Both Port Ellen and Brora will reopen by 2020, says Diageos head of whisky outreach, Nick Morgan

Both Port Ellen and Brora will reopen by 2020, says Diageo's head of whisky outreach, Nick Morgan

Earlier today, Diageo announced plans to invest GBP35m (US$46m) in reopening two of its Scotch whisky distilleries that have been closed for 34 years. Work is set to begin on the Port Ellen and Brora sites - Port Ellen still houses a maltings unit, while Brora is next to Diageo's Clynelish distillery - in the coming months, ahead of becoming operational by 2020.

Shortly after the announcement, just-drinks spoke to the group's head of whisky outreach, Nick Morgan, about the news.

just-drinks: You must be very happy right now.

Nick Morgan: To say that we're thrilled is an understatement. I've never seen so many excited people in Diageo as there are today.

j-d: Can you give us a sense of scale for these two distilleries?

NM: They'll both have an annual capacity of around 800,000 litres. Roseisle - Diageo's largest - produces 10m litres of alcohol a year. This is a relatively small distillery now when you consider The Macallan, The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, which are broadly more than twice the size.

Our smallest is Lochnager, then Oban, which is also around 800,000 litres. So, these two will be the same sort of scale and size as Oban.

j-d: Will the pair produce Scotch solely for their respective brand names?

NM: That's the plan. One of the reasons why they're relatively small is because this investment is all about single malts. We haven't thought of doing fillings for blended Scotches. If these whiskies are as good as we think they're going to be, I'd imagine it's quite likely our friends at Johnnie Walker might pinch some for their special blends. That hasn't been determined yet.

j-d: Both Port Ellen and Brora have been star turns in Diageo's annual Special Release limited edition bottlings. What effect will today's news have on that status?

NM: We're confident this will not effect the value of those older bottlings. Indeed, what we're announcing today will likely create even more interest in these whiskies.

We're working on diminishing stocks in our inventories for these two. At some point, they will come to an end. What we're now able to do is not only satisfy Port Ellen and Brora enthusiasts with liquid from the new distilleries, and also make it more accessible to consumers for whom GBP2,000 bottles are just not a potential purchase.

We see this as the unlocking of the doors on these very special liquids to a whole new range of malt whisky drinkers and enthusiasts.

j-d: Looking at Port Ellen specifically, will there be any difficulties to overcome during this project?

NM: One of the issues about any distillery on Islay is water. Contrary to what you might think, water is in short supply on Islay. Considerations around the availability of water were foremost in our minds when we looked at this project. 

We have our own water supplies that we use for the maltings, comprising a series of reservoirs. We'll be able to use these for the distillery. Even ten or 20 years ago, we were relatively casual in the way we used water. We're now far more sophisticated in the way we use it - we use it very sparingly. We're confident that the water issue won't stop us from doing what we intend to do.

j-d: Does today's announcement pave the way for any other "lost" distilleries to be found?

NM: Isn't it enough to say we're opening these two?! The answer on my sheet is we have no plans to open other distilleries. With many of them, we don't actually own the sites anymore. With these two, it's a lot easier for us to reopen them than some of the others you might be thinking about, because we still have operations on these sites.

Is single malt really the Great White Hope for Scotch whisky? - Click here for a just-drinks comment

Expert analysis

Global Scotch Whisky Market 2017-2021

Global Scotch Whisky Market 2017-2021

Scotch whisky is produced in Scotland. It is produced, packaged, and labeled as per SWR 2009. Scotch whisky is produced in five regions in Scotland: Highland, Lowland, Islay, Speyside, and more