Let’s make it a full week of reviews of whiskies from closed distilleries. On Tuesday I had a review of a Brora. Here now is a whisky from Diageo’s other once a workhorse, now a cash cow distillery: Port Ellen. Like Brora, Port Ellen was slated for zombification last year. I’m not sure where any of that stands either. This one was distilled in 1982—the year before the distillery was closed—and bottled in 2006, when Port Ellens were available at prices that seemed high then but look like crazy screaming deals now.
Port Ellen 24, 1982 (43%; Signatory; hogshead 1145; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Lemon, cereals, bright carbolic peat (Dettol), cottonwool. Sweeter on the second sniff with some seashells and vanilla. The citrus gets muskier as it sits (more lime peel than lemon now) and there are hints (just hints) of faintly tropical notes interlaced with the increasingly acidic smoke. The vanilla gets creamier with a few drops of water. Continue reading →
I’m having a tough time summoning the energy to write stupid preambles to these reviews that were written a couple of weeks ago. Here is all I could manage for this one: this is a 19 yo Caol Ila distilled in 1995 and bottled by Maltbarn. Accurate!
Caol Ila 19, 1995 (52.8%; Maltbarn; from my own bottle)
Nose: Lemon and phenolic peat with olive brine running through it. In other words, quintessential Caol Ila. On the second sniff there are sweeter notes of cereals and vanilla behind the smoke and just a hint of gasoline. With a few drops of water the vanilla turns to cream and expands
Palate: The peat is in the lead here and there’s more tar than was indicated by the nose. Very nice texture at full strength and very approachable. With time the lemon and olive brine expand here as well and there’s some smouldering leaves in there with the tarry smoke. Water brings the pepper out earlier and it’s sweeter/creamier here too now, though the smoke and lemon are still the top notes. Better balance on the whole now. Continue reading →
The fifth Port Ellen entry in the Whisky Exchange’s Elements of Islay series was released in 2011, I think. And it may have been the last of the Port Ellens released in that series—at least Whiskybase does not list a Pe6. I’ve been sitting on this sample since early 2012. I acquired this sample through a rare act of honesty on my part: I had placed an order for a Karuizawa from TWE (this was back when Karuizawas could be acquired for <$200) and due to a glitch in their systems was charged only a fraction of the price. I alerted Tim Forbes who was then doing web stuff for TWE, and who was also a member of the then-very active Whisky Whisky Whisky forums. He confirmed that I was not in fact a winner of a special lottery and, as appreciation for my letting him know, threw a few fancy samples in with the order, one of which was this one. Why it has then taken me almost 8 years to drink it, I couldn’t tell you. Anyway, being released in 2011 it is at least 28 years old (Port Ellen closed in 1983) and probably a bit older. It’s also from a sherry cask, as three of the other four Elements of Islay Pe releases had been as well. It was very well received at the time. I, of course, did not buy a bottle because I thought it was horrendously overpriced. Cut to the present where the multiplier for any Port Ellen released in 2011 is about 10x. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading →
Let us continue with the Port Ellen annual releases. Yes, I know I said a long time ago that no one really needs more Port Ellen reviews—everything has already been said about the distillery and no one other than the very wealthy can afford any Port Ellens released since 2012 anyway. Do I have anything to add to the noisy chorus? Probably not but I’ve never let the fear of redundancy stop me from enjoying the sound of my own voice.
Both of these (the 9th and 12th annual releases) are from the 1979 vintage. The first is a 30 yo bottled in 2009 and the other a 32 yo bottled in 2012. I am only scoring the first as I have only a 20 ml sample of the other—purchased from Whiskybase, who were kind enough to divide the bottle they got into 20 ml samples without too much of a markup; this was after I purchased a full bottle of the 9th release a year or so after it was released. Little did I know then that the price I had to talk myself into (the most I’d paid for a bottle of whisky at that point) would seem almost quaint a few years later (the multiplier for this year’s Port Ellen, 15th release is almost 10x). Continue reading →
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.) Continue reading →
I’ve had this sample of Port Ellen from a single sherry cask sitting around for a couple of years now—I’ve no idea why I haven’t reviewed it yet. The Whisky Exchange bottled it in 2011 to commemorate the marriage of Beyonce and Jay-Z. It’s a little odd that they did this three years after the fact but maybe they were waiting to see if the marriage would stick. It is an odd choice of distillery to commemorate a wedding though—you’d think they’d pick one that’s still a going concern, not one that had to be shut down. Maybe Sukhinder Singh is more of a Nas fan?
