Single malt whisky - tasting notes

08 Nov 2012

Port Ellen 12th release (1979)

Tasting notes by Ruben Luyten - Posted in Port Ellen

This Port Ellen 12th release is now the oldest official bottling of Port Ellen. From refill American Oak and refill European Oak casks filled in 1979.

People who buy this should sign a form, promising that they won’t try to sell it on eBay for the next three years (at least). Also, Diageo should force shops to stick to the official price of the yearly Special Releases – it’s clear that some shops are holding back stock only to sell it at higher prices later. They’re the ones to blame for this year’s absolutely shocking price hike.


Port Ellen 12th releasePort Ellen 32 yo 1979 ‘12th release’
(52,5%, OB 2012, 2964 btl.)

Nose: very maritime. Brine, seashells, oysters, camphor, wet gravel… Lots of mineral and a few floral hints too. Subtle smoke and iodine. Fresh, sharp and focused, sure, but too one-dimensional for an official Port Ellen in my opinion. Water helps, it brings out lemon and rhubarb, as well as an oriental wood scent. Aromatic, but maybe not a total benchmark. Mouth: peaty and briney, medium weight, with ashes and a grapefruit bitterness. Hints of gentian. Seaweed. Then a herbalness and leathery notes. Resinous oak. Cold smoke. Again a tad too focused on the earthy, mineral and pungent side of PE. Sweet and sour kiwi notes or faint vanilla only come out very late and in tiny amounts. Finish: dry, long, fairly zesty and coastal with liquorice and a pinch of salt.

It’s clear that this year’s bottling is a brilliant showcase of the coastal, mineral and austere side of Port Ellen. I tend to prefer the more balanced, vanilla-infused expressions though (7th or 10th release for instance). This is far from a disappointment, but at this price level I don’t feel the slightest need to chase it in stores. Around € 750, but I’ve seen £ 1500 in one of these greedy stores who think they can get away with everything.

Score: 91/100

Port Ellen 12th release (1979) 4.5 Ruben Luyten 2012-11-08
  • Michael

    Unfortunately, the “greedy” stores can get away with charging what they want as long as the consumer/collector is willing to pay….

  • JohnM

    It’s possible, I suppose, that they bought it from someone else for a high price… I don’t know that this is the case, of course. They’ve sold the bottle anyway.

  • WhiskyNotes

    Maybe they’ve sold the bottle (crazy), maybe they’ve simply taken it offline until the storm has passed.

  • Michael

    If they have maybe 12-18 bottles in stock – it might be more profitable to sell one at a time – then mark it as “sold out” for a few weeks – rise the price – and put another for sale…

  • Tim F

    Please don’t tar all the shops with the same brush… the fault is also with people who pay ridiculous prices at auctions, and with Diageo for not increasing the release prices more steadily.

  • kallaskander

    Hi there,

    Diageo ran out of Port Ellen years ago. David Driscoll of Californian K&L Wines tells a convincing story that when they tried to buy a cask of Port Ellen to bottle they found they were bidding against Diageo for that cask.
    Diageo bought the casks for the 12th Speceial Release back from other sources well above market price.
    That and the fact that they can makes the price hike. What do you think… how large is the number of whisky shops worldwide which never even will get near a bottle of Port Ellen 12th Special Release?
    Or how far do you think less than 1600 bottles of Brora 11th Special Relesase will go if they have to be shared worldwide?

    Don’t blame the retailers. There might be some who are holding back bottles. But most of the retailers you will know never received the Port Ellen the Brora and the Lagavulin 21 at all. It is just hard to sell something you haven’t got.

    If you want to blame somebody blame Diageo. They should have ended the Port Ellen and Brora Special Releases two years ago put what they wanted to release into a fancy handpolished wooden boy with a price tag of XXXX.XX of whatever currency for those who want to spend that kind of money.


  • WhiskyNotes

    I’m not blaming ALL shops of course and certainly not the ones that didn’t get any bottles. I realize Diageo has mysterious ways of assigning bottles (forcing shops to buy a lot of Distillery Editions and other bulk products only to get a couple of Special Releases).

    Anyway all parties are to blame here: Diageo for inventing stories that justify their crazy prices, for having weird assignation strategies and for not capping end user prices. Shops for trying to increase prices even more by holding back stock. And consumers for going along with the whole hype of course.

    This is a ridiculous situation, Diageo trying to prolongue (or recreate) a product that is in fact gone from the market.

  • MARS

    For what I know, diageo still have PLENTY of cask of port ellen!
    Maybe not from 1979 but they have no obligation to make a release with cask form this year!

  • tomten

    Why the need to place blame anywhere? Dont buy it if you dont like it. Diageo and the shops are doing the correct thing from a market perspective. Supply and demand. If anything, they have been too cheap earlier.

  • WhiskyNotes

    I’ve never seen whisky as a mere game of economics… I think it’s too bad such good whiskies are now officially an investment rather than a nice drink that will actually be opened and enjoyed.

  • tomten

    But.. whisky is a commodity, hence it has a price, aye? To not put that price based on the market (supply and demand) would be.. pure folly or gross incompetence? Or charity. If you cannot afford a Breitling, buy a Seiko. Probably just as good (or better) but without the silk-lined box…

  • bakerman

    Sure if you can’t afford you do not buy it (well I hope that is the case fro everyone). But I believe for a connoisseur’s blog these are all valuable arguments. This isn’t meant a Diageos share holder or whisky investor group blog in the first place…right? In the (good old) days I was always curious on what they will release in the Rare Malts seriers AND if I will buy&try 1, 2, 3 or all the 4 expressions. These days are over as some of the releases are simply too expensive for my wallet and that is sad (not for investors of course).

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November 2015
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1932 notes by Ruben

WhiskyNotes - Ruben LuytenThis blog is my personal collection of impressions, written while searching for the ultimate single malt whisky.