Since it was closed down in 1983, many whisky enthusiasts have proclaimed Port Ellen to be one of the great lost distilleries of Scotland.
The distillery was established on the south west coast of Islay in 1825 by AK Mackay and Co. In its early years there were a number of ownership changes, before it was taken over by John Ramsay in 1836 and remained in the Ramsay family until 1920. Port Ellen was the first distillery to have incorporated Septimus Fox’s spirit safe design into the distillation process, and also was the first distillery to trade with North America in 1848. When John Ramsey died, the family sold it and then sadly the facility was mothballed in 1929. No spirit was distilled on the site for around 40 years, despite the maltings and warehouses remaining in use. Port Ellen began producing again in 1967 and developed a strong reputation among single malt connoisseurs, as the whiskies acquired a reputation as some of the finest to be made on Islay during those years.
The stocks of Port Ellen whisky are owned by Diageo, who have taken to releasing official expressions each year since 2001. These stocks are likely to be running low and it is expected that the regularity of such releases will slow significantly in coming years. With this decline, the prices have grown steadily, with older independent bottlings now fetching prices up to £600.
In October 2017 Diageo revealed plans to reopen both Port Ellen and Brora distilleries, which also closed in 1983. Subject to planning permission, the two sites are expected to be operational once more by 2020.