Port Ellen 32 XOP

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Distillery/Brand: Port Ellen | Region: Islay | ABV: 53.9% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 9.3 | Palate: 9.4 | Finish: 9.2 | Overall Score: 9.3

We trudged in single file along the narrow road leading out of Bowmore and up towards the Gaellic school. The six of us, all wearing Malt Activist t-shirts in a show of solidarity, were headed to a Douglas Laing tasting by the name of Favourite of the Feis.

Having attended one last year we were eager to meet again the lovely Caroline and the affable Jan Beckers from DL. I had been in touch with Caroline over mail in the weeks running up to the event and had requested her to organise something special for our little group of first-timers. She accommodated with this stunning Port Ellen XOP.

Distilled in 1982 and bottled 32 years later I decided I was going to spring this as a surprise to the group once the official tasting was over. They had no idea and I couldn’t wait to see their faces.

As soon as the last dram had been consumed I motioned everyone to remain seated and with a flourish, from inside my bag, pulled out six vials of the precious liquid. I was immediately greeted with loud whoops, back slaps and even a spontaneous hug. That reaction was well worth keeping this little secret bottled up inside of me for more than two months.

We trooped outside to the terrace of the Gaellic Centre and, with the sea air blowing in our faces, toasted our trip to Islay. For some of us it was the first time tasting a Port Ellen and I could not have thought of a better backdrop to have it against.

Served at a natural cask strength of 53.9% our sample is from cask 10658 and one of only 115 bottles produced.

Nose: Delicate smoke. Beautifully understated as it lingers long. Very mild peat. Surprising to still find it there. Nuts. Wild green berries. Green apples. A nice green citric element to the proceedings. Malted barley. Gets sweeter over time. White chocolate brownie (Is there such a thing? If not then there should be!). Very well rounded. No jarring edges. Just beautiful. 9.3

Palate: Boom! Always big. Very nutty. A nice pinch of green tobacco. Coastal sea salt (not sure if the liquid or the setting, to be honest). A faint touch of smoke. That wonderful Islay grist – just good clean barley coming through. A profile that I admire the most and consistently use as a yardstick to measure quality. Coming out in spades here. Speck of dark chocolate. Lovely balanced liquid. 9.4

Finish: Nice and long. Drying with a touch of oak and spice. 9.2

Overall Comments: Well, what can I say. A whisky from a bygone era. The joy of being on Islay amid friends. We could have been drinking turpentine and it wouldn’t have mattered. The fact that the whisky was stunning was just an added bonus to the proceedings.

Overall Score: 9.3


Port Ellen 1979 32 Years Old 11th Release

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Distillery/Brand: Port Ellen | Region: Islay | ABV: 53.9% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 25 | Taste: 25 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 98

Port Ellen Maltings was one of the first whisky related structures I saw as I drove into Bowmore from Islay Airport. It’s nothing but a huge drab structure with massive chimneys billowing peat smoke. And there’s pretty much nothing there to remind you of the distillery that once stood there till 1983. Except for maybe the warehouses that now hold stocks of maturing Lagavulin and Coal Ila instead of Port Ellen whisky as they rightfully should.

You see the distillery has been closed for 32 years, which coincidentally is the exact age of the whisky I am writing about, however, there is constant malting taking place there to supply the islands’ distilleries. The malting is an automated process and prepares the malt to the exact specifications of each distillery. This is quite a convenient little process allowing the distilleries to free up malting floors and convert them to more lucrative functions like maturation.

My first Port Ellen was a single cask Part Des Anges distilled in 1982 and aged for 24 years. Unfortunately for me I had it very early on in my career as a whisky enthusiast and, while appreciated, did not truly grasp the true essence of tasting that rare liquid.

This time around I wasn’t going to make the same mistake.

Unveiled at a stunning tasting I attended a couple of days ago I excused my self rather rudely from the rest of the guests and found my self a secluded corner to sit and savor this piece of whisky history.

Distilled in 1979 and matured in second-fill American Oak for 32 years this is, by far, one of the most sublime whiskies I have ever tasted. My sample is from a brand new bottled and served at a cask strength of 53.9%

Nose: Before I begin let me tell you everything about this whisky is an essay in perfection. The poise. The balance. The lightness of the smoke. The hint of peat. That lime. That zest. Those green pears. A touch of hay. Enveloped in a coal fire those under-ripe green berries. That delicate sweet vanilla. That soft brine on green olives. So much understatement, yet, everything so profound. This is perfect. This is what dreams are made of. 25/25

Palate: If the nose was an essay in perfection the palate is like rain after drought. The perfect mouthfeel coated in sharp white pepper pricks of pleasure. The smoke is back. So is the lime. And the zest. Vanilla pudding. Perfectly poised oak. Ash. Green pears. Ground spice. The spirit sits on your palate and coats it wonderfully. Each flavor sublime on it’s own. 25/25

Finish: Wonderfully long and smooth. Ash. Oak. Lime. Lemon. 24/25

Overall Comments: I don’t know what to say, really. I’m at a complete loss for words here. This is truly one of the most beautifully crafted whiskies mere mortals have ever made. Diageo makes a killing every time it releases a disgustingly priced bottle from the stocks lying around. But let me tell you something. What ever the price, this one is a bargain.

Rating: 98