Port Ellen

Port Ellen.

The Holy Grail of Islay Malt for many.  The Port Ellen distillery was mothballed in 1983, and subsequently demolished.  The site is still home to the maltings (which supply malt to all of the Islay disilleries), but sadly the whisky that was produced prior to 1983 is all there will ever be.  These whiskies, especially the cask-strength Diageo bottlings, are highly sought after, collectable and obviously quite drinkable.

Our own incomparable Maltmonster, generous of time and spirit (both the drinkable kind and the inner sort), offered to supply some insider details from a little tasting he and a couple others put together.  I know envy is one of the seven deadly sins, but hey…may as well tack it on the list I’m already chaulking up.

Here is how it all came together.  I know of no other comprehensive review of all PEs like this, so my sincerest thanks to MM and the poor souls who got dragged along on this ride.  Withour further ado…




May contain scenes that rum drinkers find offensive. Intended for a malt audience only

May also contain content or scenes of debauchery, alcohol consumption and bad humor

Diageo’s Port Ellen 1 through 9.

Playing the Lennon / McCartney song Revolution 9 backwards it became suddenly clear that Charles Manson had it all wrong .The message that the Beatles were sending was to drink Trop Nelle and the number nine used repeatedly through the song meant consume nine different bottles

After convincing my friends of the true meaning of the message we undertook a grail like quest to acquire the needed malt. We a small but determine group of Diageo bashing Port Ellen loving maltsters managed to buy the 5th, 6th , 8th  and 9th release locally. The 7th release was acquired from New York .The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th releases were acquired out of the wilds of Scotland.

So on a cold and snowy night in December we gathered together again, the infamous gang of four. Named after our failed attempt to take over control of Diageo in 2008. We now know which seemed to be obvious to others that owning whisky is not considered the type of stock that entitles you to vote at share holders meetings

The bottles are listed from one to nine, but tasted from nine to one as we felt that the older ones would have less of a peat influence on our nose and palates. We rated the PE as we drank them, comparing to the previous drams and so on. So at the bottom of each of the tasting notes is the combined average rating of the gang of four (1 being the best and 9 being the least favorite of the night) any ties were broken by the Maltmonsters vote

Heaven is indeed a place on earth.

Port Ellen # 1 Annual Release 1979 – 2001 22 Years Old 56.2 % ABV. Limited 6,000 Bottles

NOSE: Soft apple, musty and mild smoke

TASTE: Bubble gum, sweet, liquorice

FINISH: Long and lingering a little oaky at the end

ASSESSMENT: Good all around expression of PE. Good depth


Port Ellen # 2 Annual Release 1978 – 2002 24 Years Old 59.35 % ABV. Limited 12,000 Bottles

NOSE: Candied apples, iodine and tar

TASTE: Sweet and at bit winey with some milk chocolate

FINISH: Very long, a bit salty at the end

ASSESSMENT: The most intense creosote like of the group. Very robust


Port Ellen # 3 Annual Release 1979 – 2003 24 Years Old 57.3 % ABV. Limited 9,000 Bottles

NOSE: Fresh fruit, cut grass and little iodine

TASTE: Sweet, chewy and salty almost briney

FINISH: Medium to long

ASSESSMENT: Not an unpleasant expression just lacks some refinement


Port Ellen # 4 Annual Release 1978 – 2004 25 Years Old 56.2 % ABV. Limited 5,100 Bottles

NOSE: Sweet succulent oranges. Citrus delight. Fresh lawn clippings. Beautiful smoke

TASTE: Ripe fruit. Liquorice root and velvet smooth

FINISH: Long, lingering and warm

ASSESSMENT: I like this one a lot. Well balanced and complex


Port Ellen # 5 Annual Release 1979 – 2005 25 Years Old 57.4 % ABV. Limited 5,280 Bottles

NOSE: Floral, lavender, apples and pears. Subtle smoke

TASTE: Sweet, infused lemon .Vibrant on the tongue

FINISH: Long finish. Starts dry and ends up sweet. Little oaky

ASSESSMENT: The most balanced of the PE tasted. Refreshing to drink .Stunning


Port Ellen # 6 Annual Release 1978 – 2006 27 Years Old 54.2 % ABV. Limited 4,560 Bottles

NOSE: Floor polish, fishy and citrus notes

TASTE: Black liquorice, earthy

FINISH: Medium to long

ASSESSMENT: A little dull and plain . To astringent.


