Single malt whisky - tasting notes

Buying an Islay Collection pack is a popular way to get hold of an official Port Ellen bottling without braking the bank. However, these 20cl versions don’t contain the same whisky, and most of them are bottled at a different strength. In this case, the 20cl bottle contains 54,7% alcohol instead of 53,8% for the 70cl bottles. The reason is that they’re probably bottled at a different moment in time.

 

Port Ellen 7th release Port Ellen 28 yo 1979 ‘7th release’
(54,7%, OB 2007, 20cl)

Nose: this one seems to be more floral, with much more vanilla. A great balance between the coastal notes (tarry ropes, seaweed) and candied notes. Big big vanilla. Lots of almonds and marzipan. Sweetened lime juice. Whiffs of mint. I adore this combination, it’s like peated candy. Mouth: this is the most complex Port Ellen in this trio. The candied notes remain, but they’re mingled with herbal notes (ginger, soft pepper), liquorice, Lapsang Souchong… Rather delicate peat. Some notes of cocoa. Finish: long, a tad more coastal now. Dry hints of oak and walnut skin.

A nice crescendo, starting soft and feminine (close to the Port Ellen 9th release in that respect) but growing stronger on the palate. Outstanding composition and one of the best (explicitly) peated drams I’ve come across.

My personal favourite because of the wide flavours and the stunning nose. Still available in some places. Around € 275.

Score: 94/100


Ah, official Port Ellen releases… They’re expensive but usually very good. Quite solid as an investment as well (a first release will fetch almost € 1000).

The annual releases are always 1978 casks for pair release numbers and 1979 casks for odd releases. These 1970’s Port Ellen casks are becoming rare these days – most independent bottlings are from 1982 or 1983. I personally have the impression 1970’s casks show more complexity although exceptions exist of course.

So far, nine annual releases have been made available and this year there should be a 10th release which will probably be the last one. For now, I did a direct comparison of the 3rd, 6th and 7th release. I already published my notes of the excellent 9th release in the past.

 

Port Ellen 3rd release Port Ellen 24 yo 1979 ‘3rd release’ 
(57,3%, OB 2003, 9000 btl.)

Nose: this is the sharper, flinty / mineral kind of Port Ellen, although it’s not an extreme example. It has a slightly pungent profile that I associate with wet limestone, lemon and cut grass. Ethereal hints of nail polish as well. Quite some alcohol. It misses the feminine side of vanilla that softens the 7th or 9th release. Evolves on antiseptic, diesel oil and candle wax. Walnuts as well. Faint farmy notes in the background. Hardly coastal. Water makes the grassy and ethereal notes stand out. Mouth: strong attack with sharp peat and lemon juice. Quite salty now, a bit too salty even. Some peppery notes (the spiciest of the three OB’s I’m comparing). Water brings out the oak and adds grassy notes. Finish: long, smoky, quite dry and salty.

I would call this “the grassy one”. Its mouth-feel is hotter than the other two (could the extra 3% really make such a difference?) and you feel a certain powerful roughness, even at 24 years. It shows more peat than the other two which could be a plus for some people. An extra point for the farminess. Extinct.

Score: 91/100


Another sherried 1980’s Port Ellen, tasted side-by-side with yesterday’s Port Ellen PE1. One my fellow blogger Johan had a lot of trouble with, despite its solid reputation among reviewers (Whiskyfun 94/100)… a solid 92/100 at first, but a mere 75/100 a few months later. In his second tasting (from the same bottle by the way), he couldn’t get over the sulphur notes. This should be interesting!

 

Port Ellen 21yo 1982
(50%, Douglas Laing OMC 2004, DL ref. 414, full sherry, 420 btl.)

Port Ellen 1982 DL OMC 414Nose: the sherry is just as bold as in the PE1, but this time the gunpowder and matchstick notes are much more prominent. I can see the sulphur but I wouldn’t call this an off-note, it’s more like a peated Karuizawa, if you know what I mean, with fire crackers and hints of rubber again. Nothing dirty for me. It lacks a bit of the chocolate fruitiness, although there is still some red fruit marmalade which gets bigger with a drop of water. Tobacco. Hints of meat sauce and balsamic vinegar, more so than in the PE1. Much more leather as well. Mouth: interesting. The PE1 showed a big peat blast on the palate, but this Port Ellen stays quite elegant and soft. Some smoke, lots of herbal notes. Liquorice. Tobacco again. More fruit than PE1 (quite unexpected I must say). Never judge a dram only on the nose! Overall less punchy though, and less typically Islay. Finish: medium length, nicely holding the middle between the smoke and the sherry.

In the end, it’s clear this Douglas Laing version doesn’t show the complexity and the juicy fruits of the PE1 version, but it’s still a very good sherried Port Ellen in my eyes (if you don’t mind the matchsticks). Extinct – it fetches around € 350 at auctions. Thanks for the opportunity, Johan!

Score: 89/100

ps/ This bottle was released (and reviewed by most people) before the wave of excellent Karuizawa bottlings we saw during the last few years. Maybe this Port Ellen was praised for being unique at that time, but if you’re looking for notes of gunpowder and fresh matchsticks, I think Karuizawa does a better job (e.g. Karuizawa 1985/2009 cask 7017).


