Feb 262016

Port Ellen 11th Release056

53.9% abv

Score:  93.5/100


We’re creeping up a little here in terms of age and quality in this run of Port Ellen annual releases.  At the same time, the outturn is shrinking.  This release was limited to 2,988 bottles, dropping down below 3,000 for the first time in the series run.  That should tell you something about the scarcity of remaining Port Ellen stocks, one of the industry’s best kept secrets (and part of what allows extravagant and unquestionable pricing policy).

But that’s just metadata and speculation.  Let’s leave that for other writings and just stick to the ‘porn-esque’ fantasy highs of simply basking in all the magic that makes Port Ellen special.

This 11th release is unquestionably one the best expressions of the distillery I’ve yet encountered out of the dozens of PEs I’ve been lucky enough to taste.  It doesn’t quite reach the stratospheric heights of the 5th or 12th release, but I think this one may rest in a bronze position.  The independents are a little more hit and miss, but the distillery bottlings are remarkably consistent and, as you can imagine, are mostly variations on a theme (a perfect theme…something like Miles’ ‘Kind Of Blue’).  This one is no exception, and fits perfectly into the PE mould.  I’ve not yet tried Port Ellen 1-4 or 7, but until I do let’s just say this one is my third favorite.

The soft and delicate nose, as is almost always the case with Port Ellen, is given a strong counterpoint with how much oomph is packed into the palate.  This isn’t so much an imbalance as it is a contrast that shows the inherent beauty in each separate facet and the stunning whole they achieve together.  At 32 years old (1979 distillate, bottled in 2011) this one still has a lot of vibrancy in it.  Hopefully we’re not approaching the end of these remarkable old malts.  I’m dying to know what a 40 or 50 year old Port Ellen tastes like.  Perhaps that’s my grail malt.

Nose:  Oh, wow.  What a gorgeous nose.  Grassy.  Roman nougat.  Oceanic winds.  Lemon meringue pie.  Lime.  Earthy and smoky.  Pastry notes.  Smells like Gramma’s pantry.  Subtle and appealing farminess.  Chocolate.  Cranberry scones.

Palate:  Peat and ash.  Smokes oysters and lemon.  Lemon zest too.  Salt.  Burnt seafood.  Licorice.  Over-steeped tea (in the manner it dries along the sides of the mouth and tongue.  Fruit skins.

Thoughts:  Strong oaky back end seems very much in line with what I’d expected.  Sublime older Port Ellen.  One of the best I’ve ever tried.

*Sincere thanks to the anonymous gent who kindly poured this, and several other, Port Ellen for me at a recent gathering.  Unforgettable.  Slainte.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:42 pm
Feb 182016

Port Ellen 10th Release058

54.6% abv

Score:  92.5/100


Apologies.  I’ve been slower getting these Port Ellen reviews posted than I’d hoped.  February is a bit of a messy month.  Bear with me.  Still a couple more to go.

This 10th Annual release from the good folks of Diageo came second (in terms of tasting order, not ranking) in an absolutely stunning range of Port Ellen I was fortunate enough to try recently with a group of friends.  I’d read incredible things about it, and this particular expression was one of the ones I was most looking forward to trying.  I think, by the end of the night, I ranked it slightly lower than I figured I would, but let’s face it…this is like comparing Ferraris.  We may have our favorites, but they’re all pretty damn spectacular.

Most of these official releases (all, up to and including the 14th) are either 1978 or 1979 vintages.  This one, being the tenth in a series that started in 2001, was a 1978 and was bottled in 2010, making it a 31 year old.  The outturn was a mere 3,000 bottles, all of which were quickly scooped by the collectors and connoisseurs.  The retail back then?  Hmmm…just breaking four figures I think.

I should note before jumping into tasting notes that the nose on this PE was stunning.  A gorgeous soft profile that lived up to what all good flavour experiences strive for: a balance of sweets and sours, but also boasting an individuality that makes it entirely recognizable for what it is.  Beautiful old Port Ellen.  The palate is a little different, but still…wow.  Just wow.

Nose:  Milk chocolate.  Soft peach.  Smells of old books.  Citrus, but mostly grapefruit (one of my favorite aromas in whisky).  Faintest pink bubblegum.  “OWA” (old whisky aroma).  Sugar cookies.  Wooden buckets of sea water.  Peat and smoke are simply background dressing here, adding complexity and character.

Palate:  Grassy and herbal, with smells of green tea.  Chocolate again.  Pepper and brine.  A squeeze of lemon.  The peat explodes with a bite after a second or two, in a bigger fashion the the nose would lead you to believe.  Leaves a smokiness behind that is only hinted at on the nose.  Long finish.

Thoughts:  Softer than the 9th release, and a rather different animal, I think.

*Sincere thanks to the anonymous gent who kindly poured this, and several other, Port Ellen for me at a recent gathering.  Unforgettable.  Slainte.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:49 am
Feb 052016

Port Ellen 13th Release042

55% abv

Score:  93/100


2013’s official Port Ellen release.  I’m not sure what this one retailed for when it hit the open market, and quite frankly not really interested in hunting that information down, to be honest.  The reality is that it’s now long gone and well beyond what I’m willing to pay for a bottle anyway.

