Here’s an interesting Port Ellen.
It’s also a great whisky to illustrate a prevalent misconception out there. The misconception that a distillery’s storied reputation means that all of their whiskies are/were exceptional. Port Ellen holds an almost mystical cache among nearly all of us whisky geeks, and I’m not arguing against that. I’d simply like to make the point that Port Ellen is held in the esteem it is for more reasons than purely quality of the dram.
Port Ellen was a good whisky. There’s no denying that. It does need to be taken into account though, that Islay whiskies have been very much in demand for years now, and the lure of a rare Islay malt from a distillery that closed almost three decades ago? How can you resist that call? Most releases you’re liable to get your hands on (if at all) are in the mid twenties to early thirties age bracket. Generally speaking (very generally…not saying this is a rule) older whisky is better than younger whisky. So…here’s what we end up with:
Good whisky + appeal of scarcity + age = 3/4 of the Port Ellen mystique.
The other 1/4? For me anyway is that this is a glass of history. Every drop consumed is one less in the world. There is something infinitely heartbreaking about that. Each time I sit down to a dram of Port Ellen it is an occasion and gives pause for relection. And that plays right into why we love single malt whisky.
Make no mistake…I love Port Ellen. I adore the malt and the tale behind it. But I also love honesty, and it is important to let others know that not all Port Ellen releases are ‘holy grails’ or ‘white whales’.
This is a 25 year old Signatory single cask release. It was matured in a refill sherry butt and arguably boasts the most sherry influence I’ve ever seen levied on a Port Ellen. The bottle says ‘matured in a refill sherry butt’. Note the word ‘matured’, as opposed to ‘finished’. I can only assume the whisky spent its entire life in this butt. 417 bottles were pulled from the cask after 25 years in wood and the whisky itself was still at a healthy 57%. This is a flawed Port Ellen, for sure, but really still quite enjoyable.
Nose: A touch of sulphur right off. Raisin tart. Far off cherry and a little orange. Leather and tobacco. Camphor. Somewhat barn-y. Deep smoke that, with a swirl, expands exponentially. Wet rocks. Some burnt notes atop the peat. Citrus.
Palate: Smoke. Again…you can taste a bit of sulphur and ash. Cherry and plum stand out amidst juicy sherry notes. Chocolate. Some licorice and iodine. Granny Smith apple and smoked wood chips in tandem. Wet hay. Really, really nice finish, lingering on fruits and…yeah…more smoke.
Extra half mark is for such a deep and resonant finish.
The sulphur note is a little tough to get around, but fortunately it is cushioned in a vast assortment of velvety fruit notes and some rather typical and comforting sherry familiarities.
And hey…it’s Port Ellen. Isn’t it always going to be enjoyable? This is history in a glass, people. You’re drinking the intangible.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt