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Sunday, 17 January 2016

Port Ellen 34 yo (Gordon & MacPhail) Whisky Review!

The fourth Port Ellen whisky I've been lucky enough to taste thus far. This is the oldest one so far, but it's also the lowest strength. Tally ho!

I must admit that after tasting my first Port Ellen, which was the 4th release official bottling from owners Diageo, I was left disappointed, and I formed the opinion that the whisky simply wasn't worth the dollars. 

But I've since tried two independent bottlings which redeemed the brand for me. They were a 25yo sherry cask from Signatory, reviewed here (including more information on the distillery), and an insanely rare 28yo sherry cask from The Whisky Exchange, reviewed here. Both were very impressive, and were originally priced much more reasonably than the official releases. 

This one is a little different though. It's from Gordon & MacPhail independent bottlers (who also own Benromach distillery), it's considerably older at 34 years of age, and, unfortunately, it's been reduced in strength to 46% ABV. It was distilled in 1979, four years prior to the distillery's closure, when the future probably looked a little brighter. And it was matured in a refill sherry cask, before being bottled in 2013, which also makes this the most recent bottling of Port Ellen that I've tasted so far. 

It's still available for purchase here, but you'll have to part with $1,800 AUD. Yes that's a lot of money, but it's less than half the price of the recent official bottlings. The sample I'm reviewing was purchased here, well actually my wife purchased it for me as part of a birthday present. Yes it's an expensive sample, but it's much cheaper per ml than buying a whole bottle, so it's actually not a bad deal!

Port Ellen 34 yo, Gordon & MacPhail bottling, 46%. Islay, Scotland.
Distilled 1979, bottled 2013, matured in a refill sherry cask. Lot / cask / batch no. RO/12/08. 

Colour: Gold

Nose: Surprisingly fresh for 34 years of age! Good chunk of vegetal peat, a little clean engine oil, sea spray. A slight hint oak & vanilla as well. Cut grass, liquorice, a little lemon oil. 

Texture: Medium weight, slightly oily.

Taste: Quite a bit of peat, again surprising for 34 yo. Dry crumbly peat, dry acrid smoke & ash behind. Slightly dry overall actually. Chilli, clean engine oil.

Finish: Medium length. Dry peat & smoke, chilli, smoked fish, a little dried herbs. Creamy peat to finish the show.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Interesting, and definitely enjoyable. Quite spirit-driven I think rather than cask-driven, and surprisingly peat-heavy for the age as well. Probably some lazy casks involved! Either way, an interesting whisky. A little one-dimensional on the palate perhaps, but still very good. Makes you wonder what Port Ellen would be pumping out if they were still going today. Although of that was the case, I doubt you would be able to buy whisky this old.

It's not the best Port Ellen I've tasted though, that award belongs here, so far. Perhaps if it was bottled at cask strength it'd be a different story, although that could have made it totally peat-dominant. But it's still superior to the 4th release original bottling I tasted a couple of years ago. Or at least, superior to my memory of it.

Is it worth $1800 AUD? In my opinion, no whisky is. But hypothetically, if (and that's a big if) I was willing & able & crazy enough to spend up on a bottle of an official release of Port Ellen, this G&M bottling would definitely be a 'budget' alternative worth considering. As would all independent bottlings from this long-dead distillery, if you ask me.