Gordon & MacPhail have bottled several Port Ellen 1969 expressions. It started with 10 years old releases in the Connoisseurs Choice series (famous black label with red letters), then three or four 15 and 16 years old releases (CC gradient brown labels as well as Sestante labels), plus two cask strength 1969/1985 versions with cream labels (including a legendary one for Intertrade).
Actually we can’t say with 100% certainty which one we’re reviewing here. I recently bought this miniature with a gradient brown label but contrary to full bottles that display the age in a light circle towards the top of the label, G&M CC miniatures of that era mention the year of distillation in that spot. Based on the font used for ‘Distilled 1969’ though, which is different in both labels, I am quite confident this is the 16 years old version. Whiskyfun has a review of the same miniature.
Remember Port Ellen distillery was reopened in April 1967 after it had been silent since 1929 and rebuilt in 1966. A 1969 distillation is not something you get to try every week and we probably can’t go further back in time than this.
Port Ellen 16 yo 1969 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice +/- 1985)
Nose: far better than I was expecting (after all it’s young and PE was meant to be a blender’s whisky). Very expressive given the low alcohol volume, and very balanced as well. Very maritime (Caol Ila style) with kelp and oysters, but quite fruity at the same time. Lots of cut apples, lime and tangerine. Hints of metal polish. Some marzipan. Mint. Soft medicinal notes and warm tar. Clean young Port Ellen, but the subtlety and the balance with the fruits is just excellent.
Mouth: rather light, yes, but expressive. Again much sweeter and fruitier than expected. Sweetened grapefruit juice, lime and kumquats. Mixed with grassy peat and liquorice, a bit of smoke and plenty of kippers. Hints of moss. Hints of Yunnan pu-erh. Such a brilliant combination.
Finish: long, half ashy and half coastal (smoked fish).
I’m sure the cask strength versions of these casks are even more stellar, but this is a highly drinkable Port Ellen with an outstanding balance. I like these fruitier versions a lot. Rarely seen in auctions, but TWE has a bottle of the 15yo for around € 1000.