November 23rd 2022
Ghost Distilleries: Lost but Far from Forgotten
Half a millennium is a long time. A period over which the production, consumption and reputation of whisky has ebbed and flowed – dependent on harvests, cultures, politics, and almost everything in between.
More recently, the 20th Century saw the closure of swathes of distilleries across Scotland owing to widespread economic downturns, market changes, the Whisky Loch, and an impending sense that whisky would make way for more modern spirits.
For a process where time itself is a central factor in production, the resilience of these distilleries to short-term pressures was of course fragile. Their existence and survival a constant battle that, for many, was ultimately lost.
During these closures, the stills, equipment, stocks, and casks of once-heralded distilleries were often sold to peers and competitors – the final relics of something now consigned to the annals of history.
Whisky’s recent renaissance however has led to new-found interest in these long-lost distilleries – or, as they have now come to be named, ghost distilleries.
The rarity of the spirits distilled in these now extinct environments, the stories attached to their provenance, and the bridge they offer to a lost world have led to a surge in demand.
Their irreplaceable nature makes them some of the most coveted spirits available today – either as single malts themselves or as components in more modern blends.
At House of Hazelwood, we have the fortune to be able to offer one of the rarest of all, The Lost Estate.
This 43-year-old blended scotch whisky captures a blend from two of Scotland’s ghost grain distilleries – an approach to distillation that was rare even when the distilleries were active.
Its character certainly reflects this rarity, providing a unique and richly evolving flavour profile that evokes pear drops, barley sugar and mandarin.
A sweet balance of tastes that will never be recreated or replaced.
“Remarkable provenance, remarkable whisky. This is a shapeshifting dram, moving from a perfumed nose of dried violet and creamy citrus through hints of walnut veneer into a wonderfully textured palate of dried fruit, toffee and sandalwood. Subtle, but concentrated.”
Richard Woodard ~ Decanter
With these bottles we are reminded that despite the losses incurred in the closure of these distilleries, both material and emotional, solace may still be found.
Whether specialising in grain or the more common malt barley, the ghost distilleries of the past century add another element of allure to whisky’s enchanting quality – acting as a portal to its lost heritage as well as a representation of its enduring appeal.
The production techniques and unique characteristics of these ghosts will never be recreated, and yet, at least for now, we can still experience the flavours and textures they have left behind through what remains of these spirits.
Thus, we can rest assured that in the ashes of these lost distilleries – home to generations of tradition, expertise, and community – the final embers still shine brightly today.