Port Ellen distillery, located on the southern coast of the Isle of Islay in Scotland, is a renowned name in the world of Scotch whisky. Established in 1824 by Alexander Ker Mackay, the distillery gained prominence for its distinctive single malt whiskies. Situated in the village of Port Ellen, the distillery operated for nearly 160 years before closing its doors in 1983. Despite its closure, Port Ellen whiskies continue to be highly sought after by enthusiasts and collectors due to their complex flavours, limited availability and the hype generated by very good reviews from a few famous whisky blogs. The distillery’s iconic whitewashed buildings and traditional pagoda roof are emblematic of Scotland’s whisky-making heritage. Despite being silent for 40 years, the distillery is being resurrected, as I could see in July with construction still being done, and a beautiful looking still room almost ready to produce whisky again. Whilst it will be years before we can try the ‘new generation’ Port Ellen whisky, let’s try two Special Releases both distilled in 1979: the Port Ellen 7th and 12th Release. We reviewed two different Port Ellen (including a 1979) before on these pages, with different results, so let’s see how those 1979 do.
Port Ellen 1979 7th Release Review
This Port Ellen has been distilled in 1979 and bottled in 2007 as part of Diageo’s Special Releases. It matured for 28 years and bottled at 53.8% ABV. You’ll either have to go to a well-stocked whisky bar or to go through the secondary market, be it auction or greedy shops, to get a chance to try it or buy a bottle. Expect to pay way more than £2000 for a bottle. I had a dram at the fabulous Melody Whisky Bar in London last year as part of a lost distilleries flight.
Neat: This whisky offers a subtle smokiness reminiscent of a wood campfire on the beach, accompanied by notes of lemon, Cancale oysters, wet bandages, and dried sea foam, all delivered in a gentle manner.
With water: The smokiness subsides but diminishes, making room for hints of freshly mown grass.
Neat: The palate reveals a smoky character alongside citrusy notes and a touch of pepper. The texture is creamy, coating the mouth smoothly, with a subtle saltiness, hints of camphor, and eucalyptus. The alcohol is well integrated, although there’s a slightly drying sensation.
With water: The taste becomes saltier and more savoury, with undertones of bitter dark chocolate coming through.
The finish lingers with citrusy notes, reminiscent of blood oranges, accompanied by the enduring essence of campfire smoke. Subtle hints of wet linen and dusty books emerge as well.
In conclusion, this whisky is a stunning dram. The medicinal peat imparts a gentle smokiness and coastal essence that beautifully intertwines with a vibrant citrusy core. Its well-aged profile is evident, delivering an absolutely delicious and memorable experience. Especially as a conclusion of a lost distilleries flight in such a nice place as the Melody Whisky Bar!
Port Ellen 1979 12th Release Review
This Port Ellen was also distilled in 1979 but this time bottled in 2012 at 32 years of age. It was released as part of Diageo’s Special Release 2012 series. The whisky matured in both American and European oak casks, yielding 2964 bottles at a strength of 52.5% ABV. This edition, like its predecessors, was bottled without chill filtration or artificial colouring. Regrettably, it has long disappeared from the original market. I had the opportunity to taste it at La Maison Du Whisky’s Golden Promise whisky bar in Paris last year. If you’re keen on acquiring a bottle, your best bets are whisky bars with an extensive selection or exploring auction houses and the secondary market. Be prepared, though; a bottle is likely to command a price of at least £3000.
Neat: The peat is splendid and delicate, accompanied by hints of iodine, oysters, citrus, and a subtle note of camphor. There are also notes of lemons, green apples, and faint whiffs of oak wood.
With water: The smokiness intensifies, revealing scents of new fabric and embrocations.
Neat: The initial taste is unexpectedly soft, featuring gentle peat, a rich and slightly waxy texture, and notes of very dark chocolate, salt, seaweed, and hints of chlorine. Remarkably impressive.
With water: The palate becomes fresher and fruitier, with lemony notes of yuzu and orange, complemented by a touch of espresso.
The finish is characterised by fruity notes, smoked fruits, and a lingering presence of chocolate. It seems to last indefinitely.
This whisky is nothing short of extraordinary. With splendid and delicate peat, accompanied by nuanced notes of iodine, oysters, citrus, and subtle camphor, its complexity is truly remarkable. When water is added, it reveals an even more intricate profile, with heightened fruitiness and freshness. On top of that, the finish is endlessly enduring. This whisky is undeniably brilliant, and the addition of two drops of water elevates its character further. Without a doubt, it stands among the top three whiskies I’ve ever had.
Bottle pictures: Whiskybase