This Port Ellen has a back story to it that makes it a very special bottle to me. When I was visiting Macau I went to the Macallan Whisky Bar & Lounge. In my previous write-up, I raved about the great selection and amazing staff that treated me to a wonderful evening of great drams. At the end of the evening, as I was finishing what I thought was my last dram, the bartender, Deejay, unexpectedly set down a Glencairn with a small (but generous) pour in front of me and said,
“Mr. Mike, I think you will like this.” He sets the bottle on the bar and continues, “It is a sample of Port Ellen, closed distillery.”
That my friends was my first dram of the enigmatic and captivating Port Ellen. Port Ellen has a rough history as a distillery; starting in 1825 as a malting business and beginning distillation in 1833, and falling silent for the first time in 1930. The distillery was rebuilt in the late 1960s and restarted distilling operations in 1970s.
The 1980s were tumultuous times for whisky distilleries where dozens of distilleries shut down their stills and closed their doors. Unfortunately, Port Ellen distillery again fell silent in 1983. While the Port Ellen maltings has continued operations, and there are still several casks of Port Ellen from the 1980s, several of the distillery buildings have been knocked down, stills destroyed, and not much is left of the original distillery.
Diageo is now investing $45MM (£35M) to rebuild the distillery. Vowing to rebuild the distillery as close as possible to the original operations, Diageo going to considerable efforts to recreate stills similar to the originals and is working with former workers of the Port Ellen distillery to ensure the original Port Ellen style is kept. While the distillery is expected to restart operations in 2020, we won’t see a dram for at least another 12 years after production begins.
This dram from 1982 holds a special place in my whisky journey, and I spent many sleepless evenings searching around the world for this bottle where I finally found one in an obscure tobacco shop in the middle of Germany.
Distiller: Port Ellen
Outturn: 306 Bottles
Mashbill: 100% Malted Barley
Cask Type: Ex-Bourbon Cask #1511
Age: 31 Years (Distilled 5 May 1982, bottled, March 2014)
Chill Filtered: No
Color Added: No
Glass for Review: Glencairn
Nose: Antique leather and tobacco, accompanied by the smell of old books. It feels like I’ve been transported to an old library and I’m now dawning a smoking jacket and a pipe.
Palate: More leathery notes come through, wafts of smoke with a slight twinge of sweetness. Brine and charred surround the palate with compliments of peppercorn.
Finish: Time feels as if it’s slowing down, the finish lasts for eons. There’s a bit of spice on the finish from the 56.2% ABV but it’s far from off-putting. Again, wafts of light peat smoke come across the palate.
Overall: I see what all the hype around Port Ellen is all about now. This dram is extraordinary. Unlike anything I have ever tried. The entire dram is an experience in itself that transports you back in time.
Average Price: $1200+