Thanks to RaunchyJowls for the sample.
There are some whiskies that people assume are going to be perfect. We’ve been spoiled, if you will. If you have been drinking back to the 90s, this happened with old Ardbeg. You got used to 70s Ardbeg, then the company ran out eventually.
If you were buying in the early 10s, then the same thing happened with GlenDronach and BenRiach. Almost all of the releases were well priced, easy to get, and tasty. To this day my GlenDronach review average is quite high because of this.
However the reality is there are no perfect distilleries. Nor are there the opposite, which we’d call deeply flawed distilleries without any hope. Eventually they’ll accidentally bring out something good (in the latter case) or something not so good (in the former case). Or they’ll sell it off and you’ll end up with an IB who packaged it.
I haven’t had many low proof Port Ellens. The ones I’ve had the chance with are pricey and cask strength or just plain old strong. Enter Port Ellen 16 1980 Gordon & MacPhail Spirit of Scotland, a release from 1996 that was packaged at 40%.
Let’s not forget one thing: Port Ellen used to be just like every other distillery. They sold to a particular client (in this case blenders) and happened to be peated. The stills have been destroyed and it’s gone. This screams “cash grab” to me.
But maybe I’m a cynic (I’m working on that), and maybe years of cask strength whiskies have dulled me. For all we know this took to water well (and not well water).
So let’s see how this tastes, shall we?
Price: €500 (hard to find, this was a recent auction)
Colour: 5Y 9/6
Nose: Molasses, peat, rockets, orange
Nice molasses and peat notes. Some more sweet notes to it. And some acid.
That said nothing about this screams “16-year-old whisky”. Make sure you keep the whisky part in there if you’re screaming, btw.
It’s not that complex on the nose. However maybe it wasn’t originally? Let’s move onto the taste.
Taste: Coal, cinnamon, butter, pear, caramel
Earthy, spice, some nice butter, good caramel. It doesn’t just taste like “meh” peat, so there’s that. Seems a bit more complex.
That said… this is basically just an earth peat note and some butter notes. Not really living up to other Port Ellens. Granted it’s younger and not cs, so perhaps it’ll really wow me with the finale.
Finish: Peat, musty, brine, cocoa
If this is wowing me with the finale then I truly understand why our plays never went onto regionals. There’s salt, there’s some hint at leather/dust, there’s that generic peat note.
Let’s stop faking being positive about this dram and get to the conclusion.
Conclusion: Meh, watered down, not really worth it. That’s all I can say. Did I hate drinking it? No, it’s certainly fine to sip on. If anything there’s no rough edges and it’s smooth as anything.
But there’s nothing else. This is the type of whisky you serve people to try peat. And that’d be fine if it was the entry level whisky from 1996. But it isn’t. This was let out from under Diageo’s thumb precisely because it wasn’t going anywhere. You could tell me this was sitting in a neutral cask and I’d believe you.
Not all that glitters is gold. Some of it is glitter poop. And while it’s the prettiest, smoothest poop out there, it’s still just poop. It’ll help your garden grow. Don’t pay secondary for this, try some other distilleries and take a chance for less money.
Scotch review #1416, Islay review #382, Whisky Network review #2096