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.
A couple of months ago I picked up the plans of Glenfarclas to bottle a 40 year-old at a price level well below the market standard. Glenfarclas has a huge stock of old casks, some of which are quickly losing strength. This bottling is not just a solution for this problem, it’s also a welcome evolution on the market because most other 40 year olds are sold as collector’s items with fancy boxes and a lot of blah blah. This is clearly a no-nonsese drinker’s whisky!
Highland Park 40yo is valued € 900. Glenglassaugh 40yo and The Dalmore 40yo cost around € 1600. Glengoyne 40yo will set you back € 4000. This Glenfarclas 40yo costs around € 330… Even an independent release from a lesser known distillery would be difficult to find for this amount of money.
This 40yo mainly contains casks from the late 1960’s. When I tasted it as a work-in-progress, I felt it still needed some tweaking, so I’m eager to find out what the end result is like.
Glenfarclas 40 yo (46%, OB 2010)
Nose: rich sherry with big hints of prunes and oak polish. Quite sweet and deeply fruity, with just some hints of pine needles and resin to make it drier. Lush notes of blackcurrant marmalade, tobacco and cigar boxes. Roasted moccha. A wonderful whiff of mint and eucalyptus. An old gentleman: very elegant. Mouth: starts on dried fruits with resinous notes. Evolves in a more herbal and more winey / tannic way. Orange liqueur. Chocolate. Some black olives. Maybe missing a bit of round creaminess here. Finish: long, resinous but not too oaky. A bit of balsamic vinegar and hints of chocolate. Getting drier.
This Glenfarclas 40yo has an excellent nose and it’s certainly one of the best opportunities to try such an old whisky. An example of a great vatting, but a tad more creamy fruit on the palate could have lifted it even higher. Around € 330.
A direct comparison between similar casks is always fun. In this case, we have another Port Charlotte 2001 by Malts of Scotland, this time bottled from a sherry hogshead.
Port Charlotte 9 yo 2001 (61,6%, Malts of Scotland 2010, sherry cask #833)
Nose: after the bourbon version, this seems less peaty but more smokey, with soot and ashes . Quite winey at first. It takes some time and especially some hand warmth to balance it. It has meaty elements, rubbery elements, dried fruits and marmalade… Balsamic vinegar as well. This one seems more mature than its bourbon sibling, and the complexity is excellent. It’s certainly less clean (even faint hints of cow stable). Mouth: now the peat kicks in and counters the sherry. Big notes of chocolate and pepper. Plums. Liquorice. Water adds a bittersweet note, like black tea with a bit of sugar. Finish: sweet with tobacco and nutmeg.
I really enjoyed comparing them, it’s quite spectacular how both profiles seem to deconstruct each other completely. Once you’re used to one version and compare it to the other, you notice new things and vice versa. This sherried Port Charlotte is quite explosive, rougher and more complex than the bourbon cask. Around € 65 (nice!).