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