I f you’re tuned into the whisky world, you’ve probably heard the term “ghost distillery” before. Although this may evoke the supernatural, there’s really nothing spooky about it. The term refers to distilleries that closed years ago but still have barrels of whisky aging in warehouses around Scotland. Some of this whisky is released from time to time, often with a high price tag attached due to its scarcity. Ghost distillery releases usually come from two sources – independent bottlers that have acquired barrels over the years, and the parent companies of dormant operations that still have casks aging in warehouses long after the distillery was demolished. Some well-known examples of ghost distilleries include names like Rosebank, Port Ellen, and Brora. Brora was actually reopened by Diageo in 2021, and Port Ellen is set to start making whisky again this year, but of course the whisky made at these revamped distilleries will be very different from what is in the original barrels.
The bigger names in the world of ghost distilleries command exorbitant prices on the secondary market and at auction due to the limited nature of these whiskies. Once this liquid is gone, it’s gone forever, never to be recreated. But there are also some niche names in the world of ghost distilleries that are worth taking a closer look at as well. Some of these have never recieved the same recognition and admiration as the bigger names mentioned earlier, likely due to their more limited availability and lack of a big corporate push behind them. But the liquid’s rareness, exclusivity, and flavour make them valuable collectors’ finds, and the fact that these whiskies have not been as celebrated might just mean their value will increase dramatically as they are rediscovered. Here are a few names coming up in Sotheby’s Hong Kong Autumn Sales Finest and Rarest Spirits on 2 October that are worth knowing about – not to mention tasting, should the opportunity arise.
Caperdonich was located just across the road from Glen Grant, and it was meant to be a sort of sister distillery when it was built in 1898. It shut down shortly after, remaining dormant until growing demand for Glen Grant (specifically in Italy) caused the stills to be fired up again. Pernod Ricard acquired the distillery in 2002, but it was sold to copper still maker Forsyth’s and demolished in 2011. You can currently find Caperdonich whisky as part of the Secret Speyside collection, and it’s generally well regarded by whisky fans.
This distillery was founded in 1846 on the Caledonian Canal that runs through the famous Loch Ness, which was actually the water source for the whisky produced here. From 1917-19 production ceased when the U.S. Navy took over the site, but it started operating again in 1920 and the stills were kept running until it finally closed in 1983. There were a few Glen Albyn bottlings in the 1970s, but this whisky has not been widely available over the past few decades.
Imperial opened in 1897 in the Speyside region of Scotland, but it would close just two years later and not reopen again until 1919. The next few decades were marked by more closures and reopenings, and after it was acquired by Allied Distillers in 1989 it was shuttered for good almost a decade later. More recently, Chivas Brothers was the owner of Imperial, but the company demolished the distillery in 2013. The whisky has been described as having a “gentle, floral, American cream soda” style.
This was a Lowland distillery that was built in the 1930s as a malt whisky producing companion to the grain whisky distillery Dumbarton. Canadian whisky company Hiram Walker-Gooderham and Worts was the force behind Inverleven, and primarily used the whisky as a component in its scotch blends. The distillery shut down in 1991, but the stills found new life. One was used to make Botanist Gin at Bruichladdich for a time, and they eventually found a home at Waterford, the Irish distillery founded by former Bruichladdich CEO Mark Reynier, where two of them are now used to make Irish single malt.
Some point to Littlemill as being the oldest distillery in Scotland, and indeed it does date back to 1772 when it was founded by George Buchanan. The modern history of this Lowlands distillery is a little easier to verify. Littlemill was closed in the late 1920s, and then reopened again in 1931. Starting in the mid-80s, the distillery opened and closed a few more times until shuttering for good in 1997.
This distillery, also known as Linlithgow, started making whisky in 1798. Throughout its life, the distillery had a fairly large output of close to a million liters of alcohol per year, but remained under the radar despite that volume. In 1914, St Magdalene became part of Scottish Malt Distillers along with Rosebank, Glenkinchie, Clydesdale, and Grange. It closed for good in 1983, and today Diageo is the owner of the brand and its whisky stock.