Port Ellens from the last couple of years of the distillery’s life don’t have quite as high a reputation as those distilled in the 1970s but I quite liked the one I previously reviewed (this one from Old Bothwell). Let’s see if this one is as good and if it does the royal couple proud; and if it makes me regret not purchasing a bottle when it was released—I’m not sure how much they asked for it back in 2011 but doubtless it was a fraction of the current going prices for Port Ellens of any quality.
This is, I’m pretty sure, the youngest Port Ellen I’ve had (this 21 yo is the youngest I’ve previously reviewed). This was released in 2000, one year before the first annual release; in other words, before Port Ellen was quite Port Ellen. As you may be tired of being told (and I’m sure I’ve said it many times before myself), Port Ellen was a workhorse distillery when it was operational and almost no single malt version was released until the the mid-late 1980s (after it had closed) and it wasn’t until the late 1990s and really the early 2000s that it became widely known and it’s now iconic reputation sealed. So someone who bought this bottle when it was first released probably did not pay very much more for it than they would have for whisky of similar age from open distilleries and would probably have thought you were kidding if you’d told them then that 15 years later the entry-level price for Port Ellen would be well north of $500.
Another Port Ellen from the early Old Bothwell releases of a few years ago. This one is from 1982, the year before the distillery closed for good. I do wonder if anyone has cracked the mystery of how it is that Old Bothwell happened to have all these casks and why it is we don’t see anything else from them. Did Diageo have them whacked? Anyway. Let’s get right to it.
Port Ellen 27, 1982 (55.5%; Old Bothwell, cask 2558; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: As with cask 220 this is not particularly smoky. There’s lemon here too but it’s both muskier and more bitter; and there’s more olive (oil-marinated Kalamata) and pencil lead/graphite. A similar almondiness. A little more sweetness after a while but it’s minerally and almondy. Greater saltiness after a while, and some tart apple here too (reminds me of a variety we get here in Minnesota called Haralson). Gets almost creamy with time. With water the lemon gets really musky/preserved and everything comes together nicely. Continue reading →
Old Bothwell are a company that came out of nowhere a couple of years ago with a bunch of well-priced casks of Port Ellen, almost all of which were reviewed very well. They seemingly sold everything they had and no more has been heard from them since. I have a suspicion that their stock was purchased by other companies who have since been charging far more for it but I base that on nothing but my gut; to be fair to my gut though the only other thing it ever tells me is that I’m hungry and it’s always right about that.
This bottle was the first Port Ellen I ever purchased and I remember agonizing over it as paying more than $200 for a bottle of whisky was not something I’d ever done or thought I’d do. Now, of course, the price I paid for this, even if it were far poorer than it is, would be a steal. Diageo’s latest special release of Port Ellen is going for £2000 or so–a 50 ml sample of that would cost as much as I paid for this entire bottle. Continue reading →
There is nothing new left to be said about Port Ellen, the Islay distillery which closed in 1983 but remains perhaps the most iconic of all the Scottish distilleries (among whisky geeks, that is; the vast majority of the Scotch drinking world has never heard of it); not even that its reputation may be somewhat overblown. This last part is hard for me to confirm as I’ve had relatively few Port Ellens (less than 20 and the vast majority of those via small’ish samples from very generous friends). The best ones have been outstanding, but then the best whiskies from most great distilleries are outstanding.
It may be more impressive that I’ve never had a bad one, but it is also true that due to the vagaries of the business all Port Ellen available now is >20 years old (and these days >30 years old). In its days of operation it was a high output distillery, most of whose product went into blends, and it wasn’t until the late 1980s (well after it closed) that it began to be available as single malt. Who knows, perhaps if all that was available of Glenfiddich was a small selection of its output between 20 and 35 years of age, more whisky geeks would rhapsodize about Glenfiddich too. Continue reading →