It is quite a drive to the tasting and in the car; I let my thoughts wander about Port Ellen. Closed for 22 years, and now the most hyped whisky around. Hopefully I will find out tonight if it is righteously so. After all, everything we can buy now from Port Ellen is at least 20 years old, how can one form an objective opinion about a distillery that only has 20 Y olds? 20Y olds that were going to be used as blending fodder in the first place. What is it that makes connoisseurs go mad about Port Ellen anyway? Besides, what is all this commotion actually worth for someone like me, a malt fanatic that buys anything to open it up? After all, the stock of PE is shrinking while at the same time the prices are rising. Today a bottle costs minimum 100€ and something tells me there wont be Port Ellen anymore over 5 years for people like me. People that prefer tasting it instead of owning it; People that enjoy it instead of counting their bottles in frustration. I am one of the youngest in this whisky generation and over 5 years the next generation will only know PE as the most expensive Islay malt there is. Over 5 years I will tell them that PE is a bit overrated and over 5 years, they will call me old, one of those guys that drank Port Ellen. However, that is then, now I am still young, now there is still completely overpriced PE for every lunatic with more money then brains. So why not enjoy an evening of decadence with a selection of 7 PE bottlings.
We enter the tasting room with a mixture of euphoric and melancholic feelings, glad at one side that we can actually taste these rare bottlings, sad that it will be the last time we do so. I know the host and speaker of the evening relatively well, and everyone seems in good shape. The evening starts well with the speaker telling me he finally got the caramel I have been asking fore for 2 years; my evening is already a success.
Whiskies are poured and we are seated, the very first thing we smell is lavender… For those people that don’t know so already, my wife is crazy about lavender and she likes to spray herself and half our furniture with the stuff. Especially right before a tasting. Chocolate milk and milkshakes are also in high demand on tastings. Any idea how many of our neighbors smelled vanilla in their whiskies? Nevertheless, it’s my wife and I love her very much, this is just what she does.
My neighbor is the first to sample his whisky and starts chewing in a manner that the entire room knows just how sticky the finish is. The man before me makes sure he cannot be accused for owning a mind of his own and joins in, possibly even louder. I find it hard to come up with a more irritating sound then that of ruminating cattle while you are concentrating on the nose, so in an attempt to ignore this noise I throw myself on the whiskies.
Port Ellen 21 1978 OMC
Nose Soft yet obvious peat. Sweet and floral, violets, flowers, floral tones are slightly dominating. Very delicate, feinty with leather and leathergrease. Very complex and well balanced. hint of citrus.
Taste Spirity, feinty, leather and tar. Very full flavored. Slightly peaty, oily taste with malt and peat in the background. Lots of feints in the foreground. Fruity midd-favors with kiwi and exotic fruit.
Finish Long and fat, oily. Very nutty with a bitter hint probably due to the oak and age. Peaty in the aftertaste. Very long, slight hint of salt. Grainy malt followed by bitter oak and nuts.
Opinion Complex but suffers from the age. Nose promises delicacy with floral tones but the taste and finish are completely different. Some off-notes in the finish.
Port Ellen 23 1979 Wilson & Morgan
Nose Sweet and enormeously fruity. Slight hint of sulphur. Melon, juicy fruit. Warm feinty bass tone underneath. Sweet strong upper tone.Hint of meat. No trace of peat though. Excellent simply because it is so different.
Taste Dry, pronounced sherry with dried fruit and dry oak. Sherry is dominating the taste. Balance between sherry and oak, sweetness and bitterness. Slightly dried fruits but from the dry kind, dates and figgs. Makes an attempt to become sweet, but fails.
Finish Slightly winey and pronounced sherry. Hint of bitterness at the end. Oak makes an obvious appearance with some bitter caramel on top of it. Only after 10 minutes a smoky undertone arises and remains present.
Opinion Incredible unique nose for an islay. And a very dissapointing taste and finish. Completely dominated by a balance of oak and sherry. In other words, very two dimensional and unbalanced.
Port Ellen 24 1978 Douglas Laing for The Whiskyshop
Nose Special, uncommon nose. Slight hint of plums. Fino sherry. Something sour. Slightly feinty with mild hints of dried tea, somewhat sweatish. Subtle hint of cashew nuts. Hint of coriandre and citrus. Floral with heather and grass.
