Late at night, when I can’t sleep, I’m often haunted by the notion of ghost distilleries.
The name might suggest some kind of super-natural (and super-creepy) facility run by industrious skeletons whose lengthy to-do lists left over from their time on earth keep them from peaceful coffin confinement.
The truth, however, is less gory, but no less interesting. Thanks to the booms and inevitable busts of the Scotch industry, it’s not unusual for a distillery to be mothballed during a slow period only to reopen once the demand for its whisky returns. But occasionally, due to severe sales drops or a war, these facilities never reopen. Since Scotch must age for years before it can hit shelves, barrels of it are often left over from defunct brands.
So what happens to the liquor? Never fear: The orphaned single malt is either used in high-end blends or bottled and sold.
As the Scotch industry has roared back to life over the last 15 years or so, collectors, drinkers and bartenders have become increasingly intrigued by special ghost distillery bottlings. Why are they so beguiling? Because they give us a taste of a bygone era and are often representative of a famous brand’s last gasp. They are also extremely limited. Whatever is available today is it—no more will ever be produced. As a result, ghost distillery whiskies are some of the most expensive spirits available, with prices that are truly terrifying.
Halloween is an appropriate time to hunt for ghost distillery whiskies; brands release their latest and greatest spirits during the fall in preparation for the holidays. Here are a few special drams that are currently available.
Littlemill 25-Year-Old, $3,000
This historic distillery, overlooking the River Clyde, outside Glasgow, dates back to 1772. It had the misfortune of not only closing in 1994, but also burning down ten years later. Fortunately, some of Littlemill’s whisky survived and is available in limited quantities. It will, however, cost you ($3,000 for a bottle of the 25-year-old) and be warned: There are just 1,500 bottles of it available worldwide, with just 250 of them allocated for the United States.
Brora 38-Year-Old, $2,200
Just the mention of Brora—and the promise of a taste—can bring a hush over a crowd of thirsty and boisterous aficionados. The distillery, which closed in 1983, was on the east coast of Scotland and its remaining barrels are almost depleted. This year, a stingy 360 bottles of 38-year-old single malt is being released. Speculators and malt maniacs will no doubt snap up most of it.
Port Ellen 37-Year-Old, $4,000
Port Ellen is arguably the most famous ghost distillery and its remaining bottles are appropriately priced. The facility was located on the island of Islay, which is renowned for its smoky and peaty whisky. This 37-year-old is a potent 110.4-proof and is the oldest Port Ellen ever to be sold. There United States will receive just 550 bottles.
Cambus 40-Year-Old, $1,150
Never heard of Cambus? You’re not alone. It closed in 1993 and this single-grain whisky is an extremely rare release. It was aged in American oak and has a very light and smooth flavor, which was the hallmark of the Lowlands, where the facility was located. There are slightly more than 1,800 bottles of the unusual Scotch available worldwide.