Distillery/Brand: Port Ellen | Region: Islay
I’ve been sitting on these tasting notes for a few months now. Apart from the fact that I’m a lazy git I genuinely wasn’t quite sure how to put pen to paper. I mean how are you realistically supposed to write a review about five Port Ellens? That’s right, FIVE of them. At the same time. Sprung on us as a surprise tasting on a rainy Islay afternoon.
By now I’m sure you know of my short hop over to the peaty island a couple of months ago to meet up with some friends from the other side of the world. To say the five of us made some crazy memories is an understatement.
Distillery visits, NFL picks, bouts of arm wrestling, making friends, discovering Punk IPA, drinking 50 year old Lagavulin, scrambling up slippery ruins to gaze out over the Straits of Moyle, playing Guess The Malt with Jackie from Ardbeg – it’s hard to imagine we managed all of this in four days.
Yet none of that compares to one miserable afternoon we spent shut indoors thanks to a torrential downpour and gale force winds. Our planned journey to Jura on the day was aborted when we realised we couldn’t even walk without the wind knocking us off our feet so crossing over on a ferry was out of the question.
However, my buddy Curt Robinson had better plans for us miserable louts. He had, extremely generously may I add, carried with him all the way from Canada a number of Port Ellen samples for an occasion such as this. I mean it was Islay – we were bound to get rained in at some point, right?
So there we were, in our cottage in Bowmore, excitedly sat around the table, me with my note pad in hand, staring with gleaming eyes at this buffet of awesomeness.
Granted we look like a motley gang of ex-cons planning a bank heist but that’s just you being judgemental.
We tasted them Right to Left with each one nominating a different favourite. I thought of rating each one but there’s really no need. They were all fantastic and there’s no point in splitting hairs.
1. Port Ellen 24 Years Old
Dewar Rattray Cask Collection
Distilled : 13.10.1982
Bottled : 17.09.2007
Nose: Citrus. Green lime. Lemons. Some vegetal notes. Green herbs. I like the barley sugars here. Crisp. Dry hay. White pepper. Smells quite sweet.
Palate: Big! Thank you 60.6%! Quite spicy. Oily. Buttery. Dries mid-palate. Soft smoke. That barley sugar I got on the nose. The greens are back. Unspecified vegetation. Cereal notes.
Finish: Very long. Drying. Oaky.
2. Port Ellen
5th Special Release
25 Years Old
Distilled : 1979
Bottled : 2005
Nose: Very oily. The smoke is quite faint. Just a year older than the Rattray but has an added complexity. Quite fruity. Soft melon. Sweet candy. Oranges. Similar unspecified greens. Quite earthy now. Damp dunnage. But in a good way. Pink grapefruit. Vanilla.
Palate: Drying. Again quite big. Settles down to a more fruity profile. Melons. Tropical fruits. Vanilla custard.
Finish: Long. Oaky.
3. Port Ellen
6th Special Release
27 Years Old
Distilled : 1978
Bottled : 2006
Nose: Hmmmm. Immediately seems better balanced than the first two. Which is saying a lot since they were pretty top notch. The mix of fruits and smoke is perfect. Tangy oranges. Sweet lemon candy. Lime. Tangerines. A very citrusy notes counter-balanced by the smoke. Beautiful.
Palate: Sweet as well. Oaky. But a good oak. Again the balance here is lovely. The circus comes screaming through. Limes. Lemons. Oranges. Now red berries. The smoke is understated but apparent. Oily.
Finish: Long. Quite magnificent if you ask me. Dry. Love it!
4. Port Ellen
8th Special Release
29 Years Old
Distilled : 1978
Bottled : 2008
Nose: Not as big as the first three. A little mellow if you ask me. This one has more dark chocolate. Oily. Butter. The smoke is peaty. But mildly so. The familiar citrus overtones but now with a touch of pineapples. And the tiniest of oak.
Palate: So sweet. Sweeter than all the others. Smoke. Oak. Quite dry. Sweet lemons. Fruity. Hint of cinnamon. Maybe. This one has big flavours but certainly not as complex as the 5th Release.
Finish: Medium. Dry. Toasted barley. Oak.
5. Port Ellen
9th Special Release
30 Years Old
Distilled : 1979
Bottled : 2009
Nose: Quite tangy. Sour candy. Pink grapefruit. Quite sweet. Faint smoke. Sweet barley sugar – quite a common thread here. Tropical fruits. Red liquorice. The same generic greens. And, of course, the citrus. Lemons. Lime.
Palate: Very drying. The oak is king here. Sweet. Lemon. Limes. Sweet candy. Herbaceous. Smoke. Vanilla custard.
Finish: Long. Sweet.
Overall Comments: There’s nothing much to say here other than God, damn what a rush! Miserable afternoon turned into one heck of a tasting proving once and for all that whisky will solve any problem. All the whiskies were quite scrumptious but my pick of the session was the 6th Release. That one just worked for me. Each one of us had a personal favourite which, again, is another thing that never fails to amuse me. Another memorable memory to add to my growing list of Special Islay Moments.
Special thanks to Curt for hooking us up. Big time!
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
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.
Distillery/Brand: Port Ellen
I had a sip of this particular malt a couple of years ago at a friends birthday and did not know what to make of it. But that had nothing to do with the malt – it was my unseasoned palate which could not truly appreciate this wonderful spirit.
The nose is lovely understated peat with a beautiful lemon honey sweetness. All of this is covered in a glaze of passion fruit sprinkled with a dash of sea salt. Finally a touch of apricot next to sausage on barbecue.
The strong palate is a squeeze of citric honey and peat with a healthy white pepper sprinkle. As the spirit mellows the salty fruits come out to play and add a layer of complexity to the proceedings. It’s a bold palate, thanks to the cask strength, and reminds me a little of the Lagavulin 12
The long peppery finish completes a wonderful lost distillery experience.