Port Ellen. Those two words are enough to bring many whisky enthusiasts to their knees, and cashed-up collectors even more so! A whisky so highly prized and sought after, that it commands truly insane prices, both at auction, and during the annual official Diageo releases. This very special sample is from an independent bottling, but it is from one of just sixty bottles. Yes, just 60, so it's ridiculously rare. To put that into perspective, the annual official releases of Port Ellen usually number in the low-thousands, and are still very rare whiskies. While I try to review whiskies which are reasonably obtainable, this one just isn't, so I'm afraid you'll just have to live vicariously through me for a few minutes...
The sample was very generously gifted to me by brand ambassador-extraordinaire Dan Woolley, who personally rescued the bottle from the warehouse of the company / store who bottled it, The Whisky Exchange, in London. It was distilled in 1983, which puts it among the last Port Ellen whisky ever made, as the distillery closed it's doors that year. I've covered more of Port Ellen's history and particulars here, in a previous review, if you'd like more background information on this 'dead' distillery.
So this malt then rested peacefully in a sherry cask for 28 long years, before just 60 bottles were taken from said cask for this bottling, in 2011. It was released at The Whisky Exchange's annual Whisky Show, and was bottled at 51.1%, which I presume to be cask strength. There's very little information around on this malt, due to the obvious rarity, so that'll have to do!
This is the third Port Ellen I've tasted, the first being an official bottling from the 2004 release, and the other being a 25yo bottling from Signatory. The official Diageo bottling left me a little underwhelmed, I had expected it to blow me away, but it was utterly decimated by the 2013 Lagavulin Feis Ile I had tasted earlier that evening. Both of those were samples from the old & rare bar at last years' Whisky Live (Brisbane), which incidentally is only a few weeks away now. The Signatory Port Ellen, on the other hand, was part of a sample swap from a generous Dram Full member, and it was a big improvement. It was also from a sherry cask, as it happens, so perhaps I'm being unfair on the official. Things are looking good for this review, then!
Port Ellen 28yo sherry cask, 51.1%, TWE Whisky Show bottling.
Distilled in 1983, bottled in 2011. One of 60 bottles released at the Whisky Show in London, 2011.
Nose: Light coastal peat, damp leather. Dry, rich, fruity, even grape-y sherry. Spicy oak, juicy fruit. Peat dissipates with a little time. Light golden syrup & melted butter behind.
Texture: Medium weight, silky and soft.
Taste: Surprisingly peaty, a little salt, some chilli heat. A dry, earthy peat, and quite spicy oak. A little grape-y sherry, maybe a tiny hint of old, dry barley, but the peat & spice are the main players here.
Finish: Long and lovely. Spicy oak, dark woody spices. Quite soapy as well. Dried fruit and soft old leather, a slight hint of resin at the end.
Score: 4.5 out of 5.
Notes: My favourite Port Ellen so far, what a shame it's un-obtainium! Surprisingly peaty on the palate compared to the others, and quite spicy as well, a very assertive European oak cask doing it's thing, I guess, but still quite complex once it settles down. The soapy-ness in the finish is interesting, and could turn some people off, but I don't mind it. A great whisky.
A huge thanks to Dan Woolley for this sample, which came from his own (incredible) collection. This is one whisky I'd never have seen, let alone tasted, otherwise. In fact I think I might owe him a couple of samples in return. If I have anything he hasn't tasted, that is, which isn't likely!
Since this special dram marks the start of a short holiday, I'm afraid there won't be a review from me next week, and that's also why this one is a couple of day's early. But don't panic, this short holiday happens to also involve some Australian whisky, and there will be a few special posts coming shortly afterwards. I'll be posting a few teasers on twitter, so feel free to follow me @TimJG84 for a couple of sneak previews. Otherwise, watch this space...