Port Ellen 14th Release Review

Port Ellen 14th Release039

56.5% abv

Score:  93/100



Port Ellen.  The magic, the allure, the mystique.  You’ve heard it all before, so I’ll refrain from the poetics.  Suffice it to say that this is a very special whisky, and I’m pretty tickled just to be able to try it, irrespective of what sort of score we ultimately weigh in with.  This is the 14th official release from Diageo and the oldest Port Ellen I’ve tried so far.  Distilled in ’78 – five years before the closure of the distillery – and bottled in 2014.  A 35 year old dram that still boasts an impressive 56.5% abv.  I think even the angel’s relinquished their share on this one in order to leave more for the rest of us.  How else explain such an impressive bottling strength at this age?  Perhaps they, like many of us, were simply priced out of the running.  As you can imagine, a whisky like this does not come cheap.

But taking price out of the equation for a moment or two (as much as possible, anyway), I have to admit that this is still a knockout dram.  It’s not the best I’ve tried from Port Ellen, but it’s a stunner for sure.  Elegant and exceptionally composed.  Big and bruising, to be sure, but a gentle giant in many ways.  I’m particularly warm to the softer, creamier side to this and the way it plays against the earthy back-to-nature smokiness.  Sort of akin to the smell of fresh baking in an old home where a fire is crackling away on the hearth, and letting off the occasional drift of comfortable smoke.  Beautiful interplay.

This is a hell of a malt, but it will run you about a bajillion dollars if you want to own one yourself.

Nose:  Again…an incredibly soft Port Ellen.  Pear notes, with a slightly melon-ish background.
A touch of sweet cherry.  Dusty and mature, yet very, very vibrant.  Slight farmy, peaty note.  Earthy and organic.  Leather.  Reminds of forest trail hiking.  Seabreeze and salt water.  Fruit flan.  Both grapefruit and lemon.  The smoke builds over time.  Black and green ju-jubes.  Vanilla.  Lemon polish.  Pepper.  Some rubber and a touch of liquid smoke; works out to be an almost industrial aroma.  Far more creamy and custardy than I had presupposed.  Kinda doughy.  Nice oak spine.  Another classic PE nose.

Palate:  Oh, wow.  Great thick, oily delivery.  Sort of reminds me of old Lagavulin on the palate.  Ginger and spice.  Licorice.  Actually, a lot of licorice.  Smoke and peat, as we’d expect.  Citrus rind and pith again.  Our favorite Lapsang Souchong tea.  Tangy fruit notes (but which ones?!).  Overcooked sugar cookies.  Dark, fresh vanilla and strong oak.  Notes of the raw, smoked malt.  Spiced dough…raw.  Slightly tannic.  A long finish of granny smith apple.  Again…absolutely typical.  About on par with the 13th release in terms of quality (hard to pick a favorite), but definitely a different profile.

Thoughts:  A great Port Ellen.  Not the best I’ve tried, but definitely a ‘form’ (if you’re up on your Plato, that is).  While we all understand the laws of supply and demand, Diageo has moved beyond the ridiculous and into the ludicrous with this pricing scheme.  Insanity.  Give or take $4,000 a bottle.  Oy vey!

*( Originally tasted on the back of a very small sample brought to me by my whisky angel, Val Bradshaw.  Subsequently retasted in Jan, 2016.  Notes expanded.)


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt


11 thoughts on “Port Ellen 14th Release Review

  1. portwood


    – One of the holy grails of whisky gets 91.5 points (with the caveat that you tasted but a tiny sample – the same amount most other reviewers are tasting to give their assessments), This is listed by the LCBO at $4000 per bottle – a stupid price but I think the MRSP is 2200 pounds.

    – The Laphroaig 18yo in the review prior to this one received 91 points!

    Sooooooooooo, a $100 single malt ($180 in Ontario).gets HALF a point less than a $4000 bottle.

    As much as I would love to taste the (or any) Port Ellen, given the vast majority of people’s pay grade, there is NO WAY anyone can possibly justify one bottle of Port Ellen instead of FORTY bottles of Laphroaig 18!!!

    Just yesterday I blind tasted a (small) sample of Caol Ila 30 yo from the 2014 Diageo Special releases. It is a great dram, however not for the $750 price. The sample came via the generosity of a friend and I’m greatfull for the opportunity. However, I don’t think it is 7 times better than the Laphroaig 18, or any number of other fine Islay malts for that matter.

    I bet if someone filled the Port Ellen bottle with the 30yo Caol Ila (1/5th the price) very few people would notice. Blind tasting eliminates the effects of rarity (real or perceived) and branding.

    Despite the recent whisky price inflation, there are still MANY fine whiskies on the market that can be purchased by the average Joe without having to take out a mortgage to taste whiskies that vary only slightly from the daily drams.



    1. skeptic

      Sure there are, like the Yamazaki 18 Sherry cask…. oh, whoops..

      There’s always Amrut…yikes… will my demons continue to follow me?

