All whiskies are rare, but some whiskies are rarer than others

– The Whiskyphiles

Many haven’t fathomed it yet but we are living in an Orwellian nightmare. Strong words I know, and I am sure much stronger have been uttered already at the current no age statement trend. A signal perhaps that the days of plucking your favourite 10 or 12 year old single malt scotch whisky off of the shelf may be numbered. The industry is attempting to engage with consumers by having ever more frequent ‘new releases’, invariably flavour-led NAS expressions, occasionally peppered with exorbitant vintage or single casks discovered ‘languishing’ at the back of a warehouse somewhere. The focus is on new; new flavours, new experiences, and not on the reproducibility of expertly marrying casks together to produce indistinguishable batches of classic, stable, age statement expressions. It is true however that every whisky is only around until it is gone. Some may be replicated or re-attempted or even released as specific batches, however this is only the case if your distillery remains operative, or in some cases, has enough stocks to cover occasional lengthy silent periods. So we come to the rarest of the rare, whisky from closed distilleries!

The number of closed distilleries is only going to increase! The reasons for closure can be numerous and varied with the biggest mass closure period occurring following the turn of the 19th century. Two world wars were not particularly good for the whisky business, however the problems started much earlier. Decline in production quality is often blamed for many distilleries demise, such that the effects of the First Wold War 1914-1918 simply sped-up the demise of many. Campbeltown crashed and most distilleries closed in the 1920’s and ’30’s as a result*. During this period the industry experienced an over 50 year hiatus in construction of new single malt distilleries until Tullibardine was constructed in 1949. Of those that followed some of those had relatively short operational lives too.

*Including; Annandale (1924), Auchinblae (1930), Ballechin (1927), Hazelburn (1925), Lochindaal & Port Charlotte (1929), Parkmore & Towiemore (1931)

The latest ‘mass extinction’ of distilleries occurred in the early 1980’s as a result of over-production, or under-consumption depending upon how you view it. White spirits were gaining in popularity and scotch suffered as a result, blends were losing favour and single malts as a category was still in its relative infancy. The whisky loch grew as years of stock laid down in anticipation of requirements or growth were not being used, prices of bulk stock slumped and production was reduced. Eventually many distilleries were viewed as surplus to need and some had production heavily restricted or were mothballed and closed. Thus the whisky industry is often viewed as boom and bust. The latest round of closures however left behind some gems, plus other more questionable stuff. Many of these closures were due to ‘a surplus to requirement’ and hence distilleries with high operating or modernisation costs were targeted and conversely some distilleries in ‘good’ visitor locations were spared. Needless to say some of those lost or retained were not done so specifically upon the quality of the whisky they may have produced. However many of them have left us liquid by which we can attempt to make some assessment of them whilst stocks, or more likely affordability, allows.

Buyers beware however, many are espousing the theory that whisky from closed distilleries represent great investment opportunities with prices on the secondary (auction) market only going to rise. True for sought after distilleries like Port Ellen or Brora with rare stocks and high quality. For some of the more recent closures however stocks are still good (and often quality variable or even poor in some cases) and if anything the primary market is already inflating prices to the extent that at best they break even at auction, losing you money after commission fees etc. I suspect this trend to remain unchanged for ~ 5-10 years until these stocks are diminished or depleted. The good news though is that current releases from some closed distilleries are still affordable for drinking and more so for drinking one and storing away a second bottle for a rainy day. The conundrum then lies in owning bottles that may become valued to highly and give you second thoughts about opening it. Let the fun commence!

The most recent mass closure of distilleries is detailed below, with our tasting notes where we have had the opportunity to sample from them. Regardless of quality or style, there is a certain joy at being able to sample a piece of liquid history that will never be repeated again, so if you have the chance to try these then take your time and enjoy them!

1983

Banff

Founded in Speyside in 1863, mothballed in 1983 and demolished in the following years.

Brora

Built in 1819 as Clynelish, closed after the new Clynelish distillery opened in 1968 but re-opened due to necessity until mothballed in 1983 how it remains to this day.

