Johnnie Walker has launched the Port Ellen edition of their Blue Label Ghost and Rare series, which features whiskies from distilleries that are no longer in operation. 

What’s a ghost distillery?

Like any other business, whisky distilleries are also subject to the fluctuations of the market, or even just circumstance. Sometimes, they close. Their stocks though — casks of liquid gold that have been distilled in years past — remain. These are known as “lost” or “ghost” distilleries, and the rare whiskies from these are highly sought-after by both collectors, independent bottlers, and blenders.

In the case of blenders, whiskies from ghost distilleries provide a chance to showcase the distinctive properties of each closed place. Whiskies distilled from older periods also tend to be of a richer style, which lends blends an extra edge.

For Johnnie Walker Master Blender Jim Beveridge, these rare whiskies “deliver a fascinating glimpse into another world, exploring the unique, inimitable character of whiskies from a small number of iconic, closed distilleries that lend something very special to every drop of Johnnie Walker Blue Label…”

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The Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare series riffs on the prized Johnnie Walker Blue Label with rare whiskies from distilleries that have ceased operations.

What’s in a dram?

To celebrate the products of these lost distilleries, Johnnie Walker launched their Blue Label Ghost and Rare series, which features limited-edition expressions focused on said, lost whiskies, blended in the style of the prized Blue Label. The latest, and second in this series focuses on Port Ellen, a cult Islay distillery that shuttered in 1983. Johnnie Walker’s parent company, Diageo, now owns all remaining stocks of Port Ellen’s filled casks.

For this particular label, Beveridge and his team of blenders have supported the Port Ellen with whiskies from other “ghost” distilleries, including grain distilleries Caledonian and Carsebridge, which add “layers of creamy, vanilla sweetness”. Meanwhile, rare malts from the likes of Dailuaine and Oban provide a citrus waxiness and tropical, malt richness that supports the hefty, maritime peat that’s characteristic of the spirits coming from Port Ellen. The whisky is bottled at an ABV of 43.8%, with each bottle individually numbered.

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Lazarus spirits

Diageo has also announced plans to re-open both Brora and Port Ellen distilleries by 2021, following a $62 million (£35 million) investment into re-creating — as closely as possible — the spirits that were produced during the heydays of both distilleries.

Even then, they’re bound to be some manner of deviation. There’s an unwieldy number of variables that affect how whiskies turn out, from the provenance of the raw ingredients like water and barley, to the stills used, and even the people making the whisky. This applies doubly so for Port Ellen, whose stills, unlike Brora’s, are no longer around. So yes, one can very possibly taste new distillations of Port Ellen in about a decade or so (assuming that’s the minimum ageing period they’ve decided on for any new expressions), but chances are it won’t be exactly the same stuff that’s being put in the Ghost and Rare series or any of the (very few) Port Ellen single malts floating on the market.

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The Blue Label Ghost and Rare series – Port Ellen is available for purchase at all 1855 Bottle Shops and at selected specialist whisky stores.