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Unfortunately, I don't have a great place where I can sample lots of different whiskies by the glass, so I have to decide whether to plunk down premium cash for bottles.
My questions is, and I understand the subjectivity of this, is it worth it to get a Brora or Port Ellen? Are these bottles simply inflated because of the collector market or are they fabulous whiskies. Would I likely be just as happy (or moreso) and could I get more bang for the buck with a similarly priced Ardbeg or Highland Park (two of my favorites)?
FYI, the only available Boroa at my local store is a Signatory. There are a variety of Port Ellens.
Thanks in advance.
I have no Brora experience, but the Port Ellen in my collection was worth every penny at $165 USD. I have a few bottles that cost that much, maybe four or five, but the only whisky I have that I like as much is Ardbeg Provenance, which cost significantly more.
I think that if you're of the opinion that any whisky is worth $150 - $200 (USD again), and if you're a fan of Islay, you'd be very unlikely to be disappointed in a bottle of Port Ellen. That being said, I'd imagine the bottlings can vary quite a bit. The one I have is an OMC 1977 24yo.
Are these bottles simply inflated because of the collector market or are they fabulous whiskies.
Yes and yes. The Brora 1981 21yo Signatory 46% abv (1981-2003) ($106US) was good and expensive, but, to me, very worth the experience once I got past the guilt. It was the first "over $100" bottles I had purchased. Recently found my first Port Ellen, 24yo Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, Sept.1978-Oct. 2002, 360 bottles, 50% abv ($176US). Also very complex, unique and enjoyable. I would say if exploring these distilleries is important to you, bite the bullett and try them. There is nothing quite like them to compare. It just got to the point for me that I had to know. I just had to rationalize, okay that's 4 steak dinners, that's 7 steak dinners and the bottles will be around and enjoyed longer than the beef.
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For sure if you've never had them at least have one of each, then you can say if you want to try more or not.
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apart from the prices asked for bottlings from both distilleries they are well worth to be sampled if you are looking for peated malts and the Islay style. For both distilleries and especially and more so for Brora it is true that from the beginning of the 1980s on there is no garantee that a bottling contains peated malt. Good example is the Brora 20 Years in the Rare Malt Selection. A good whisky but more like a modern Clynelish than a peated Brora. The peat levels at Port Ellen were more consistant till closure, the risk of finding an unpeated Port Ellen in a bottle is very low as yet. At Brora from 1980 on you have to watch out, some bottlings are others are not peated.
Worth buying? That's up to you---in that price range you can get plenty of other absolutely fantastic whiskies and it just depends on what your personal tastes/collecting preferences are.
As far as Port Ellen is concerned: It is a good example of what an Islay whisky is all about! Hence: If you like peaty whiskies it's worth a try. But please watch out for what you're buying. I would strongly advise to steer clear of "Finished" PE (a number of Port wood finishes are quite dodgy i my book) unless you like that sort of thing.
Both of them have one thing in common: They both are closed, Hence more and more difficult to find, and prices will go up... so if you have the chance to try them now...please do, it's probably never gonna get better!
Port Ellen is good stuff and definitely worth trying. The best ones I tried so far are from 1978. The annual releases from Diageo (in particular the 1st, 2nd and 5th Releases) have a correct quality/price ratio. You can see some tasting notes at http://www.whisky-news.com in the tasting section.
For Brora, the signatory are very likely from 1981 to 1983. I haven't tried many of thoses, since I prefer the peated ones from the 1970s.
For your info, the tasting notes of several Brora from 1971 to 1981 will be posted on the above website over the next two weeks, starting end of this week.
The interesting thing is that despite their current cult status, both Port Ellen and Brora were made as blend fodder.
I had an interesting chat with the people at Clynelish when I visited. They said that in the case of Brora, Clynelish found that they had an old building with stills doing nothing when they had moved into their new build distillery. They decided to put the stills to use making a cheap peaty whisky to save paying the cost of buying in real Islay for their blends (a bit like Ardmore today). In the 1980s, there was an oversupply of whisky which meant that it became quite affordable to buy in Islay whisky, so there was no need to make their own imitation - Brora closed.
If Brora and Port Ellen were still open, there is no reason to think they would have developed such a following (for example, I couldn't imagine paying for a vertical tasting of five Clynelishes, even though I do like their products). The romance, though, is of our own making - the truth is rather prosaic.
