is twin 44-year-old whiskies from the Port Ellen reserves. Drawn from three 1978 European Oak casks. And here is where the unique and creative thinking comes into play; The whisky, once drawn, was then split into two batches. Each twin then took a slightly different route.

Port Ellen Gemini Original was left to mature in reserve European Oak butts, no other finishing cask was used and it is the longest maturation of any previous release from Port Ellen.  It depicts the history of the distillery with all the smoky character profile for which it is renowned.

Appearance:  Harvest gold

Body:             Medium to full

Nose:              Baked pear, sweet edible seaweed, smoky bonfire notes and soft fudge

Palate:           Sweet and spicy, a touch of briny saltiness, baked apple skins and charred ashes

Finish:           Long finish, with a lingering aromatic sweet smoke


Port Ellen Gemini Remnant symbolises the future of the distillery. The remnant cask is present in all distilleries as it is used to measure the excess spirit from a filling run. This historic Port Ellen remnant cask is literally steeped in historic whiskies, yet its use as a finishing cask is unique.  The Gemini Remnant has only been possible due to a group of Islay distillers having saved the remnant cask when the distillery was closed in 1983. Having given it safe harbour, it was re-seasoned and used as the finishing cask for this incredible whisky.

Appearance:    Rich, deep gold, owing to the remnant cask

Body:               Full

Nose:               Rich and fruity top notes of dark sherry, prunes and dry oak spice. Hints of Tobacco, charred wood ash, salt and sawdust. A dash of water reveals sweet, rose-perfumed notes and chocolate-coated toffee caramel

Palate:            Smooth, rich and sweet fruity notes, sumptuous rich spiciness and gently smoky warmth

Finish:             Long, rich and intense sweet-smoky flavours with a hint of a smoky aftertaste

Just 274 sets of Gemini Whisky have been created and will sell for £45,000 each.  If you aren’t lucky enough to get a set, keep a close watch on the secondary market.

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