There’s a general feeling I have about distilleries.
It’s okay to love a distillery. However, you should know that you’re enjoying a whisky made in a period of time and given special circumstances.
Let’s look at Port Ellen. Port Ellen was closed down first in 1930 (continued as a malting and bonded warehouse), rebuilt in 1966/67, then closed again in 1983. It was used as a peated whisky in blends, simply enough. When it closed, along with tons of others in the 80s, those whiskies were left to sit around.
Enter Diageo and Rare Malts releasing whiskies in the late 90s. And having the pick of the litter. Many litters, if you will.
So I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask it again: Do we like Port Ellen because whisky, given time, and given expertise, will be tasty or is Port Ellen inherently amazeballs?
Today I’ll be reviewing two Port Ellen samples to see if I keep liking them. Let’s see how these taste, shall we?
Port Ellen 27 1978 Douglas Laing Old & Rare – The Platinum Selection
Cask Type: Sherry
Number of bottles: 396
Colour: 2.5YR 3/8
Nose: Molasses cookies, strawberry-rhubarb, smoked peach, tobacco (mint, light earth), green banana, brownies
Immediately you have a strong, rich flavour, caramelized sugar, funk, smoked fruit, light earth, and lighter tropical notes.
Water shows what happens to peat after being given the right amount of time in a cask: Chocolate. And if you don’t like that, you’re kinda dead inside.
Taste: Earthy tobacco, dry apple, nectarine turnover, red licorice, bubblegum, grassy vanilla ice cream
More spice/earth, dry notes, baked butter with stone fruit, sherry influence, sweet pockets… Holy shit.
To talk about the grassy ice cream: When you get really, really good milk, and make it into ice cream, you get these grassy notes as part of the dessert that adds an amazing dimension. That’s what this is like with water.
Finish: Smoky mushroom, peppercorn sauce, hazelnut cream, fresh stone baked crackers, caramel, nori, anise cookies
More earth and smoke, rich peppery/cream sauce, nutty, crackers.
Conclusion: If I ever have a better dry and tobacco dram, I may explode. I hate both of those things, and I want more of this. I shouldn’t enjoy tobacco this much. I don’t like it.
This is a rarety: A whisky with the right amount of time and elements to rise to amazing levels. This is what you expect from Port Ellens you pay your mortgage for.
Port Ellen 24 1982 Scott’s Selection
Price: € 525
Colour: 5Y 9/4
(Please note there was some cork in the bottle, so actual quality may be a concern on this review)
Nose: BBQ chips, brine, toffee, fresh bread, hot coals
Smokey, with some salt/sweet notes. Less complex after that sadly. The sweetness falls off, some of the yeast/bitter notes break off. Water gives more of an earthy/coal note, coming back to some complexity to it.
Taste: Anise, cinnamon syrup, butterscotch, lemon, baked rolls
Spice forward with lots of butterscotch to it. You have to give this time to open up more and sharing acidity and breadiness, as it’s pretty much sugar syrup/caramel/spice heavy.
That’s me being a bit picky. I’m trying to balance my sheer love for peat and spice and the fact that this is a birth year dram with the fact that I’ve had more complex Port Ellens, or Caol Ilas, or Laphroaigs. This is a cinnamon roll dram and those are things I love.
Finish: Cinnamon bread, dry apple, brine, cocoa bread, mulch, rubber
See, more cinnamon bread, balanced by dry apple, some cocoa, mulch and rubber? Sign me up! But we’re ending there. It’s good. Is it great is the question, sadly, that we now must ask about Port Ellen.
Conclusion: Nice, but there are better ones out there. And that sucks to say. Because frankly if I bought this for $230 (CAD) I’d be happy these days. A cinnamon bread dram. Pure and simple.
But I’m expected to pay many Eurodollars more? We run into the main issue. So it’s a good, almost great whisky. It’s right on that edge. I enjoyed it because I like cinnamon, butter, salt, and peat. But I’d recommend looking for something cheaper for a similar reaction.
Scotch reviews #1193-1194, Islay review #312-313, Whisky Network review #1839-1840