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