Having said that, a friend of mine who has a warm heart for sharing, a passion for great whisky and really good taste was kind enough to pour this for me just days back.  This and several others which we’ll cover in the coming days actually.  As you can imagine I was diligently taking notes, as were most others in our little collective.

I’ve been questioned about the value of these high end malt reviews before, as in theory they really only pertain to a very small and extremely specific audience.  I spent quite a while mulling over that line of thought before ultimately dismissing it.  I think, because there are very few individuals that will actually get their hands on whiskies like this, that it’s absolutely important to share details.  Otherwise there’s a very small data set regarding these malts that exists in the wider whisky world.  The more information, the better, aye?

Anyway…this is one of the oldest PEs I’ve tried, having spun ’round the sun 34 times since its 1978 birth.  And age is definitely a huge factor in the end product’s character.  Earlier Diageo Port Ellens boasted much more heft, prickling vibrancy and bigger smoke.  This is an exercise in austerity.  Not sure which I prefer, to be honest, but I can tell you this one is a classic beauty.  Islay with age is magic.

Limited run of just 2,958 (highly coveted) bottles.

Nose:  So soft.  Everything is fading and settling into mature austerity by this age.  Nice toasted notes.  Smoke, but not big billows.  Vanilla.  Soft lemon.  Fruit cocktail in syrup.  Mild milk and white chocolate.  Nice warm farmy, barnyard aromas.  Peat and briny, seaside notes.  A slight sourness of fruits.

Palate:  Lemony and very oily.  Much smokier here than the nose belies (and we like that).  Green tea and a general herbaceousness.  Tastes very mature.  Quite soft, all told, for 55% Islay malt.  Hay.  Fruit candy sweetness.  Soft white fruits.

Thoughts:  Gorgeous.  Rich, big and elegant.  Port Ellen in all its inherent singularity and complexity (if that makes any sense).

*Sincere thanks to the anonymous gent who kindly poured this, and several other, Port Ellen for me at a recent gathering.  Unforgettable.  Slainte.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:15 am
Feb 042016

Port Ellen 15th Release037

53.9% abv

Score:  92/100


As of January, 2016, this is the most current Diageo Port Ellen annual release.  And it is a doozy.  Though not necessarily in the ways you might expect.  Let me explain…

As we’ve discussed here a few times, Port Ellen closed 33 years ago this May.  It had been distilling from 1967 through 1983, after having been shuttered from 1929 up until that point in the mid sixties.  Simple math tells us that the entire supply of Port Ellen that our generations have seen hit the market was from a 16 year production window.  That speaks volumes (pun aside) about how much Port Ellen may still be napping in Diageo’s warehouses (very little, I assume).  Also telling is the fact that all previous annual releases were either 1978 or 1979 distillate.  This 15th release is an ’83.  Hmmmm…what?

It’s long been rumoured that Diageo has been sourcing back PE casks from some of the independent bottlers.  The name most often mentioned is Douglas Laing.  Whether there is truth to the mutterings is not likely something that either party is willing to disclose, but it is whispered that Diageo exhausted their own stores and have subsequently restocked via buybacks.  Hence…a 1983 release this time.  Coincidentally, you may notice that many of the Douglas Laing releases have been from the 1980s, suggesting that this may indeed have been the source of Diageo’s rumoured pillaging.

Enough conspiratorial nattering.

A few nights back I was fortunate enough to be part of a private little gathering that sipped our way from the 9th release through the 15th release (with a little extra for ‘afters’).  Over the coming days I’ll share the details for each of these expressions.  I thought maybe we’d start here, with arguably the most atypical of the whole series.  Anomalous though it may be (due to it’s darker complexities and a seemingly more sherried profile), it is still an absolute barnstormer of a malt.

Cost prohibitive, of course, but Port Ellen is becoming as scarce as integrity in the whisky world these days.  This 32 year old was a limited release of 2,964 (grossly overpriced) bottles.  Oh yeah…and it really is utterly magic.

Nose:  Hmmm…this is quite an outlier from the rest of the Diageo PE OBs.  Almost Sherry-ish.  Rich in creamy toffee/butterscotch notes.  Dough.  Cinnamon.  Very toasted.  Iodine and medicinal notes.  Quite briny and citric.  Farmy too.  Dried fruits.  And also some burnt fruit.

Palate:  Smoky, but it’s a big wet smoke.  Burnt caramel.  Kippers.  Lemon.  Chocolate.  Rich, jammy fruits.  Plum skins.  Tarry.  Licorice.  Mocha/coffee.  Quite tart and tannic at the back end, but not unpleasantly so.   Leather and caramel.  Smoked apple.  And yeah…a little earthy and peaty.  Reminds a bit of older sherried Caol Ila.

Thoughts:  I swear this seems sherried.  Delish, but an odd man odd malt from PE.

*Sincere thanks to the anonymous gent who kindly poured this, and several other, Port Ellen for me at a recent gathering.  Unforgettable.  Slainte.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:12 am