Port Ellen # 7 Annual Release 1979 – 2007 28 Years Old 53.8 % ABV. Limited 5,274 Bottles

NOSE: Cloves, lemon and sea-weed

TASTE: Honey to salty all in one waive

FINISH: Short to medium

ASSESSMENT: The taste really died on the vine. The least complex of the bunch


Port Ellen # 8 Annual Release 1978 – 2008 29 Years Old 55.3 % ABV. Limited 6,618 Bottles

NOSE: Lemon, nutty, bit of sulphur and a little oily

TASTE: Cinnamon, milk chocolate and pepper

FINISH: Very long and ending bone dry

ASSESSMENT: Have tasted this one numerous times and enjoyed each time .Seems not a favorite of the writers but this crews loves it. Well rounded and multilayered


Port Ellen # 9 Annual Release 1979 – 2009 30 Years Old 57.7 % ABV. Limited 5,916 Bottles

NOSE: Eucalyptus, floral, spruce needles

TASTE: sweet, light smoke early

FINISH: Medium to long

ASSESSMENT: The most elegant of the nine tried. Very pleasant malt to drink


Special thanks to the members of the gang of four for making this tasting happen (Extra special thanks to the unnamed person that supplied most of the malt). We will be having a do over once we located and secured a bottle of the 10th release.

Port Ellen 1 through 9.

“Just remember age doesn’t always bring wisdom, sometimes age comes alone.”

Thanks, MM.

9 thoughts on “Port Ellen

    1. ATW Post author

      Brilliant! I hadn’t read that. Thanks for the ‘eads up.

      As someone recently posted on Connosr (I think?)…”thank god for different tastes, or we’d all be in love with my wife”. (Must find out who said that and where. Brilliant.)

    2. Maltmonster

      Thanks for your comments and I enjoyed reviewing your web site

      The link you provided to Whisky Fun is however not the Malt Maniacs but five Belgians giving there own tasting notes. Before we did our own tasting of the nine PE we had down loaded scores and tasting notes from Serge at Whisky Fun / Malt Maniacs – monitor – push the red button / Whisky Magazine – Tastings / John Hansel’s Malt Advocate – Whisky Reviews / Jim Murray‘s – Whisky Bible, different additions ( as much as this pained me ) / Royal Mile Whiskies – The Dearly Departed / http://www.whisky-distilleries

      – The Malt Maniacs rated # 9 favorite, # 5 in a three tie for 3rd and # 8 as the least favorite

      – Serge Valentin (Great tasting notes / part of the rating of the Malt Maniacs) rated #1 & # 9 in a tie as his favorite (excluding the 10th release), # 5 was in a three tie for 2nd and his least favorite was # 3

      – Whisky Magazine only reviewed the #3, #5, #6, and the #7th release. The highest score of the five different judges was Michael Jackson with a 92 on the 5th release

      All the Port Ellen expressions were very similar in that they shared lemon, peat and maritime notes. They were all quality examples of what this distillery could produce. If tasted again but in another order I feel the ratings would change.

      (They say in heaven Port Ellen comes first .Well make heaven a place on earth)

      1. WhiskyNotes

        Actually those five are not all Belgians but never mind. Oh and one of them is a former Malt Maniac (still part of the monitor).

        What I was trying to say is that I’ve read a lot about those Port Ellens as well, and I had the impression that your ranking was not really in line with what I had seen before. Sure you’re entitled to your own opinion, but maybe a rating could have clarified a lot. Now it seems #1 is way ahead and #9 is pretty bad, while they are actually all good and really close to each other in my opinion.

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