Taste Spirity and sweet. Vanilla opens up immediatly. hint of young wood, sweet malt. Lime but gentle. Spicy. complex with multiple layers. Floral in the back with flowers and some heather. Also smoky in the undertone. Obvious fino sherry influence yet not as sour as usual. Sweeter then expected.
Finish hint of young new wood. Slight hint of smoke. Oak is slightly dominating. Crispy, malty, cookies. Very pleasant.
Opinion The most fresh Port Ellen I encountered to date. Lots of citrus, lime, lemon, coriandre in balance with sweet malt and vanilla. Complex, well balanced. Unexpected and suprisingly Fino influence with plums at one side and nuts at the other. Overall remains sweet.
Port Ellen 20 1982 Scotch Single Malt Circle
Nose Meat, mild brown sugar. Peat but never pronounced. Balanced nose with sherry and some peat. No overpowering aroma's, hints of feints ,leather, tar and asphalt. Hints of dark honey. Beautifull balance between peat and sherry. Mushrooms, earthy, moss.
Taste Spirity, Sherry influence, dry, very well balanced. Peat and sherry in balance. Sweet with a gathering of sweet malt, honey and oloroso sherry. Nice heavy undertone with peat and feints. Slightly phenolic with a medicinal ring to it.
Finish Long, peat makes an obvious appearance and is of high quality. Peat and sherry hand in hand. Chewy sweet malt with tones of honey and vanilla. Hints of dry oak emerge but never disturb the balance.
Opinion Sweet, mainly sherry and peat but never really dominated by it. Overall quite impressive.
Port Ellen 22 1982 The Plowed Society
Nose Candy, sweet, deffinatly bourbon. Very feinty, buttery, fruity with a hint of banana. Peated. Something is very wrong here. Seems alot like raw spirit. Even somewhat sickening after a while. Slightly floral but after the addition of water. Hint of citrusfruits with lime.
Taste Smoky and peaty. Refined green and sharp peat. Earth tones. Sweet but due to the alcohol, some sweet malt too.
Finish Smoky, long, thin yet pronounced green young peat. accompanied by feinty flavors. Liquerice and some sweet malt.
Opinion Needs a hell of alot water to become drinkeble. Without the addition of water it is extremely feinty. With water citrustones emerge and more malt presence. Either way this is seriously dissapointing. As if they mixed raw spirit with the matured whisky.
Port Ellen 21 1982 OMC
Nose Rubber in the front, tabacco. Fruity underneath. Hint of sulphur, feints dissapear reasonebly quickly, leaving you behind with the sweet fruity sherry. Undertone with meat. Subtle hint of smoke and floral notes. Aniseed and liquerice. Very complex with dark fruit, sweet malt and a spicy undertone with just a hint of smoke.
Taste dry, obviously Oloroso influence. Drying but then sweet with lots of fruit, grapes, apricots. Smoky undertone with a subtle hint of aniseed and liquerice. Sherry is slightly dominating.
Finish Very long, Mild peat emerges now. At the end nutty unroasted peanuts. Sherry is much softer now but lingers on for a long time. Liquerice. Brown sugar and light caramel. Slightly smoky. Also dry oak appearing here.
Opinion Reasonebly well balanced; Although it seems two dimensional there is lots of complexity lurking underneath. Sweet malt hand in hand with caramel. Sherry hand in hand with oak. Overall good, be it not more impressive then the usual first fill sherry bottlings.
Port Ellen 22 1978 Rare Malts Collection
Nose Somewhat special nose. Winey, sweet sherry (Amontillado?) and nuts. Hint of winevinaigre but light. Very soft spicy, subtle hint of vanilla. Hint of dried tea, very light citrus with a subtle smoky ring to it.
Taste Well balanced and full flavored. Sweet with vanilla, sugar, grist, barley-sugar, spirity and complex. Malty and still containing lots of flavors. Spicy undertone.
Finish Medium length, hint of young oak emerges. Slight medicinal tone, phenolics. Sweet sherry touch with soft fruit lingers on for a long time. Very special undertone appears to the surface packed with feints and heavy floral tones. Very complex.
Opinion Malty and peaty. Top layer isn't really complicated but holds a very interesting undertone packed with subtle nuances. Peat is here but ever so gentle.
Only 3 of the 7 rates in the 90’s. For the price and reputation of PE, I expected 5, one is even plain weak. Now the host speaks the same words that I have heard a thousand times before: It’s a disgrace Diageo closed Port Ellen! Honestly, I have heard this just about enough and I made up my own mind about this.
