Port Ellen 15th Release Review

Port Ellen 15th Release037

53.9% abv

Score:  92/100


As of January, 2016, this is the most current Diageo Port Ellen annual release.  And it is a doozy.  Though not necessarily in the ways you might expect.  Let me explain…

As we’ve discussed here a few times, Port Ellen closed 33 years ago this May.  It had been distilling from 1967 through 1983, after having been shuttered from 1929 up until that point in the mid sixties.  Simple math tells us that the entire supply of Port Ellen that our generations have seen hit the market was from a 16 year production window.  That speaks volumes (pun aside) about how much Port Ellen may still be napping in Diageo’s warehouses (very little, I assume).  Also telling is the fact that all previous annual releases were either 1978 or 1979 distillate.  This 15th release is an ’83.  Hmmmm…what?

It’s long been rumoured that Diageo has been sourcing back PE casks from some of the independent bottlers.  The name most often mentioned is Douglas Laing.  Whether there is truth to the mutterings is not likely something that either party is willing to disclose, but it is whispered that Diageo exhausted their own stores and have subsequently restocked via buybacks.  Hence…a 1983 release this time.  Coincidentally, you may notice that many of the Douglas Laing releases have been from the 1980s, suggesting that this may indeed have been the source of Diageo’s rumoured pillaging.

Enough conspiratorial nattering.

A few nights back I was fortunate enough to be part of a private little gathering that sipped our way from the 9th release through the 15th release (with a little extra for ‘afters’).  Over the coming days I’ll share the details for each of these expressions.  I thought maybe we’d start here, with arguably the most atypical of the whole series.  Anomalous though it may be (due to it’s darker complexities and a seemingly more sherried profile), it is still an absolute barnstormer of a malt.

Cost prohibitive, of course, but Port Ellen is becoming as scarce as integrity in the whisky world these days.  This 32 year old was a limited release of 2,964 (grossly overpriced) bottles.  Oh yeah…and it really is utterly magic.

Nose:  Hmmm…this is quite an outlier from the rest of the Diageo PE OBs.  Almost Sherry-ish.  Rich in creamy toffee/butterscotch notes.  Dough.  Cinnamon.  Very toasted.  Iodine and medicinal notes.  Quite briny and citric.  Farmy too.  Dried fruits.  And also some burnt fruit.

Palate:  Smoky, but it’s a big wet smoke.  Burnt caramel.  Kippers.  Lemon.  Chocolate.  Rich, jammy fruits.  Plum skins.  Tarry.  Licorice.  Mocha/coffee.  Quite tart and tannic at the back end, but not unpleasantly so.   Leather and caramel.  Smoked apple.  And yeah…a little earthy and peaty.  Reminds a bit of older sherried Caol Ila.

Thoughts:  I swear this seems sherried.  Delish, but an odd man odd malt from PE.

*Sincere thanks to the anonymous gent who kindly poured this, and several other, Port Ellen for me at a recent gathering.  Unforgettable.  Slainte.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

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