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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
Glenburgie is a strange distillery. It was demolished in 2003 and a new, highly efficient production plant was built just behind it. The four stills were brought in from the old distillery.
Glenburgie is rarely seen as a single malt because most of the production goes to the Ballentine’s blend (the same goes for Miltonduff). This made the 26 years old bottling highly anticipated among the recent The Nectar of the Daily Drams releases.
Glenburgie 26 yo 1983
(48,5%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams 2010)
Nose: first there are notes of paraffin that are quite remarkable. Lots of apples and pears. Soft grassy notes. Walnuts. Fresh profile with orange blossom water and a slight minerality. Very natural as well, with a pleasantly dusty side to it. Mouth: sweet attack with ripe pear, butter cream and vanilla. Malt. Marzipan and a touch of mocha. Orange marmalade. Apple. Gets drier and a lot spicier, mostly on ginger and pepper. Rather bitter towards the end, and water amplifies this bitter side, so I like it better undiluted. Finish: long with hints of tonic and marzipan.
An interesting dram that balances between fruity and bitter notes. Not really easy-going. Around € 100.
A few months later, there was a similar hype around this Clynelish 1982 by Malts of Scotland. Let’s find out…
Clynelish 27 yo 1982 (51,5%, Malts of Scotland 2010, cask #5895, 263 btl.)
Nose: even more beeswax than already expected in Clynelish. Also much more tropical fruit notes (tangerine, melon, peaches on syrup) and honey. Hints of biscuits. Baked apples. A hint of lemon grass. Marzipan. Overall quite sweet but with just enough oak and spices to… well… spice it up a little. What an exceptional profile. Mouth: an extension to the nose, fruity and still quite waxy but it’s less sweet. There’s a bit more oak now and a few flinty notes. Gets drier over time, with a salty edge and hints of tea and ginger. Finish: honeyed and waxy. The spiciness is still growing.
This Clynelish 1982 has all the typical distillery elements and is less austere and ‘warmer’ than the release by Whisky Agency / Daily Dram. Especially the nose is extremely attractive which makes it one of the better Clynelish I’ve tried. Around € 100. It was sold out in no-time, but recently the sister cask has been released (cask #5894), and I’ve heard it’s very very similar, so make sure you don’t miss it.
This Isle of Jura 1999 is part of a series of three Boutique Barrels. The first remarkable thing is that it’s a single cask – there’s only a handful of official single cask bottlings from this distillery. The label states ‘heavy peat’ (30ppm) and a Kentucky bourbon cask maturation. Not sure what XU means.
Isle of Jura 11 yo 1999 Boutique Barrels (55%, OB 2010, Bourbon XU cask finish)
Nose: nice profile with obvious peat but also orange skin and lemon grass. Very enticing. A bit of camphor. Flowers and a hint of vanilla. A few sharp cider notes. Water brings out more lemon grass and citrus with a candied edge. Interesting variation on the peat theme. Mouth: a mineral start with apples, quickly taken over by a big wave of pepper, peat and deep smoke. A faint nuttiness in the background. Oranges again. Lemon cake. Some sweet vanilla and liquorice. Interesting wood (pine tree), bigger than I expected it to be at 11 years. Takes water well. Finish: ashes, sweet almond milk and vanilla, slowly getting drier. It takes a while before it has faded completely.
I especially liked the nose, which shows a nice balance between the oak influence and the fresh lemon grass. On the palate it’s a little less spectacular but still really nice. Modern and well crafted. Around € 60.