Some of us have been lucky enough to try the famous older Port Ellen expressions, the annual special releases and such. But it’s even rarer to try some of the 1970s distillates at a very young age – releases that came long before the wider popularity of Port Ellen.
A big part of these were bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in the 1980s and 1990s, mainly for Italian distributors like Intertrade, Meregali and Sestante.
Today’s Port Ellen 1974 was bottled at 15 years of age for Sestante. There’s also a 14 year-old version bottled in 1988. It’s one of the last Sestante releases – the company ceased to operate in 1990 (but their remaining stocks lived on through Silver Seal).
It is bottled at 64,5% – Italian independent bottlers have been big defenders (if not the inventors) of the cask strength idea and I felt I should respond to Martine Nouet’s article Why I dislike cask strength whisky. Not only is the title chosen unwisely (40% can be cask strength as well, the articles explains she’s actually against high proof whisky), I will always prefer high proof whisky (which I can dilute myself if I feel like it) to all those ‘professional distillers’ who decide diluting to 46% or lower is a good option. True, high proof doesn’t work for all whiskies, but I would have been more careful to write such a generalizing piece.
As a side note, the quality of tap water is certainly not the same around the world, but again let’s not generalize, in my opinion my tap serves perfectly fine water to dilute whiskies.
Port Ellen 15 yo 1974
(64,5%, Sestante 1990)
Nose: excellent youthful Port Ellen. Immediately on chalky notes, wet cement, limestone and lamp oil. Some maritime notes (oysters) and antiseptics. Then some rounder notes of frangipane and lime. Not much peat, it’s more of a dusty and slightly farmy style. Hints of sheep stables indeed, lovely.
Mouth: oily, almost fatty (high alcohol helps to get this effect) and highly compact. Herbal potions, coal smoke and tarry notes, bandages, smoked lemons, kippers, waxed leather and a good dose of chilli. Still quite some farmy notes in the background. I may seem to pick up quite some things but it’s actually quite massive and less layered than the famous older expressions.
Finish: long, with quite some tea, grapefruit and cold ashes.
They’re not all that great, but this was an excellent young Port Ellen. Even at this massive strength it’s very drinkable and actually much more complex without water. It would have been a shame to dilute this while bottling. What a treat, thank you, Carsten.