First, every PE we know now is at least 20 years old. Who can claim that it was a good whisky at the age of 10?
Second, PE was only distilled and used as blending fodder, meaning it was completely inconsistent because they used the needs for the blends. This explains the variety in peating levels in different bottlings.
Third of all, Although a few are spectacular and rate amongst the best I tasted, the majority I sampled was disappointing, having in mind that PE is a slow maturing spirit according to the speaker, it should be peaking now, why would it have been better when they closed PE?
Fourth of all, they closed it to clear the way for Lagavulin, or so they tell us anyway. I think we can all agree that Lagavulin is a superb whisky. If they had to close one of them, who dares to say they had to close Lagavulin instead?? The 12 and 16 wich are standard bottlings seem superior to the bulk of PE bottlings. Moreover, these are not even single casks. Add to that that nobody knows how a 12 year old PE tastes like and you have to be very arrogant and ignorant to say they had to keep PE and close Lagavulin.
Fifth and last, there have been closed far better distilleries then Port Ellen without all the fuzz and crap around its closure. Take Brora and St-Magdalene for instance, both IMHO vastly superior to the over hyped Port Ellen but then again, they are not islays…
I agree that any distillery that closes is a shame. However, I do not agree however that it is ten times worse if it is an Islay. Having that in mind, I must conclude that PE is a hype on top of another hype. Much like Macallan was in the days that Speyside was the favorite whisky region.
At the end of the day, it was a good evening with many lessons to be learnt. Although the tone here may be pessimistic, for any malt enthusiasts this was an experience to savor. In addition, I am grateful to the generosity of our host.
I like the midpeated styles of whisky,Ardbeg 17,Bowmore,Brora and PE appears to offer another example of this style. I guess the sane thing to do is not to be ripped off and seek out alternatives which appear to be Longrow, Ardmore and Caol Ila although I have yet to try these.
Thanks for taking the time to write that piece,
Two quibbles.... One, I've never heard anyone say that Diageo should have closed Lagavulin instead of Port Ellen. Bit of a straw man argument there. And the other, some folks really do like Port Ellen that much--maybe not every bottle (to be expected, since most every release now is a single cask), but on the whole, yes. The product may be overhyped a bit, but it isn't entirely without reason. I take the Macallan analogy, because I've always thought Mac was overrated--but again, I have to concede that it isn't without reason. A lot of people really do think it is (or was) that great. Your judgment on the relative merits of PE and some other distilleries is highly subjective.
As you hinted, and as I've said before, Port Ellen had to die to become what it is, so there's no use talking coulda and shoulda. Those who like it should simply be grateful that they had the chance to experience it. When all is said and done, the peak Port Ellen experience will have lasted for all of a decade or so.
MrTattieHeid wrote:...some folks really do like Port Ellen that much--maybe not every bottle (to be expected, since most every release now is a single cask), but on the whole, yes. The product may be overhyped a bit, but it isn't entirely without reason. I take the Macallan analogy, because I've always thought Mac was overrated--but again, I have to concede that it isn't without reason. A lot of people really do think it is (or was) that great.
OK, I'll put my head in the lions maw here. My personal philosophy is that I'm not interested in paying for scarcity. If Glen Glenny (defunct distillery) tastes like orange cream with some smoke, I can probably get something within shouting distance (Dalmore, Strathmill are examples). I won't compete with collecters just because I like the taste.
On the other hand, if the price is reasonable - not out of wack - there would be an impetous to get some of this stuff sooner as opposed to later (there's only a finite amount left in the marketplace right?).
An example of this is a 10yr Imperial (Connisours Choice) that I've been eyeing at the LCBO. At $70, it's a bit expensive for what it is IMHO - a nice malt, with little to distinguish it from a thousand other Speysiders. It does have it's own style, but it's not THAT far removed from Tomintoul, Tamnavulin, Speyburn, Glenfiddich or a ton of other names IMHO. Do I want to pay more because it's subtley different? Not me. I also have had some rather ordinary bottlings from the Connisours Choice line, so that inspires less confidence with me.
On the subject of PE, I have to say that the 3rd release is my favourite whisky I've yet to enjoy although the '77 Ardbeg comes close. I tend to be vary careful when buying something to get good value - yet the components of what makes up value is subjective. For me, the PE 3rd release was worth the $250 Cdn, and I'd buy more (up to 12 bottles) if I could afford to. That's 125 GBP although Scotch seems to cost more on this side of the pond.