  • Brora 35 Years Old 1978 – Special Release 2013 ~ 49.9% (Diageo) - Brora 35 Years Old 1978 – Special Release 2013 49.9% ABV, £899 for 70cl available from The Whisky Exchange Score: 88/100 What they say: The 12th release of Brora from Diageo’s Annual Special Releases, this was distilled in 1978 and has been bottled at 35 years of age. This is a mix of refill American […]

Dallas Dhu

Built in 1898, economic pressure and an unreliable water supply forced Dallas Dhu to close in 1983, and its distilling license was withdrawn in 1992. Re-opened to the public in 1988 as a museum under Scotland’s Historic Buildings and Monument Directorate

  • Dallas_Dhu_22_Years_Old_1982_Signatory Dallas Dhu 22 Years Old 1982 ~ 43% (Signatory) - Review: Dallas Dhu 22 Years Old 1982 Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Dallas Dhu Distillery Bottling: Signatory Cask #407 ABV: 43% Cost: ? What they say: Distilled in 1982 at the now closed Dallas Dhu Distillery in Speyside, this has matured for a full 22 years in hogshead #407 before bottling in 2005 […]
  • dallas-dhu-22-year-old-1976-omc Dallas Dhu 24 Years Old 1976 Old Malt Cask ~ 50% (Douglas Laing) - Whisky Review: Dallas Dhu 24 Years Old 1976 Old Malt Cask Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Dallas Dhu Distillery [closed] Bottling: Douglas Laing; Old Malt Cask ABV: 50% Cost: ~ £150 at auction What they say: Distilled in October 1976 at the now closed Dallas Dhu distillery, this was aged for over 24 years […]

Glen Albyn

Established in 1846 on the banks of the River Ness, connected to Glen Mhor. Closed down 1983 and demolished 1986.

Glen Mhor

Established in 1892 on the banks of the River Ness. Closed down and demolished in 1983

Glenlochy

Established in 1898 in Fort William, closed in 1983 and redeveloped in 1991 for housing.

Glenugie

Established in 1831 near Peterhead, closed in 1983.

North Port

Established in 1830 near Montrose, closed and demolished in 1983.

Port Ellen

Established 1825, closed in 1983 when stills were removed, now part of the Port Ellen maltings complex.

St Magdalene / Linlithgow

St Magdalene Distillery

Established 1753 in the town of Linlithgow, closed in 1983 and converted into housing.

  • St Magdalene 24 Years Old 1982 Mission Port Finished ~ 58.3% (Murray McDavid) - St Magdalene 24 Years Old 1982 Mission Port Finished Single malt scotch whisky 58.3% ABV, ~€90 at auction Score: 85/100 What they say: A 1982 vintage whisky from closed St Magdalene (aka Linlithgow), distilled in the year before its closure. This was matured for a total of 24 years, first in bourbon casks and then […]

1985

Convalmore

Established 1893 in Dufftown, closed and equipment removed in 1985, warehousing facility remains in use by William Grant & Sons.

Glenflagler

Established in 1965 in Airdrie, closed in 1985.

Glenesk

Established 1897 near Montrose, closed in 1985 and site is now a maltings.

Glenury

Established 1825 in Stonehaven, closed in 1985 and demolished.

Glenury-Royal-1976-Connoiseurs-Choice Glenury Royal 1976 Connoiseurs Choice ~ 40% (Gordon & MacPhail) review to follow

Millburn

Built in 1805 near Inverness, closed in 1985 with rumoured unreliable water supply, converted into a motel and restaurant.

  • millburn-15-years-old-1983-smws-87-4 Millburn 15 Years Old 1983 87.4 ~ 57.3% (SMWS) - Whisky Review: Millburn 15 Years Old 1983 87.4 Category: Highland single malt scotch whisky Origin: Millburn Distillery [closed] Bottling: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 87.4 ABV: 57.3% Cost: £150 What they say: Distilled at Millburn Distillery in Inverness in December 1983 and matured for a full 15 years before bottling in September 1999 at cask […]

1992

Coleburn

Established in 1825 south of Elgin in Speyside, operations ceased in 1985. Currently owned by independent bottler Murray McDavid who are investigating re-establishing distilling on this site.

Littlemill

Littlemill-Distillery

Established in 1772 in Bowling to the west of Glasgow, closed in 1992 and final buildings lost to fire in 2005.

