The most knowledgable chap I know when it comes to Port Ellen insists that the true embodiment of the distillery’s character is best found in the Douglas Laing bottlings from about 1983. Anywhere from 22-27 years old. Who am I to argue? The guy has more Port Ellen stocks than Wilt Chamberlain had notches on his bed posts.
This Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask Port Ellen from 1983, the year of the distillery’s closure, is an absolute killer. This is the distillery at the top of its game. Vibrant…defined…balanced…exceptional. It is releases like this that have helped escalate Port Ellen into the stratosphere.
I’m somewhat in awe of the perfect seesaw act happening here. There is an interplay between fruit and phenol here that relies on the bottler finding that elusive spot in the maturation process between young and old. This PE is perfectly centered. Almost as bewildering is the fact that the finish here is like one long sustained note. Something akin to the perfect melodies on Miles Davis’s flawless ‘Kind Of Blue’. Usually as a whisky fades, the finish goes through stages of evolution and the denouement is a mere hint of the magnificence of the preceding crescendo. In this case, it sorta seems like the crescendo is simply having the volume slowly…ever so slowly…turned down until ultimately you strain to hear that same sustained beauty. Brilliant.
This Port Ellen came from a refill hogshead that managed to produce 199 bottles at 50% abv. Very low numbers, but fortunately I do know of a not-so-dusty shelf in a friend’s basement where two more bottles of this PE rest in peaceful slumbers. Hopefully, long after my bottle is empty, I’ll one day get to try again, as this is one of my favorite Port Ellens to date.
Nose: Nice mild phenols at first. Some peach and pears in syrup. Orange and lemon. Tar. As it develops there are bigger notes of dry smoke and dunnage. Somewhat dusty. Briny seaside notes. Delicate, yet the billows of smoke become ever more pungent and impressive. Mature and lovely. An absolutely great Port Ellen nose.
Palate: Oh, wow…what an arrival. First the playful smoke…then apples. Lemon and smoked white fish. Licorice. The hallmark of mature Islay malt whisky. Long, long, long finish. Beautiful and glides through with no off notes or decline in quality as it fades. Amazing dram.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt