Why Is There A Widespread Revival Of Ghost Distilleries?

One of the most interesting aspects of the casking process of whisky is how long it can take, which means that it is very possible for someone to own or partially own a whisky cask from a distillery that simply does not exist anymore.

People own and collect rare bottles of whisky for many reasons, some of which go beyond the taste, texture and personal preference for a dram and are far more about the story this whisky tells.

Some whiskies are so old they outlive the people who started the process, and the demand for these rare tales and the spirits that go with them can sometimes go so far as to raise the dead, as we have seen in recent years with the revival of ghost distilleries.

What Is A Ghost Distillery?

A ghost distillery, also known as a silent distillery, is any distillery that has been mothballed and closed for a considerable period of time but still exists and has not as yet been demolished.

The reason why they are not immediately bulldozed, and why they exist as ghosts, is because they often still have whisky available, either through casks that have yet to be bottled or dwindling stock of bottles often decades old made from whisky that have been distilled for even longer.

The world of whisky moves quite slowly, and spirits are not bottled until they are ready to be brought into this world. Because whisky is so valuable, it can often delay the true end of a distillery for decades, even as long as a century.

It also offers the option of reopening a long-closed still.

The Death And Return Of Whisky

Whilst distilleries fall silent for an incalculable number of reasons, over the centuries-long history of whisky in Scotland, one of the biggest turning points in recent years was the collapse of the whisky market in the early 1980s.

There was a slow decline in whisky sales in the 1970s as tastes shifted away from mass-market blended whisky, the market-leading Distillers Company and their Johnnie Walker brand were struggling to adapt.

Like the rest of the industry, Distillers moved very slowly, and it was only when very serious problems reared their head that drastic and devastating action was taken.

A grand total of 12 distilleries (11 malt, one grain) were shut in 1983 by Distillers alone, costing 530 jobs and acting as a signpost that the industry was in serious trouble. Three years later they would be acquired by Guinness in a takeover later revealed to be fraudulent.

A lot of distilleries, opened as part of a global surge in blended whisky sales, would be closed in the 1980s, and lay dormant for nearly four decades.

During that time, ghost whiskies have become increasingly popular because of their rarity and the stories these troubled stills have to tell. Because of this, some of them have started to open again.

Quite by accident, distilleries such as Port Ellen ended up pivoting to producing single malts that have become popular enough with collectors that production has started again in earnest, although the results will not be seen for decades.