  • Littlemill 22 Years Old 1992 Small Batch ~ 53.7% (Cadenhead’s) - Littlemill 22 Years Old 1992 Cadenhead Small Batch 53.7% ABV, £93.90 for 70cl Score: 85/100 What they say: Founded around 1750 it was one of the oldest established distilleries in Scotland until it was closed in 1994 its now sadly a demolished distillery after it was dismantled in 1997 then what was left was destroyed by […]
  • Littlemill 23 Years Old 1991 Cask#112 ~ 52.9% (Pearls of Scotland) - Littlemill 23 Years Old 1991 Cask#112 ~ 52.9% (Pearls of Scotland) 52.9% ABV, sold out but expect ~£125-£150+ Score: 85/100 What they say: Littlemill 23 Year Old 1991 Pearls of Scotland Single Malt Scotch 52.9% ABV. Lowland whisky from Scotland, Gordon & Co. bottling Single cask #112. Distilled January 1991, Bottled June 2014. What I […]
  • Littlemill_27_1985_CC Littlemill 27 Year Old 1985 – The Coopers Choice ~ 46% (The Vintage Malt Whisky Company) - Littlemill 27 Year Old 1985 – The Coopers Choice (The Vintage Malt Whisky Company) 46% ABV, £85 for 70cl Score: 89/100 What they say: This was distilled at Littlemill in 1985 before a 27 year maturation in a single cask (number 110). It was bottled in 2012 for the Vintage Malt Whisky Company’s Coopers Choice […]
  • littlemill-28-year-old-1985-robert-graham Littlemill 28 Years Old 1985 Treasurer’s Selection ~ 50.5% (Robert Graham) - Whisky Review: Littlemill 28 Years Old 1985 Treasurer’s Selection Category: Lowland single malt scotch whisky Origin: Littlemill Distillery [closed] Bottling: Robert Graham; Treasurer’s Selection ABV: 50.5% Cost: £250 from Robert Graham What they say: Distilled: 1985 Bottled: Feb 2013 Release of: 230 bottles Cask no: 99 Tasting Notes Nose – Gingerbread, marmalade, banana, red apple; thick […]

Lochside

Established in 1957 in a former brewery in Montrose, closed after takeover by Allied Domecq in 1992, warehousing closed 1997 and demolished 2006.

1993

Pittyvaich

Established in 1974 by Arthur Bell & Sons, closed and demolished in 2002.

pittyvaich-1989-20-year-old-whiskySampled Pittyvaich 20 Year Old 1989 (2009 Special Releases) ~ 40% (Diageo)

Rosebank

Rosebank Distillery

Established 1840 in Falkirk, closed in 1993 allegedly due to cost of modernisation in order to meet effluent quality legislation

  • Rosebank 22 Years Old 1991 25.65 The whispered kiss ~ 50% (SMWS) - Rosebank 22 Years Old 1991 – 25.65 The whispered kiss Lowland single malt scotch whisky 50% ABV, £374.99 for 70cl Score: 90/100 What they say: Cask No. 25.65 A whispered kiss from a ghost. Delicate peach skin and apple blossom. Honey glaze on dainty cinnamon pastries. Murky perfume departments. Childhood memories evoked by tinned peaches, […]
  • rosebank-1991-cask-271-mackillops-whisky Rosebank 22 Years Old 1991 Single Cask #271 ~ 55.2% (Mackillop’s Choice) - Rosebank 22 Years Old 1991 Single Cask #271 (Mackillop’s Choice) 55.2% ABV, £240 for 70cl Score: 89/100 What MoM says: A 22 year old single cask from Mackillop’s distilled at the celebrated Rosebank distillery. Rosebank is of course a closed distillery in the lowlands whose whisky was triple distilled. Founded in 1798 and mothballed, never […]
  • SMWS-25.68-Vichy-Kisses Rosebank 23 Years Old 1990 25.68 Vichy Kisses ~ 57.8% (SMWS) - Review: Rosebank 23 year old single malt scotch whisky Rosebank Distillery via Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask No. 25.68 Vichy Kisses 57.8% ABV £117.10 from SMWS Score: 91/100 What they say: Cask No. 25.68 The panel found ripe pear, apple and lychee drizzled with light blossom honey at first. The Scots found chalky Edinburgh rock […]

1998

Imperial

Imperial Distillery

Established in 1897 in Speyside, operated sporadically until 1998 and demolished in 2013 for site redevelopment into Dalmunach distillery by owners Chivas Brothers.