Elements of Islay Elements of Islay is a series by The Whisky Exchange (actually their sister company Specialty Drinks Ltd) presenting single casks of Ardbeg, Laphroaig and other Islay distilleries. They are bottled in 50cl bottles with a code that reminds us of the Mendelejev periodic table.

Sherried Port Ellen is a difficult exercise sometimes. Heavy peat or heavy sherry quickly dominate each other, but when the balance is right, fireworks arise! This was the first Port Ellen in the Elements of Islay range, and it won a silver medal at the 2009 Malt Maniacs Awards.

 

Port Ellen PE1Port Ellen Pe1
(58,7%, Elements of Islay 2009)

Nose: wow. And a few minutes later: WOW. Dark chocolate with a fruity centre. Hints of cecina (cured and smoked cow meat, typical of León in Spain). Well balanced between sweet, smoked and savory. Wonderful how big fruit (apples, raspberry) and dry peat go hand in hand. Hints of rubber and tobacco. Cocoa. A few medicinal notes and seaweed. Soot. Very complex. With water: juicier (fresh plums, more berries). Mouth: oily attack, now the peat and smoke take the lead – a bit too much maybe. Hints of sweet almonds and lemon, but they’re too easy for the big wave of peat. Slightly sharp peat with a salty edge of liquorice. Some pepper. With water: a tad minty with hints of tobacco. Finish: long, dry and smokey.

A perfect example of a successful marriage between peat and sherry. Around € 130 at the time, but sold out. A new Port Ellen PE2 is expected really soon, so keep an eye on the TWE website if you’re tempted.

Score: 92/100


Let’s start with the most limited Port Ellen of the bunch. The Whisky Exchange released 60 bottles of Port Ellen at the 2009 Whisky Show in London. It was sold out in no-time.

PELIND1979V2 Port Ellen 1979
(54,1%, The Whisky Show 2009, 60 btl.)

Nose: well balanced with a few flinty / coastal notes and wonderful marzipan / vanilla notes. Leather. Cold ashes. Some lemon balm. Vanilla custard. A few drops of water amplifies the fruit but takes away some complexity. Hmmm, simply wonderful. Mouth: firm attack on lemon and smoke. Gets more mineral and a lot sharper after a while, before showing a kippery, salty side. Some almonds. Water makes it smoother and seems to add balance. Finish: long and quite coastal. Peated anchovies. Lemon.

What a terrific nose. And a great palate as well, although it’s a little less spectacular and a bit sharp / salty. A nice selection by TWE.

Score: 91/100


Port Ellen whisky Port Ellen is one of the most enigmatic distilleries. Part of this is due to the fact that it’s closed since 1983 of course, and the number of available casks is rapidly diminishing (although I have the impression bottlers may be exaggerating this to increase the price).

If you think about it, the story of Port Ellen is quite tragic. Most of its production was used for blending purposes, and because younger Port Ellen was not always of exceptional quality, nobody thought it was special as a single malt. Little did they know that after 20 or 30 years of maturation (which was useless for blends, certainly in that era) Port Ellen becomes quite unique.

Maybe the best Port Ellen is already gone. The youngest casks are 27 years old, some of them are probably getting a bit tired, and 1980’s Port Ellen (which we see most often nowadays) is a bit less interesting anyway. Still, let’s enjoy every single drop that’s left. I have some very interesting samples of old and new Port Ellen waiting to be reviewed.


Longmorn is one of the twelve active Pernod Ricard distilleries and it has a strong reputation among blenders. Its revamped 16 yo had a bit of a false start in 2007 but recent batches are said to be much better.

 

Longmorn 1996 Daily Dram Longmorn 13 yo 1996
(49%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams 2010)

Nose: a fresh youngster. A few hints of new spirit which disappear after a while. Lots of pears and apples. White fruits. Candied citrus. Gummy bears. Honeysuckle. Hints of almonds. Quite light and fruity. Mouth: very sweet attack. Pear drops. Flower honey. Slightly waxy. Interesting hints of peat smoke in the background, they add quite a lot of depth. Cocoa notes. Finish: oily texture, with nutty notes and subtle smoke.

An uncomplicated but perfectly nice summer dram, this Longmorn.  There’s a BBR bottling with similar specs for less than € 50 and a recent Signatory bottling for € 35 , so its price (around € 60) is perhaps the only thing speaking against it.

Score: 84/100


1993 was the year in which the legendary Black Bowmore was launched. It was also the moment when Bowmore had a slower production and became part of the Suntory group.

Bowmore 1993 Perfect Dram Bowmore 16 yo 1993 (59,9%, The Whisky Agency 2010, Perfect Dram IV, bourbon hogshead, 209 btl.)

Nose: gentle peat smoke with cedar wood (cigar box). Coffee with milk. A nice fruity side as well, mostly tangerine and lemon. Soft hints of vanilla. Seaweed. Hints of a wet dog. After a while, the fruit becomes more prominent and more tropical (passion fruit). Nice. Mouth: ashy and tarry with fruity hints of bittersweet grapefruit. Butter caramel. Citrus. Quite coastal with a big pinch of salt in the aftertaste. Finish: a rather uncommon combo of fruit and anchovies. Long, sweetish, bitterish and really salty.

This is an interesting Bowmore but it loses a couple of points for the salty aftertaste which I found to be a little bit out of proportion. The nose was absolutely delightful though. Around € 85.

Score: 89/100


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1573 notes by Ruben

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