The return of iconic ghost distilleries.


The mention of ghosts might frighten the average person. For whiskey enthusiasts, however, ghosts can spark interest, excitement, and an encounter with their favorite spirit.

Of course we’re talking about ghost distilleries, or distilleries whose doors have been closed and production has been stalled for years (and sometimes decades). Consider yourself lucky if you ever get your hands on a single malt from a ghost distillery, as they’re rare and prized. In fact, because of their scarcity and unique, nostalgic taste, it’s not uncommon for a bottle to be worth thousands of dollars.

If you’ve been wanting to get your hands on a coveted bottle, you may be in luck. Several ghost distilleries in Scotland have found a new level of popularity to the point of resurrection.

In 2017, news spread that three iconic distilleries were slated for renovation: Port Ellen, Brora, and Rosebank. Bringing these old sites back to life came with a lot of work and a hefty price tag, with each project estimated to cost millions. Rosebank, the cheapest restoration, had an estimated cost of £10 — £12 million alone, while Port Ellen and Brora were projected to cost £35 million each.

Rosebank, which originally closed down in 1993, is slated to reopen in 2023. However, those who can’t wait are now able to taste the distillery’s 31-year-old single malt, which will be the last original malt released before the site’s resurrection.

The rise of vintage single malts like Rosebank’s isn’t new. Exports grew a whopping 143% between 2002 and 2016. Reflecting the demand and cult following, other ghost distilleries have taken note–even ones that aren’t set to reopen. Instead of jumpstarting operations, lost distilleries like Scotland’s Ladyburn have released special single malt collections distilled during their heydays. This is a win for whiskey lovers who can get one of these highly valuable collector’s bottles, as well as companies who aren’t looking to put millions of dollars into renovations.

While many in the whiskey world rejoice in the return of ghost distilleries and their malts, there are some questions about reopening these sites. When it comes to people who’ve already invested in some of these coveted bottles, starting up lost distilleries might affect the value of their collections. Furthermore, those in the whiskey industry are unsure of how new products from these once ghost distilleries will be valued or where they will rank in terms of taste.

Despite these questions, it still seems to be an exciting time for whiskey lovers–from collectors to distillers and historians. The return of three of Scotland’s most iconic ghost distilleries, as well as special lines from other ghost sites, could point to a boom in a once niche market. This trend might also forecast an increase in consumer demand for single malts, as well as a possible return to vintage-style production from old and new distillers alike.

Like aging a good whiskey, it may take years to see how these ghost distilleries affect the industry. In the meantime, cheers to every whiskey fanatic fortunate enough to purchase a rare bottle from yesteryear.

Danilo Diazgranados is an independent investor in the global food and wine, financial services, real estate, and the hospitality sectors.



Danilo Diazgranados: On wine and food

Investor in and lover of fine wine and restaurants.