E-pistle 2007/039 – Independent Port Ellens

By Robert Karlsson, Sweden

In my previous E-pistle the six annual expressions of Port Ellen were sampled.
Here follows another row of Port Ellen bottlings, this time from independent bottlers only.

Douglas Laing are seriously blessed with a seemingly never ending line of Port Ellen bottlings being released. From what I understand that won’t stop anytime soon either which is a very good thing indeed. In this report six bottlings from their Old Malt Cask range is sampled and one from their McGibbons Provenance series. Old Malt Cask is their “middle” range, below Platinum but above Provenance. They also fiddle with a range called “Glen Denny”, this time in the shape of a 27yo Port Ellen bottled for a Swedish whisky club. The Golden Cask range is bottled by a certain John McDougall who has been involved with quite a few distilleries out there throughout the years. These days he does some cask hunting too. Here I try one of his Port Ellen bottlings. Raymond Armstrong at Bladnoch is also doing some bottling from other distilleries than his own. This time he found one from Port Ellen which I got my eager hands on. Signatory, presentation needless, ends the session with another fine specimen.

Port Ellen 25yo 1978/2004 (50%, DL OMC, REF657, 604 Bts.)
Nose: Toffee & citrus. Kind peat and oily in a slightly winey manner if that makes sense.
Moderately tough with clear malty influence.
Palate: a much more brutal smoke appears. The mouthfeel is strong and peppery.
Dry smoke with some woody tones also in the aftertaste. Nice but not overly so, 87 points.

Port Ellen 23yo 1983/2006 (50%, DL OMC, 716 Bts.)
Nose: More classic “sour” peat a la Islay here with a some dryish whiffs of smoke.
Some pears  and licorice but also quite round with some leathery tones and dried figs perhaps? Iodine also.
Palate: Oily mouthfeel, more fruit than only pears appears. The smoke goes into the background and the taste is long and round in a very pleasant way. The finish turns smokier, tobacco appears and white peppers again. Quite nice indeed as opposed to what I thought the first time I sampled this one some time ago, obviously I failed to give it enough time back then, now it’s at a solid 89 points.

Port Ellen 25yo 1980/2006 (50%, DL OMC, DL Ref#669, 201 Bts.)
Nose: This one is tougher with a clear fresh influence of iodine which makes it quite the dry one.
Then a compote of fruits suddenly appear and we’re talking tangerines, citrus and apricots.
My mind wanders to cedar tree, vanilla and perhaps even some hay. Hm, a little sulphur too? Incredibly complex and so nice.
Palate: Big fruit and smoke also on. Very concentrated tastes which is not so long but while it lasts it’s pure pleasure. 91 points.

Port Ellen 1979/2006 (53%, The Golden Cask, C#7983, 280 Bts.)
Nose: Very light and even a little watery compared to it’s opponents.
But there are elegant tones of toffee, leather, oranges and smoke.
Palate: The taste has more oomph with smoke and an oily pleasant fruityness.
At the end it shows evidence of oak and a slight hint of perfume. A nice dram indeed but not world class. Around 88 points.

Port Ellen 26yo 1979/2005 (50%, DL OMC, C#2014, 568 Bts.)
Nose: Some butterscotch, oily and quite a lot of fruity sweetness. Cedar tree? Relatively light, earthy and just a tad peaty.
Palate: Nice fruityness, almost of the exotic kind. Not very Port Ellenish at all but enjoyable indeed.
There is smoke also but it’s a little too much on the elegant and short side to score higher than 89 points.

Port Ellen 27yo 1978/2006 (51%, Glen Denny, C#607, 372 Bts.)
Nose: This one is among the toughest ones on the flight. Feels almost young.
Quite big “sour” peatyness, coastal but with a rather simple maltyness.
Palate: The taste is also rough with peat and only a little smoke.
Some buttery, but the malt domination continues and to me it feels quite simple and not really on par.
83 points but many would disagree I suspect.

Port Ellen 18yo 1982/2001 (50%, DL OMC, Sherry, 777 Bts.)
Nose: Crazy sherry influence. Loads of raisin, figs and dates. But a little astringent at the same time.
Under the sherry there’s other kinds of fruit (pear?) and some peat although most is swallowed but the sherry.
Palate: Tastewise it’s much more balanced, the sherry steps back and it turns real tasty with smoke and dried fruits sweetness.
Yum! Lasts quite a while with peppery tobacco and an oaky note. 90 points.

Port Ellen 21yo 1978/2000 (50%, DL OMC, 342 Bts.)
Nose: This one is quite perfumy, apples, some pears, light almost floral. Quite refreshing and a little malty too.
Palate: The taste is dominated by maltyness and not much more. Simple and at the end a little sour and cooked vegetables?
A nice nose but the taste drags it down to a slightly disappointing 84 points.

Port Ellen 23yo 1978/2002 (59%, Signatory, butt #5268, 564 Bts.)
Nose: Quite tough, strong smoke. Slightly uncut but with time milk chocolate, pears, vanilla, lime, honey and malt arrives.
Complex, tough and awesome.
Palate: Taste is at first quite simple with lots of malt.
After water and time it opens up and the fruit hinted at from the nose appears (pears & lime) with vanilla.
Spicey but tastewise not really Port Ellenish perhaps, but so nice. 91 points.

Port Ellen 22y 1983/2005 (46%, McGibbons Provenance, C#2102)
Nose: Immature young apples and rather tough smoke. Some tar, malt and (pleasant) viola. A little on the sour side.
Palate: Taste is refreshing, light, nice smokyness, tasty. Very drinkable but perhaps a little too light? 87 points.

Port Ellen 24yo 1982/2006 (60.4’%, Bladnoch, butt#2461, 644 Bts.)
Nose: One (very) dry smoky, tarry piece of work. Can’t find much peat, it’s really the dark coughy kind of smokiness here.
Damn it’s dry. Dried sea-weed on the shores next by a forest fire? Hm. Intriguing.
After water it turns more sour a’ la Islay, the peat arrives. Also some malty sweetness which was not there at all before shows up.
Palate: Tastewise it’s fruiter than expected, intimately interwined with the dryish smoke. Nice. 88 points.

There seems to some traits that can be found in most of the Port Ellens sampled here. Many have elegant peaty tones and are not quite as offensive as one could’ve thought. Fruit is often there, yet they are most often quite dry and “clean”. Coastal influence is strong, iodine is around, also seaweed and licorice. Leather, not seldom sulphur, also tobacco and “old” notes are around at times. Port Ellen delivers, but not necessarily every time. Unless we’re talking the annual releases, those are safe bets but require loads of patience.