I noticed that all of the PE's that were evaluated on the thread were IB's - more variation there than OB's. That brings home to me that if one is purchasing an expensive IB, perhaps a tasting beforehand would be prudent. I have heard the hype about PE's and was initially sceptical myself. Call me a convert!
Everything I write here is subjective.
In this post I wanted to share my own opinions about PE, this is some kind of conclusion after sampling about 15 bottlings and having to listen for years just how good PE is from people that only had 1 or 2 bottlings. The Rare Malts bottling is the only one OB I tried to date, so if you want to say I have no right to conclude already, you are right. But in my own pretentious mind I think I had enough bottlings to form an opinion about the distillery in general.
Therefore I wonder how many bottlings the people tried that claim PE is a great malt. I have no doubt that the annual releases are stunners. Reading the notes here from people I highly respect they must be. However there are 3 annual releases and 2 Rare malts bottlings, and then 50 different IB's. Honestly, would you like me to say that PE in general is great because 4 out of 50 bottlings are great? They are all PE. Difference is that the OB's are likely to have the best stock.
However even that doesnt make much sence, as PE was an inconsistent malt to begin with. So the simple statement you like or do not like PE in general is not logical. This is probably what I hate so much about this PE hype. Every single cask can -and often will- taste completely different then the other. So tell me, what is the house style of PE then? Why do you like or dislike PE?
My post here is no more then a diary page, totally subjective and based on own experience. But at least I tryed to examine all aspects from PE before coming to a conclusion instead of following the flock and claiming PE is a fantastic malt, typical Islay and worth buying even if it ruins you. These things may be right for maybe 5 or 6 bottlings, NOT for the bulk of PE.
Frodo, I think there are a lot of people around here who would jump on the Imperial, even if they knew it was an ordinary and overpriced bottle, just to increase their own knowledge, for its own sake. I appreciate what you say about paying for scarcity and competing with collectors, and certainly respect your position, but for some people, it would be very hard to put a price tag on that sort of experience, even if the malt in question is nothing remarkable. I recall, for example, the dram of Littlemill I had in Stonehaven, which I expected to be not so good. It exceeded my expectation--it was horrifying! But I don't consider the money I spent on it wasted; it was experience. (Judging from what some others have said about other bottlings of Littlemill, it certainly wasn't the definitive word on the distillery, either.) Now the money I spent on everything else after the Littlemill that night was wasted....
The downside, I fear is that since Port Ellen is an "in demand" malt independant bottlers would be very reluctant to off-load/blend a bad cask, (because it has value), and therefore a few rougue casks will find it way into bottles and onto the shelves. If you ever find a Port Ellen "something" finish, you can bet this would have been an absolute stinker and the owner has tried to "cover up" its handicap.
Love thy Port Ellen
As for the finishings, you're probably right there; but I had a Signatory Straight From The Cask 1979 Port Ellen Burgundy Finish that was quite something--very weird, like a cinnamon hotball dipped in Tabasco, definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it. But I did indeed wonder why they'd finished it, and thought twice about buying it. Signatory is on my iffy list these days, and if I saw it now for the first time, I'd likely pass. As it stands, I wish I could get another bottle.
Fantastic post, great reading, and I particularly enjoyed reading your thoughts and conclusions at the end. I agree with your sentiments too.
Of the bottlings you listed, I've only tried the OMC 1982. I rated it a bit higher than you though....I thought it was an absolutely spectacular dram, thanks mostly to the beautiful marriage of peat and sherry.
Interesting that the Plowed bottling was so poor - I know they would have sampled quite a few casks before selecting the one they eventually bottled.
Admiral wrote:Interesting that the Plowed bottling was so poor - I know they would have sampled quite a few casks before selecting the one they eventually bottled.
Well, that explains it.... I jest only by half; I often think that some malts (or beers or wines or bowls of chili) stand out, for better or worse, after tasting a lot of others, and some don't. If you lined up ten or twenty drams in front of me and asked me to choose the best, I would seriously doubt my ability to pick out the one that I would truly most enjoy a bottle of. It's for much the same reason that I take with a grain of salt books full of ratings of malts, many of which were doubtless tasted once in the course of tasting many others.
Hence, my surprise at their PE bottlings being seemingly sub-par (at least by Tom's account).
