This rattty sample bottle contains 50 ml of the sixth annual release of Port Ellen from 2006 (distilled in 1978). Actually, let me be exact: this contains 50 ml of the 200 ml release of this Port Ellen from one of Diageo’s sampler packs. This version was at 54.3% to the regular bottle’s 54.2%. Both were released well before the world went insane, when these annual releases were well within the reach of average punters, all the way through the 9th release—the innocents that we were, we complained then too about how expensive these were compared to regular bottles.
I’ve held on to this sample (and some others I got in this swap with a UK-based member of the WWW forum who has since retired from the whisky geekverse) for a long time; but we’re now in the early stages of moving house and as I pack up my samples I am all too aware of how many of them there are and of the need to cull them and save on some packing. And what better way to start than with this. After I take my notes and record my score I am going to follow this with a saved sample of an Old Bothwell cask of the same age that I’d reviewed a while ago. (That one is from the 1982 vintage, however.)
Port Ellen 27, 1978, 6th Release (54.3%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Sack cloth, straw, lemon, salt and a minerally, prickly peat. The lemon and minerally peat intensify with time and are joined by some green olives. No smoke as such and not particularly phenolic. With more time there’s some paraffin. With yet more time it’s a little sweeter (wet stones at first and then a hint of apple, and is that a bit of vanilla?). No real change with water, except the lemon comes back on top. With more time that sweetness takes an almondy turn.
Palate: A more intense version of the nose (salt, lemon, paraffin) but with an expanding sootiness on the tail end. The lemon expands on the second and third sips and those notes of paraffin and wet stones from later on the nose join it. There’s some pepper too now. Nice but not particularly complex. Let’s see what water does. Not very much, I have to say: no new development but everything does seem more integrated now.
Finish: Long. It’s here that the smoke comes out as the sooty note from the palate keeps going and begins to smoulder. Some tar here too at the very end and some salt. Many minutes after I swallow there’s a cereally taste along with ash on the sides of my mouth.
Comments: This is very nice indeed and poignant too to drink another bit of this legendary distillery’s malt (especially as I will not have very many more opportunities in the future to do so)—but if it’s this particular profile you’re after, not to worry: it’s Caol Ila by a more expensive name.
By the way, reviews of the regular 54.2% release suggest that one is fruitier on the palate. As to what the source of this discrepancy is, I don’t know: a different vatting? I can’t imagine the character would have changed so much with a drop of .1% in the abv between bottling runs, if that were all the difference between the two.
Rating: 88 points.
Thanks to Steven R. for the sample!
On to the other 27 yo (sample from the same source)! This is cask 2558, a 27 yo from 1982 bottled by the mysterious Old Bothwell who burst on the scene with a number of (in retrospect) highly inexpensive Port Ellen casks and then seemingly disappeared again. Just quick, jumbled notes on this one:
The nose is very similar with muskier lemon and paraffin from the get-go; more olives and olive brine here too. Very similar on the palate as well though with less smoke at first and more of the wet stones. Far less soot and tar on the finish as well to start but with time both the palate and the finish get quite smoky. This one gets smokier and tarrier still with water.
On the whole, very similar whiskies even though one is an official release from 1978 and one an unheralded indie from 1982—I bring this up because there often tends to be a far greater reverence for Port Ellens from the 1970s than from the last couple of years before the distillery closed. Looking at my earlier set of notes for this Old Bothwell, I see that I described it then very much as I did the OB 6th release tonight and gave it the same score—I might like it a bit more tonight though…