Brora’s ‘ghost’ distillery back in production
Roll out the barrel: Stuart Bowman at Brora
Scotch whisky history has been made as the “ghost” distillery of Brora in Sutherland officially began production after its meticulous restoration.
Closed in 1983 during one of the most challenging periods for the industry, the reopening of Brora marks the first revival of a famous lost name in Scotch.
Spirits giant Diageo, which owns the distillery, said the investment in restoring it represents a major signal of confidence in the growth of the category.
A three-year restoration by Diageo is part of a £35million investment programme that will see another moribund distillery, Port Ellen on Islay, brought back into production.
During Brora’s closure, the distillery and its whisky gained legendary status among whisky connoisseurs. In 2017 it was announced that Diageo would restore Brora as a major commitment to Scotland.
Diageo’s Reserve portfolio of premium and luxury spirits reported 15% growth in the first half of its financial year.
The restored distillery will now safeguard a sustainable future for Brora, with the installation of a biomass boiler powered by sustainably sourced wood chips from northern Scotland.
Ewan Andrew, president, supply chain & procurement, said: “This is a new dawn for Brora – a distillery that is a beautiful new jewel in the crown of our portfolio in Scotland.
“I am particularly proud that Brora will be a carbon neutral distillery entirely 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.”
Port Ellen will also be restored
The 202-year-old Brora still house was taken down and rebuilt stone-by-stone exactly as it was when new in 1819, but now fit for another two centuries of production. The original Brora two classic copper pot stills were refurbished by Diageo’s skilled coppersmiths.
Brora master distiller Stewart Bowman, who is a native to the Sutherland town and whose father was the last exciseman at the distillery, officially marked the launch by opening the Brora wildcat 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.”
Bowman worked alongside a host of specialists, whisky noses and archivists in the restoration of the distillery buildings and its prized spirit.
On the restoration process, Mr Bowman says: “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 still house brick-by-brick using original Brora stone to restore this historic Victorian distillery.”
Brora is among Diageo’s smallest distilleries, capable of producing 800,000 litres of spirit each year, and will welcome visitors in small numbers on a by-appointment basis from July.
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