Heading north towards Bowmore from the ferry terminal at Port Ellen, the visitor to Islay will pass an industrial complex bearing the “Diageo” name. Those in the know might recognise this as the “Port Ellen maltings”; true whisky buffs will know that it was once a little more than that.
Port Ellen distillery closed its doors and quieted its stills in 1983. Since then, much of it has been demolished. But the warehouses remain, and inside them a steadily decreasing number of oak casks slumber on. Their contents is bottled at a rate of one release per year, with each bottle going for hundreds, if not, thousands of pounds: in the thirty years since the distillery’s demise, its whisky has become perhaps the most sought-after spirit in the world. As the stocks in bond run low and the occasional bottle is opened and drunk, the price will only rise further…until one day there is none left.
Before closing, the distillery operated its own maltings and kilns. In an effort to preserve local jobs and a part of Islay history, the other distilleries on the island came together and agreed to buy at least a portion of their barley from Port Ellen rather than sourcing it from the mainland, thereby keeping the maltings in operation. The resulting “Concordat of Islay Distillers” remains in force today, and all Islay distilleries receive a proportion of malted barley peated to their individual specifications from the Port Ellen maltings. The old still house, however, remains silent.