      1. Chris 1

        You pay a huge premium for the mystique and lore of Port Ellen and Brora, and not much of that is to do with the difference in quality between them and some of the drams you mention. If I die without ever having tasted either, I will die happily knowing that I had the pleasure of tasting a huge variety of much more affordable, high quality whiskies. Give me the 20 Laphroig 18s and 20 Talisker 18s for the same money any day.

    2. Ruminsky

      At any level of expenditure above a certain level (level changes with available $$$), you are no longer paying for the quality of the spirit. You are buying mystique, rarity, allure, age, availability, historical pedigree…even bragging rights. One is fortunate to be able to taste without buying some of these unicorns, but I think we all feel the collector’s avarice on occasion too….and shell out for it.

  2. Jeff

    In terms of QPR, whiskies at the high end of quality are usually the poorest value for your dollar, both because of market competition for these whiskies and because of the effect of mystique which such sustained competition will create around distilleries/producers. That said, I think older Broras and Taliskers, while a nosebleed, are an expensive but worthwhile part of a person’s whisky education for having a wider perspective about what whisky can be; their quality is not really that much higher than that of other drams, but, in terms of depth, complexity and subtlety, they truly represent a different era of whisky production than the one we live in today.

    I believe the above to be true but, as Portwood says, blind tastings are a great leveler. The Blind Black Bowmore experiment at L.A.W.S. (http://www.lawhiskeysociety.com/pages/Black-Bowmore-Blind-Tasting ) is good reading in this area:

    “Well, I think that’s because it’s just a really nice malt. Any “legendary” whisky is good-to-excellent, but mind-blowing is impossible. Whisky can only get so good, and the rest is added in your head. Really.
    When you’re told something is excellent, expensive, rare, and revered, it’s going to taste a lot better. It’s a proven physical and psychological fact. And that’s fine, it’s part of the experience.”

    And in case the copied link doesn’t show up for some reason, this is also part of the case made at L.A.W.S.: http://www.cnet.com/news/study-90-wine-tastes-better-than-the-same-wine-at-10/.

  3. Chris 1

    Thanks for that, Jeff. Both links work and both are very interesting. I think the quality to price ratio is less important to a lot of people than the status that goes along with owning something expensive and rare. The exclusivity of the item suggests that its owner is part of an exclusive group. It may have much more to do with ego than any real appreciation of, or interest in quality.
    Obviously, a Benz is a considerably higher quality vehicle than a Cavalier; a fifty dollar Tuscan is a much more complex wine than Two Buck Chuck and Highland Park 18 is in a different league than JW Red. But beyond that is where the differences become much less discernible. Is old Black Bowmore worth 10 or 20 times the cost of Laphroaig 18? Is it 20 times better? You can probably buy a pretty nice Benz for 3 times the cost of a Cavalier which would be well worth it. But for 5 times as much again would a Bentley be 5 times as good? Probably not, but it would up your status considerably.

    1. ATW Post author

      I hate to say this, as it will almost sound like a justification (which it is not), but the reality is some of these flavours in certain old, rare, expensive malts are only found in those particular expressions. Worth has little to do with it. It comes down to what you want and what you can afford. I can promise you I have never tasted anything like the Black Bowmore. It is a very stunning and singular whisky. How badly I want to taste those flavours again in my life determines whether or not I could justify the cost to myself. No knockoff will approach this.

      If you want certain flavours generally found in these old gems, you have to pay for it. There’s no way else to get ’em. Simple as that.

      1. Chris 1

        Point taken Curt. If I had the dough going spare I would love to try them all. I could have a little bar in the back of my Bentley. Cheers.

        1. Jeff

          Yes, you pay the price to ride the ride, and some rides are more expensive, and different, than others – not necessarily (and often not) better, but different, and in ways that can be worth pursuing. Yet QPR usually factors in somewhere; intentionally “ignoring” it in pursuit of bragging rights is one of the most price conscious (not necessarily price smart) decisions I can think of. What I find interesting about the Blind Black Bowmore experiment write up is the idea that “mind-blowing is impossible”; if everything really extraordinary, say above 95/100, is only in one’s head anyway (and this could well be), then the question isn’t so much “how much will you pay for a whisky objectively better than anything you’ve ever tried” as “how much will you pay for a whisky that’s fundamentally different than anything you’ve ever tried” and which experience is more valuable? As I’ve indicated, I’d agree with Curt that some of these whiskies offer characteristics not found elsewhere, but how many people would pay the price asked for them, not on the basis of their outright superiority, but just on the basis of their variance from what’s currently available?

          And to Skeptic: Go Habs; win or lose in the long run, they’ve done some great stuff this season!

  4. skeptic

    But for most of us, if we HAD a bottle of Black Bowmore, could we ever justify opening it? The thrill of owning something expensive sours when the value drops from $7000 to $0 with one motion of the cork.

    And the wish to keep it as long as possible after opening against the fear it will lose its lustre….oh, the agony.

    Too much stress. Better to stick with something like Springbank CS 12 year old. it’s great, it has an age statement (otherwise I might have mentioned Amrut or A’Bunadh..oop!), and you can always get more.

  5. ATW Post author

    Tasting notes expanded upon in January 2016 on the heels of a retasting. Yep…still in love with this one.


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