Reviews of Port Ellen are a bit like buses; you wait ages for one and then two arrive at once.
My experience of tasting Port Ellen is somewhat limited. I’ll put this down to the fact that my bank account is also somewhat limited. And these days, of course, anything heralding from a closed distillery isn’t cheap.*
About 18 months ago, Diageo announced that it would be resurrecting the Islay distillery and much speculation has taken place as to how this will affect the prices of those Port Ellen bottles currently available on the secondary market.
Whether the prices increase or decrease, it won’t affect me personally either way. If it were the latter, they would still need to decrease significantly for me to be able to buy bottles and I just can’t see that happening.
So any chance I have to taste a drop or two is always a bonus. The first was a sample I acquired from Kevin MacKinnon at the Spirit of Alba Gin & Whisky Festival in Kirkintilloch last year. The second was from Paul Graham at Ardnahoe Distillery during a recent visit for MALT.
Signatory Vintage Port Ellen 22 years – 43% abv
Nose: initial hints of lemon drizzle cake; gentle peat; fresh green apple; a very, very slight petrol note lingering in the background; hint of liquorice and slight note of menthol; notes of marzipan appear after a while; peat notes subside after a while and the lemon citrus notes become more intense.
Palate: fairly thin yet still a slightly oily texture; takes a second or two for the peat to appear although it is always quite subdued; quite sharp – gives a bit of a peppery kick; there’s some fresh green apple and gala melon; quite drying into the finish and there’s a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Conclusion: This isn’t unpleasant but its price (a bottle from a sister cask will set you back a cool £899!) reflects its rarity rather than its quality.
Hunter Laing Old & Rare Port Ellen 33 years – 56.8% abv
Nose: toffee apples; Golden Syrup; tiny hints of peat with a slight note of old leather; whiffs of an old ashtray; after a while, there are notes of bakewell tart and dark cherries. With a drop of water, the apple notes become much stronger.
Palate: creamy texture; peat comes to the fore gradually; dark cherry and dark chocolate flavours reminiscent of Black Forest gâteau. With a drop of water, the texture is surprisingly silkier; actually the texture is amazing; the peat is very subtle and more stone fruit flavours, such as unripe peach and apricot, start to develop; there’s a sootiness all the way through into the finish.
Conclusion: Aged 33 years and limited to an out-turn of 174, this is actually a stunning drop. However, at just over two grand a bottle, a drop is all I’ll manage. For those who are interested, Nickolls and Perks have two bottles left.
* Distillers Company Limited (DCL) closed Port Ellen in 1983 as part of the cull in the eighties as a result of the downturn in demand for Scotch whisky.