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I prefer laphroaig & lagavulin over Ardbeg & Coal Ila. Therefore I'd hate to buy a Brora or Port Ellen just to find out it is a good/great Islay as opposed to a fabulous Islay whisky. If I spend 100 quid on a Brora and find it's only as good or slightly better as say Lap QC or a Laga 16 I'd actually be dissapointed. Unfortunately I associate cost with my enjoyment factor. Prime example is Jameson 12yo & 18yo. The 18yo is probably the better whiskey but it is not worth 65.00 Euro more in my opinion so 12yo wins hands don all the time and I enjoy it more.
However this can also work the other way ... if you spend a little more on that one special bottle you may appreciate the contents a bit more too..
At the end of the day it's what you are happy to pay for the whisky is all that counts.
Good luck in you final decision.
PS I'll probably buy a Brora at some stage too...
Port Ellen (PE) is a good whisky and slightly less "characterful" than an Ardbeg or a Laphroaig. I do agree that the cult status of PE is reinforced by being an Islay whisky. However, a whisky don't get a cult status simply because it is a mothballed distillery. Some close or silent distilleries, such as Glen Keith will never reach a cult status, because the spirit was an average single malt.
Brora is now very sought after, because it is a very characterful whisky, with some similarities to the best Ardbeg and Bowmore from the 1970s. I do find most of these whiskies excellent.
"The interesting thing is that despite their current cult status, both Port Ellen and Brora were made as blend fodder. "
I think that the historical content should not be ignored. Until the end of the 1980s, very few whiskies were sold as single malts (e.g., Glenmorangie, Glenffidich, Glenfarclas) and the primary objectives of the distilleries was to produce "blend fodder". Brora and PE were closed because of overproduction during that period and the production of these distilleries was replaced by more modern and economical distilleries (Clynelish and Caol Ila). Diageo only started to bottle the Brora and PE in 1995+ and it is only then that whisky enthusiasts started to discover them as single malts. Brora will probably never reopened, since renovation would cost a lot of money and that the production costs would be too high.
I've not had the limited edition Port Ellens - but I have had some IBs that were not quite as old, many years ago. The impression I got was of a bog standard Islay - some smoke and iodine but way short of Laphroaig. It was not terribly individualistic and I could not put a cigarette paper between it and Caol Ila. Perhaps the current bottlings are better.
Your history is a bit wonky. Port Ellen and Brora were not replaced by Caol Ila and Clynelish. Brora only existed to make use of the former Clynelish stills, it was not replaced by Clynelish. Port Ellen and Caol Ila coexisted but in the 1980s, there was too much whisky about the place and Caol Ila and Port Ellen were under the same ownership. Since they produced near identical products, one had to get the chop. Port Ellen lost out.
Brora might have been good - I'll find out, but having seen reviews of their products I suspect it was of very variable quality. I know some closed distilleries have not got cult status. I suspect the difference between these two and the others is not quality - it is peat. At the moment, peat seems to be enormously fashionable (cf. peated versions of so many Highland and Speyside whiskies now, Octomore "experiments", etc.)
So far I have bought myself only Signatory 1979/2002 and DL OMC 1978/27yo (sherry finish); both OK but...
Otherwise tasted bottlings: 1978/24yo annual release 2nd, Connosseurs Choice 1981 & 1982, McGibbons Provenance 1982/21yo (sherry) and some younger one 1983/11yo (don't remember the bottler; Italian?). Provenance was cheapish and good. Annual release is a good bet also.
I tend to keep one bottle of PE always handy on my shelf but that's it.
Brora on the other hand excites me more. I have the Rare Malts 20yo (cheap and "the worst"), 21yo (absolutely drammastic!), 24yo (very good) and the ones from the DL OMC series' bottlings from the seventies are great also. If You see something under the 100 euro limit, it is not probably so good but handing out 120-150 euros (which I do too often, according to my wife) for a Brora is safe investment. http://www.whiskyfun.com is worth checking for tasting notes.
I have some unopened "GREAT" Broras tucked under the matress for me to open in the future. When You find something, You have to buy enough...
Go for the Annual releases, they should all be fairly good.
Have not tasted any Broras yet, but have one of the 30 year olds tucked away
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