  • Imperial10yoWhiskyMagazine Imperial 10 Years Old 1998 ~ 53.6% (Whisky Magazine) - Imperial 10 Years Old 1998 Speyside single malt scotch whisky 53.6% ABV, £55 at auction see Whisky Auctioneer item Score: 83/100 What they say: An Imperial selected by the Editor of Whisky Magazine and bottled by Duncan Taylor. Distilled in November 1998 and bottled in February 2009 from a single American hogshead, aged 10 years […]
  • ImperialSV1995s Imperial 16 Years Old 1995 (casks 50324+50325) ~ 46% (Signatory Vintage) - Imperial 16 Years Old 1995 (casks 50324+50325) Speyside single malt scotch whisky 46% ABV, £39.95 for 70cl Score: 86/100 What they say: From Signatory’s Un-Chillfiltered range, this Imperial was distilled on the 9th October 1995 and it was aged for 16 years in hogsheads 50324 and 50325 before bottling on the 24th August 2012. A release […]
  • imperial-17-year-old-1995-un-chillfiltered-signatory-whisky Imperial 17 Years Old 1995 -The Un-Chillfiltered Collection ~ 46% (Signatory) - Imperial 17 Years Old 1995 -The Un-Chillfiltered Collection (Signatory) 46% ABV, ~£38.36 for 70cl or £4.09 for 3cl from Drinks by the Dram Score: 84/100 What they (MoM) say: This is an Un-Chillfiltered Imperial from Signatory, distilled in October 1995 and aged for 17 years in a pair of hogsheads. It was bottled in 2012. Tasting […]
  • ImperialSV1995s Imperial 18 Years Old (casks 50288+50289) ~ 46% (Signatory Vintage) - Imperial 18 Years Old (casks 50288+50289) Speyside single malt scotch whisky 46% ABV, £42.52 for 70cl Score: 86/100 What they say: An un-chillfiltered Imperial single malt, bottled by the lovely folks at Signatory. Taken from two hogshead casks filled in September 1995 and emptied in April 2014. 742 bottles of whisky from this closed distillery […]
  • Imperial18yo1993-2011GM Imperial 18 Years Old 1993 ~ 43% (Gordon & MacPhail) - Imperial 18 Years Old 1993 Speyside single malt scotch whisky 43% ABV, ~ £45 for 70cl Score: 87/100 What they say: Colour: Golden amber. WITHOUT WATER: Nose: Initially creamy, perfumed and fresh. Followed with hints of fudge, cooked fruit, and toasted malt. Palate: Starts off vary peppery with a slight bitterness (dark chocolate) and mouth […]
  • Imperial 18YO 1995 UCF Signatory Imperial 18 Years Old 1995 – Unchillfiltered ~ 46% (Signatory) - Imperial 18 Years Old 1995 – Unchillfiltered 46% ABV, £41.95 for 70cl available from RMW Score: 85/100 What they say: A bit about the bottler Signatory Vintage are an independent bottler founded in 1988 by Andrew and Brian Symington. The name ‘Signatory’ was derived from the initial intention to find a person of suitable standing […]
  • Imperial 19 Years Old 1995 SignatoryCask 50164 TW Imperial 19 Year Old 1995 cask 50164 ~ 54.6% (Signatory) - Review: Imperial 19 Year Old 1995 (cask 50164) – Cask Strength Collection Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Imperial Distillery (Closed) Bottling: Signatory Cask Strength Collection, Cask 50164 ABV: 54.6% Cost: £81.45 from Master of Malt [sold out] Score: 89/100 What they say: Distilled on 21/08/1995 at the Imperial Distillery in Speyside, this has […]
  • Imperial 1995 G&M Imperial 19 Years Old 1995 ~43% (Gordon & MacPhail) - Imperial 19 Years Old 1995 ~43% (Gordon & MacPhail) 43% ABV, £58.95 for 70cl Score: 89/100 What they say: A 1995 vintage whisky from closed (although rumours are abound of its resurrection) Imperial, bottled by Gordon & Macphail with a retro distillery label. What I say: Dram #2 from WOLS tasting 14/3 ‘Age is only […]
  • Imperial 20 Year Old 1995 (cask 50154) – Cask Strength Collection Imperial 20 Year Old 1995 cask 50154 ~ 51.0% (Signatory) - Review: Imperial 20 Year Old 1995 (cask 50154) – Cask Strength Collection Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Imperial Distillery (Closed) Bottling: Signatory Cask Strength Collection, Cask 50154 ABV: 51.0% Cost: £81.21 from Master of Malt Score: 90/100 What they say: Distilled on 21/08/1995 at Imperial Distillery and matured for over 20 years in Hogshead […]
  • Imperial23yoHunterLaing Imperial 23 Years Old 1990 Old & Rare ~ 57.9% (Hunter Laing) - Imperial 23 Years Old 1990 Old & Rare Platinum Selection Speyside single malt scotch whisky 57.9% ABV, £230 for 70cl Score: 88/100 What they say: A 23 year old single malt from the dearly departed distillery, Imperial. Distilled in October 1990, the whisky matured in a single sherry butt for 23 years before Hunter Laing […]
  • ImperialGlenlivet37yoWC Imperial-Glenlivet 37 Years Old 1977 Single Cask ~ 53.5% (Cadenhead’s) - Imperial-Glenlivet 37 Years Old 1977 Single Cask Speyside single malt scotch whisky 53.5% ABV, £260 for 70cl from Wm Cadenhead’s Score: 86/100 What they say: Distilled 1977, Bottled January 2015, Aged for 37 years in a single bourbon hogshead and producing 204 bottles at cask strength of 53.5% at outturn. Nose: Soft stewed fruits, rhubarb […]

