Distillerie Closures

200 years ago, there were thousands of farm distilleries in Scotland. Today, there are around 140 more or less large whisky distilleries. We describe the history of the closures and the distilleries affected by them. Like Ardbeg, which experienced the ups and downs of closures and takeovers, many distilleries were affected.

To approach this topic, you have to dig into Scottish history, which is closely linked to British history. In the past, there were countless distilleries, all of which were rather small, hidden away in the Highlands and far from the beaten track.

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Video on the topic from 2013 by Horst Lüning

Why were there so many Distilleries?

The perishability of grain led to the emergence of numerous distilleries, as the production of alcohol from grain was a way of preserving it and selling it at a profit. In the USA, George Washington's family discovered the profitability of distilling whisky and later used the taxation of whisky from 1794 onwards to raise money for his country, the United States, after the War of Independence.

In Scotland, taxes were levied on whisky from 1820, which favoured the legal distilleries but also encouraged illicit production in the Highlands. Tax control became important, even the famous poet Robert Burns worked as a tax collector for a time. There were a number of distilleries that were already officially operating before the tax was introduced. This can be seen from the date of their foundation. Bowmore, Littlemill, Glen Garioch, Highland Park are such so-called farm distilleries that existed before the introduction of the tax and which experienced a boom after licensing.

In the 19th century, Britain struggled with alcohol addiction and whisky consumption increased enormously. The average British worker consumed 160 bottles of whisky a year. A possible prohibition in Scotland and Ireland was avoided, instead Scotland benefited from prohibition in the USA by becoming a supplier!

The situation of the distilleries during the wars

The First World War had a negative impact on the whisky industry. Resources were needed for the war and the demand for whisky fell. Instead, more cheap alcohol was produced. Whisky production was very low during this time, making whiskies from the war years coveted collector's items.

Prohibition was lifted in the USA just in time for the Second World War. The Kennedys, who came from Ireland, wanted to import Irish whiskey. Unfortunately, the Irish did not go for it - with far-reaching consequences! The Scots were available with their Scotch whisky and in 1933 they were also ready to ship it to American harbours.

The Irish, on the other hand, had to close most of their distilleries after the war. In the end, only two distilleries remained: Bushmills in the north and Midleton in the south.

After the Second World War, a major wave of modernisation and consolidation began in the distilleries. Great Britain experienced an economic boom, from which the whisky distilleries in Scotland also benefited. In contrast to Ireland, there was no great distillery boom here. On the contrary: sales volumes increased.

The big turning point - the great British recession

From 1979 to 1982, there was a decisive economic turning point: the Great British Recession, which had a dramatic impact on the entire economy! Wages were paid once a week in cash and everyday items, such as clothes, were paid in instalments. Unemployment was high - it was a terrible time with very tight finances, even for the whisky industry. Many malt whisky distilleries had to cease operations! To name a few examples: from 1981 to 1985 it hit Glen Elgin, Glen Mhor, St Magdalen, Springbank, Ardbeg, Port Ellen, even Glenfiddich and many more. Others reduced their production. This lasted until 1988, when distilleries such as Springbank and Ardbeg returned to the market. However, many companies gave up their own maltings as malting is the most expensive stage of production and costs were saved by using centralised maltings. Progress was slow, but things started to pick up again from 1991/92. The first boom started in 1995, the founding date of our company - then still 'The Whisky Store' - was 1993. It became apparent that whiskies from the Highlands were more in demand, so unfortunately the last distilleries in the Lowlands had to close, such as Rosebank and Littlemill. But Bruichladdich on Islay and Glendronach in the Highlands were also affected.

Aftermath of the distillery closures

The growth process accelerated until 2001, when the so-called Internet bubble burst. This involved profit expectations and speculation on rising share prices in the technology sector. As a result, there was less money available for the malt whisky distilleries. These ups and downs are still noticeable decades later, because whisky has to reach its maturity period! Lagavulin, for example, with its typical 16 years of maturation, was difficult to obtain in 2000.

Shortage of goods

Today, after 25 to 30 years, old whiskies are very rare. And whiskies bottled before the 1980s command astronomical prices. Only private distilleries such as Glenfarclas can store and offer old bottles. There was probably enough capital available here.

Rededication of distilleries

In the course of distillery closures - for whatever reason - distilleries were also repurposed. For example, flats were built in St Magdalen and a supermarket was built on the site of Glen Elgin, Glen Mhor and North Port. Offices were built in Glen Ugy and some restaurants in Rosebank. Rosebank is being revitalised and rebuilt by Ian Macleod Distillers to produce whisky again after 26 years of closure.


The ups and downs of distilleries, for whatever reason, cause the value of rare bottles to rise. But that doesn't mean that the flavour has remained the same over the years!

And here's another film tip: 'Angels' Share' is about an old last barrel that is to be auctioned off.