I had a strange and enlightening experience a few nights back. I sat down with a range of whiskies and a mind to taking some notes for upcoming reviews. This range was built with Caol Ila 30 as the cornerstone malt. I threw in a Caol Ila 25, a 27 year old single cask of Port Ellen and an Octomore. I figured the two Caol Ila showed a nice opportunity for compare and contrast; the Port Ellen would be a ‘sister’ malt in a way, and of a similar age and spec; and the Octomore would be easy to dissect by drawing strong points and counterpoints of comparison between the old gems and Islay whisky at youth and bombastic might.
All told I probably spent about an hour and a half on these four glasses, bouncing back and forth, using easily found notes in one malt to highlight strengths and deficiencies in the others. Etc. After I’d taken all my notes (and emptied the glasses, of course), I began formatting the posts here on the site. Now here’s where things got weird. As I started the Port Ellen template I found a post from several weeks back of this very same expression. I do recall posting a PE review, but I didn’t realize it was this particular one. As I started to compare my notes and scores – done in complete isolation from one another and weeks apart, I want to stress – I was rather impressed at how close they were, even picking up some very distinct nuances in both cases. Have a look for yourself. I think it says something for the consistency and rigidity of the tasting environment I aim for, and to ensuring nose and palate are tiptop before really digging in.
Not gonna lie…this made me a happy boy. Check it out…
Port Ellen 27 Provenance Cask #6101
Original published review:
Nose: Very Port Ellen right off the bat. Soft biscuity notes. Old book. Clean grist. Faint seabreeze. Mild citrus and wet rock. Very faded peat and smoke. A whiff of Werther’s Originals. A little bit of honeydew melon and caramel.
Palate: More alive here. More fruits. Oh wow. Now we’re deeply entrenched in Port Ellen territory. Smoke and beachside bonfire. Lemon juice over charred scallops. Sugar cookies. Burnt lemon rind. The smoke grows over time. Something slightly herbaceous.
Thoughts: Still a special whisky, but lacks a little oomph that would have pushed it even higher. Can you imagine at cask strength? A very restrained and elegant Port Ellen that suits my palate perfectly. Love this one.
Second independent assessment:
Nose: Instantly recognizable. Light and coastal. Fresh seabreezes over wheat fields. Sugar cookies. Faint whiff of sunflowers and beeswax. Far off smoke and soft notes of cinnamon buns in the oven, though fleeting. There is a touch of peat, but it is even less than an afterthought. Rather typical of our older PEs.
Palate: Fragile and endearing, as expected from a Port Ellen nearing three decades. Very sweet. Built on a bedrock of soft fruits. Perhaps melon, pear, apple and lime. Barley sugars and much like chewing on fresh grains. Wet rock. Seared scallops with salt and lemon. Charred oak.
Thoughts: Beautiful expression of Port Ellen. Held a little too in check by the low abv, but it’s by no means dead because of it. At cask strength though? I can only imagine.
Pretty damn close, no? Both sets of notes mention wet rock, seabreeze, grist/barley sugars, cooked scallops, citrus, faded/far off smoke, notes of baking, immediate identifiability as a Port Ellen, fragility/delicacy and too low of abv.
I think this serendipitous little happening will be enough of a catalyst to get me to now intentionally engage in retastings more often. Definitely a hell of a way to keep a reviewer honest, sharp and consistent. And if we’re not those things, we’re nothing.
– Images and Words: Curt