2002

Caperdonich

Established in 1898 as Glen Grant #2, operated for only 4 years, rebuilt in 1965, closed in 2001 and demolished 2010.

  • Caperdonich 14 Years Old 1999 Connoisseurs Choice ~ 46% (Gordon & MacPhail) - Caperdonich 14 Years Old 1999 Connoisseurs Choice (Gordon & MacPhail) 46% ABV, £40 for 70cl Score: 79/100 What they say: A sumptuous Speyside single malt which slumbered in Sherry butts from 1999 to 2013. This Caperdonich makes for a fine addition to Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice. AROMA without water: Light and Fruity with tropical fruit […]
  • Caperdonich 17 Years Old 1995 – The Rare Casks Release 1 ~ 57.8% (Abbey Whisky) - Caperdonich 17 Years Old The Rare Casks Release 1 by Abbey Whisky 96 bottles @ 57.8% ABV, distilled 1995, bottled 2012, £59.50 for 70cl Score 87/100 What they say: The 1st release in ‘The Rare Casks’ series by Abbey Whisky is this magnificent Caperdonich 17 year old single malt Scotch whisky. This limited edition release […]
  • caperdonich-18-year-old-1995-cask-95076-berry-bros-and-rudd-whisky Caperdonich 18 Year Old 1995 cask 95076 ~ 46% (Berry Bros. & Rudd) - Review: Caperdonich 18 Year Old 1995 cask 95076 Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Caperdonich Distillery Bottling: Berry Bros & Rudd Cask 95076 ABV: 46% Cost: £87.61 from Master of Malt [sold out] What they say: A Berry Brothers & Rudd bottling of single malt Scotch whisky from the closed Caperdonich distillery. It was […]
  • caperdonich-20-years-old-1996-cask-end-cadenheads Caperdonich 20 Years Old 1996 Cask Ends ~ 48.9% (Cadenhead’s) - Whisky Review: Caperdonich 20 Years Old 1996 Cadenhead’s Cask Ends Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Caperdonich Distillery Bottling: Cadenhead’s Cask Ends ABV: 48.9% Cost: £110 What they say: Distilled at the now demolished Caperdonich Distillery in 1996 and matured for 17 years before being finished in a Sherry Hogshead for 3 years. Bottled […]