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Port Ellen Maltings

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Wierdo started a discussion


The link is to an article from UK based online spirits retailer Master of Malt.

It details something that has been rumoured for some time concerning Port Ellen Maltings on Islay. The owner of Port Ellen maltings is the drinks giant Diageo. Owner of many distilleries including the peated whiskies Lagavulin,Talisker and Caol Ila. Port Ellen maltings provides peated malt not only to the Diageo distilleries producing peated malt but many other distilleries in Scotland that produce peated whiskies. Chiefly the other Islay based distilleries and apparently Tobermory distillery for use in Ledaig.

Diageo are said to be limiting the amount of peated malt they make available to non-Diageo distilleries from this year. And are rumoured to be ceasing providing peated malt to non-Diageo distilleries altogether from 2024.

This obviously would put those distilleries in a bit of a bind of having to find some other way to produce peated malt from next year onwards if they want to continue producing peated whiskies. Distilleries like Laphroaig do produce some of their own peated malt but only apparently about 25% of what they need. So I guess these distilleries will either have to find a way to produce their own peated malted barley or find a company that will provide it for them that Diageo doesnt own.

There are also persistent rumours (unconfirmed) that Diageo intend to start limiting the amount of casks of Caol Ila they sell to independent bottlers. So there maybe less indy Caol Ila availble in the future.

Obviously, the effect of these decisions perhaps won't be seen for a few years yet and the nature of the whisky industry is that everything is so long term they have time to respond. But for lovers of a peated dram like myself it is a concern.

about one year ago

4 replies

Nozinan replied

@Wierdo Diageo will do what is best for Diageo. It has nothing to do with what other producers need or what consumers want.

Thankfully I have all the peated whisky I could ever consume, and plenty to share.

about one year ago 5Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

@Nozinan from a business point of view Diageo's decision makes perfect sense. Hampering their competitors ability to bring their product to market whilst simultaneously significantly raising the prices of the Diageo product.

I think it sticks in the craw a little because the Scotch Whisky industry has never really been that kind of industry. There has historically always been a 'rising tide raises all ships' attitude and much co-operation, trading of casks etc between distilleries. But that harks back to days when the distilleries were all family owned. Not to the modern world where they're mostly owned by multi-billion dollar (dollar not pound) luxury goods companies.

On a personal level I have a fair bit of peated whisky stocked up and will stock up a bit more over the next few years ahead of any potential shortfall on the market.

I won't stock up on any Diageo products though. I haven't brought anything of theirs for a few years now. Generally I find the quality isn't there, or if it is (Lagavulin 12) the price is extortionate. I just don't like the way they operate as a company so won't give them my custom if I can avoid doing so.

about one year ago 6Who liked this?

Nock replied

Yes, I am both concerned and a little hopeful for this situation. Two of my favorite distilleries (Ardbeg and Laphroaig) both get their peated malt from Diageo’s Port Ellen Maltings. This means by 2035 we will see a distinctly different character emerge from both distilleries.

It all depends on what Ardbeg, Laphroiag, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Ardnahoe, and Portintruan decide to do. Kilchoman now has plans to expand their in-house malting floor and produce all of their own malting.

Bruichalddich has long sourced their peated malt from Inverness. Even their local barley expressions that are peated for Octomore and Port Charlotte are trucked up to Inverness for peating and then trucked back. Not very efficient or local.

My hope is that the non-Diageo distilleries all get together with Bruichladdich and create an Islay Malting facility that will use local Islay peat (and local Islay barley). This would create an even more distinctive profile and quality to the Islay Region of Scottish Single malts. If anyone has tried Ardbeg pre-1974 distillate it was all in-house peated malt. And it was gloriously earthy, peaty, and dark. After 1974 Ardbeg distillate becomes more elegant and refined. I believe that a less efficient malting process that utilizes Islay peat will produce a darker, earther, and peatier distillate than even the Port Ellen Maltings are currently producing.

Just look at what Springbank does with Longrow. That stuff is fantastic, earthy, farmy, and peaty. I love it. But because it is Campbeltown peat it isn’t Islay peat at the end of the day. My hope is that my beloved Islay distilleries will take a page from Springbank. I know Bruichladdich wants to . . . maybe if they just had some help?

My fear is that all the distilleries will all opt for the cheaper and easier move, and simply change over to Inverness peated malt which utilizes Highland peat and not Islay peat. The Inverness malting facility is far larger and more efficient than Port Ellen Maltings. The Inverness peated malting is used for peated expressions from all the other mainland distillers who produce a peated expression. I believe that if non-Diageo Islay distilleries change over to Inverness peated malt it will result in a less peaty product. I personally believe that Inverness peated malty – even peated to a similar ppm as the Port Ellen Maltings – is not as dark, earthy, and distinctly peaty as what is currently produced at Port Ellen. If you ever tried Benromach Peat Smoke (I followed it for 4 bottles) it was always peated above 60ppm but was nowhere near as dark and peaty as Laphroaig at 43ppm. AnCnoc Peatheart and Port Charlotte 10yo (which are both peated to 40ppm sourced from Inverness) have more in common to my experience than Lagavulin which is peated to the same 40ppm level and seems more earthy and peaty. (Obviously, the stills have a lot to do with it also).

Laphroaig is the single biggest consumer of Port Ellen maltings after Cao Ila. They have the biggest steak in the game.

Ardbeg has 1/3rd the capacity of Laphroaig and is fully dependent on Port Ellen for their malting.

Bowmore and Bunnahabhain use very little peated malt from Port Ellen . . . but some.

Ardnahoe . . . I don’t know. They were not operating yet when I was there in 2018. But online it looks like they are using Port Ellen Malting also. But they have half the capacity of Ardbeg.

My guess is that Diageo saw the writing on the wall. Two new distilleries are coming to Islay. They are also going to want peated Isaly Malt. Further, Diageo now needs to supply Port Ellen and Brora. So ya, I get it. Diageo is saying we need to keep our product for our own needs. There isn’t enough for our own expansion let alone every distillery on Islay who is opening or also expanding.

Again, It could be a good thing . . . it could be a bad thing.

This is a bit of a crisis, and it will affect the majority of distilleries in my favorite whisky region.

I anxiously await the developments.

about one year ago 6Who liked this?

Nock replied

So, I am a little behind in my podcast listening. Turns out Mark did an interview with Dr. Bill Lumsden for the April 23rd episode of Whisky Cast. For those of you who are reading this (and not UpToDate with Whisky Cast) it sounds like Dr. Bill has been using a combination of peated malt from both Port Ellen and other producers of heavily peated malt across the industry like Glen Ord and Port Gordon. He saw in the cards that Diago owned Port Ellen maltings would be more and more difficult to get. So, it sounds like Ardbeg will simply switch to Inverness peated malt. However, it also seems that last year there was a fire at Port Gordon maltings in Moray (just east of Inverness) which was a major source for peated malt in the industry. The fire burned down their peat kiln. So, in 2022, Ardbeg began producing unpeated spirit for the first time since 1980 & 1981. So, for all the peat freaks out there like me, stock up now! In 10 years there will be noticeable shortage of peated whiskies across the industry. And a noticeable glut of “Limited releases” of unpeated whiskies from distilleries known for their peated whiskies. I can just see it now for Feis Isle releases in 2032: Ardbeg unpeated, Laphroaig unpeated, Octomore unpeated (isn’t that just Bruichladdich? Nope, that is marketing).

about one year ago 4Who liked this?

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