The iconic “ghost” distillery in Brora has started making whisky for the first time in almost four decades, in what has been hailed as an “historic” moment for the industry.
Owner Diageo said the return to production marked the first revival of a famous “lost” single malt name and represented a “major signal of confidence” in the future growth of Scotch.
The distillery, on the Sutherland coast of the Highlands, was closed in 1983, during one of the most challenging periods for the industry.
Its reopening followed a painstaking three-year restoration project by the international drinks giant as part of a £35milliion project that will also see Port Ellen Distillery, on the island of Islay, brought back into production in 2023.
Over the decades Brora Distillery was mothballed its whisky gained legendary status among connoisseurs around the world. In 2017, the then oldest official bottle of Brora single malt, distilled in 1972, was bought at auction by an unnamed buyer for £14,500.
During the restoration, the distillery’s 202-year-old stillhouse was taken down and rebuilt stone-by-stone, exactly as it was when it was first built in 1819. Its original two classic copper pot stills were refurbished by Diageo’s coppersmiths.
A biomass boiler has been installed, powered by sustainably sourced wood chips from the Highlands.
Ewan Andrew, president, supply chain and procurement at Diageo, described Brora as a “beautiful new jewel in the crown” in the company’s portfolio in Scotland.
He said: “It’s not every day you bring back one of the ghost distilleries. There were a number shut down in the 1980s and it’s just brilliant to be bringing it back and having done that in a meticulous, restorative way.
“Every aspect of recreating these liquids has been planned with hundreds of hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours of research to make sure we get it right.
“I would have been a Brora lover before we even made the decision to bring it back. I remember tasting it in part of the malt whisky advocates course and there was something different about it.
“For me Brora is almost fabled. It was never completely derelict, but it was needing to be reborn and it’s taken a lot of work to do that.”
He added: “I am particularly proud that Brora will be a carbon neutral distillery powered by on-site renewable energy. This marks a major milestone on our journey to invest in Scotland, its rural communities and the future of Scotch whisky.”
The distillery has a workforce of six, including master distiller Stewart Bowman, whose father was the last exciseman there. Mr Bowman marked the official relaunch by opening the site’s gates and filling the first cask of Brora spirit in more than 38 years.
He said: “In 1983, my father wrote in an old distillery ledger ‘Commencement of Brora Distillery silent season (undetermined period)’.
“Growing up in the village we often wondered whether Brora would ever return, but today we filled the first cask.
“It is with great pride that I can now say to my father, the Brora community, and all the ‘old hands’ that worked at Brora and helped to craft a legendary whisky, that the stills are alive and we are making Brora spirit once again.”
Mr Bowman worked alongside a host of specialists, whisky noses and archivists in the restoration of the distillery buildings and its prized spirit.
He added: “We have gone to every effort to replicate, as closely as possible, the conditions, equipment and processes from Brora in 1983 in order to recreate the spirit for which the distillery is famous.
“The original pair of Brora stills were carefully refurbished by our highly-skilled coppersmiths; we raised up the original pagoda roof to conduct intricate repairs, and rebuilt the stillhouse brick-by-brick using original Brora stone to restore this historic Victorian distillery.”
Among Diageo’s smallest distilleries, Brora is capable of producing around 176,000 gallons of spirit a year
The distillery will be open to small groups of visitors, by appointment, from July.
Last month, record-breaking round the world cyclist Mark Beaumont performed the official opening of a new visitor centre at Diageo’s Clynelish Distillery, which is also in Brora.
The attraction, which lies on the NC500 tourist route, has been themed as the “Highland Home” of the company’s Johnny Walker whisky brand.