Dazzler, We are on the same wave I think. Looks like we have the same perspective. Your comparisie with caol Ila is spot on, as Caol Ila took the place of PE for their blends. Only 5% of Caol ila is used for single malts, but the bulk is the same inconsistent spirit as PE. Before someone starts shouting, A delegation from the belgian whiskyfest went to Islay this year. Upon arrival at Caol Ila they were distilling unpeated malt. So did PE in their days if there was demand.
Admiral, The scores are quite subjective as we know, this time even more so because we were presented with these drams with no break. Needless to say the last few suffered from palate tiredness. The 82 you like so much had a strong FF sherry influence disturbing the balance a bit. Personally I like this too but that is an aqquired taste I believe. And too pronounced to be called balanced and complex IMHO. Totally subjective this would be my second choice. As for the Plowed one. This was one bloody weird dram. After the tasting I lighted a cigar, and it actually tasted good with a cigar, go figure. But there was still a strong feints presence. I dont know, I read today a report from someone else that was there and he scored it 86 I believe. Another rated it 90. As stated before, scores are quite subjective anyway. The tasting notes I find much more important. It is very possible I had a dip in taste here and unless someone sends me a sample of this, we will never know.
Admiral, your explanation also makes perfect sense--it's just the way you worded your previous statement that struck me funny, and led me on a tangent musing.
I saw the Tangent Musing in '68 at...oh, that's enough of that.
Nose Sweet and perfumed. Sweet malt covered with a layer of toffee. Citrusfruits, orangepeel. Very malty with cookies,sugared cereals. Some coconut appears and lingers on. Simple but pleasant.
Taste Smooth, sweet malt. Short taste lacking complexity, but not really flawed. In the background a short flicker of citrusfruit emerges. A hint of smoke. Overall sweet malt, with hints of barley-sugar, toffee and accents of woodsmoke and citrus.
Finish Subtle hints of smoked malt come forward. Sweet malt with hints of toffee and a very light oak presence now.
Opinion Malty above everything. But sweet malt at that with cookies, waffels hand in hand with some vanilla and toffee. Very enjoyeble nose packed with typical malt aroma's. Simple but pleasant.
Nose Citrusfruit dominates. Blood oranges and apples. Somewhat heavy nose. Some leather and tabacco. Sometimes a bit thin and sharp. Floral with hints of grass and freshly cut hay.Cocoa emerges after a while along with vanilla and toffee. Distant hint of wet oak. Pleasant nose.
Taste Soft, balanced and sweet. Oranges, somewhat lickeur-ish. Full body. Sweet malt and citrusfruit. It seems hard to determine what cask, possibly both bourbon/sherry, but bourbon alone is just as likely. Holds some winey flavors though.
Finish Long and sweet, with a slight off note from the oak bringing some bitterness. Sweet malt with citrus, oranges and a hint of lime. At the end when the bitterness emerges, hint of coffee. Holds also a fresh floral touch troughout the finish.
Opinion Well balanced. Nose is dominated by citrus but the taste and finish appear more balanced. Again pronounced sweet malt. More mature then the 8 with a presence of nuts, more aroma's, cask influence and a floral touch. However, apart from the citrusfruits, too little of everything.
Littlemill 1990 Signatory Vintage Collection
Nose Malty and floral. Sweet malt with some caramel underneath, and cereal maltiness with brown bread on top. Citruspeel and a light presence from dry, burnt oak.
Taste Beautifull honey and vanilla at the mouth arrival. Followed by sweet malt with more vanilla and some toffee. Fruity with soft fruits like pears and peach. no citrusfruit however.
Finish Very impressive long aftertaste. Lots of sweetness. Toffee, sweet malt and vanilla. Waffels and cake. Everything in almost perfect harmony. Hint of smoked malt and oak.
Opinion Very well balanced. No pronounced bourbon influence. Very sweet and pleasant. Juicy cake in a glass. Apparently typicall Littlemill with its obvious malty and fruity characteristics. This time the oak makes for a welcome addition. Water ruins the nose completely though.
After these 3 I'd say Littlemill is a malty whisky above all, with lots of fruity and specially citrus tones. not bad and not too impressive either.
Possibly this is a new vatting? according to notes of most here, these seem better then the ones previously posted here. so a new vatting seems the logical explanation. The things I heard previously (not only here) are nothing like what I experienced, and I would not compare it with paint remover or nail polisher. Anyone has tried it recently aswell as a while ago?
Very interesting notes on Littlemill. I've only had the one sample, a Connoisseur's Choice, and I'm glad I didn't have that in the morning, as it would have ruined my day. I'll definitely keep an eye out for a chance to try a different bottling.
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