Old & Rare 2020: Port Ellen Trio

Port EllenIt’s 2020, the year in which Diageo announced [in October 2017] that the Port Ellen distillery would reopen. No one really believed that now did they? Let’s hope it’s next year. Further reading: thedrinksbusiness.com. Until then, let’s go back in time.


Port Ellen 1979 13yo Douglas Murdoch 40% WB89.25[6] WF91

I’ve never had a Douglas Murdoch bottling before. Whiskybase tells me they bottled three PE’s, one Ledaig and a handful of [mainly Murdoch’s Perfection] blends, many with age statements. Further reading, as ever, can be found at SW.

  • N: In short: a beautifully sculpted nose that’s pleasing from the off.

Port Ellen 1979 13yo Douglas Murdoch 40%.jpeg

In detail: savoury < sweet, biscuit=sponge dry lemon-fruit-sweet with a pinch or two of saltiness [or one clean lugworm perhaps], a hint of baking soda, suggestions of tarragon and sweetened kelp & ginger references that wouldn’t appear out of place in a bento box. Then there’s the Indian tea shop, a little cigarette ash, a [Caroni-light] rum thing going on, and something from the world of cachaca – balsa maybe or one of those unfamiliar Brazilian trees, well unfamiliar to me. Then I pick up on a medicinal layer that initially reminds me of bourbon before re-calibrate my focus onto the Islay-ness of this wonderful young expression.

  • T: Oh lovely, lov-e-ly! Reminds me somewhat of Ardbeg 10, but older versions, mixed with 1980’s Laphroaig 10 and a subtle drop or two of older/mature Balblair in the mix. Slows and thickens, becoming like fruity ashy runny honey that cordially runs and runs.
  • F: Still with body and lightness, we see an effortlessly long/stretched out ambrosia-like sweet ashy finish with an ashtray note at the death, but in a suspended kind of way.
  • C: Some appetiser! I love the subtle ones. Make sure you don’t miss them over all the noisier malts.

Scores 92 points


Suitably, up next is an 11yo at higher strength from Wilson & Morgan.

I have a W&M Port Ellen in my collection, cask #6769 [WF93]. It was the first bottle I bought at whiskyantique.com and it was the most expensive bottle I had ever bought, at the time. I had actually ordered cask #6778. When I asked them what had happened, they replied ‘[we],… keep this one because is the famous port ellen wilson and morgan‘. I didn’t buy from them again for years. As it turns out, they might have done me a favour. Serge writes about cask #6778 [WF91] ‘A very good Port Ellen, even if Wilson & Morgan’s cask #6769 was even better‘.

Port Ellen 11yo W&M Barrel Selection 46% WB91.33[3] WF92

Port Ellen 11yo W&M Barrel Selection 46%.jpeg

  • N: This is some serious whisky that’s going to give the Douglas Murdoch a run for its money. Compared to the instantly convivial Murdoch 13yo, this 11yo has a strong oily density to it, the abv hike playing a role in distinguishing this from our stunning appetiser. Not to say this isn’t also an instant delight. In fact, it’s right up my street with its moody, slightly cagey profile. With a clean tannic [raw, virgin] cooking oil base with some brininess comes the citrus quality which is again, complex and dense and not easily penetrated right away. Breaking through its harder exterior I discover a malt with a fresh and dynamic peat-entwined salty masticated pithy < citrus juice profile.
  • T: I found this one hard to put into words. Being so involved and rather spellbinding, I made a lot of ‘dad noises’ instead. Whilst offering a bit of everything from whisky’s rich palate, this PE possesses all of the usual/expected Port Ellen traits and yet the sum of those parts transport me away from descriptors towards an emotional engagement. And boy what a chew! – chew and a half.
  • F: Syrupy bitter lemon and plenty of peat into cigarette ash [< Murdoch], and plenty more bits and pieces besides.
  • C: From an early 1980’s distillate that saw only 11 years in wood [and another two+ decades in glass], this is some result. The same super-high score as the Murdoch, for very different reasons.

Scores 92 points


Port Ellen 1979/2007 28yo Ob. 7th release [btl #4314/5274] 54.7% WB92.17[213] WF92 WM90[9]

To think I bought a 20cl bottle of this from TWE in September 2013 for £175. It came in the 2007 Islay Collection pack that included Caol Ila’s 12 & 18 and Lagavulin’s 12 & 16. Still unopened, let’s see what I have to forward to, thanks to another generous 1cl sample pour from Tomislav. There must be 2.5cl here!

Port Ellen 1979:2007 28yo Ob. 7th release 54.7%.jpeg

  • N: Another significant abv hike initially makes this one more austere than the previous pair. Profile-wise, we’ve some more [unheated] cooking oils but this one is more grassy, patisserie-pastry-like and bready with a [white] rum-like burnt toast note. Add to this dried lemon rind grated over a soft peach and accompanied by lemon confectionery pieces, seasoned with a half-turn of black pepper and the obligatory [table] saltiness [of course], all cleverly wrapped with up with pieces of straw. Need I go on? Should I? No! Let’s see how things translate on the palate.
  • T: Oh, how nice to have stepped up the abv gears. It’s rather intense flavour-wise with a whole gamut of descriptors and flavours that run in all at once. Compared to the 11yo & 13yo’s we’ve a more condensed whisky that talks of those oak-induced sugars that only come with age, great age. Then there’s a liquorice-y peppery > harissa-like heat as this one grows,…
  • F: ,… and expands and becomes more and more talkative. With offerings aplenty, the trajectory will eventually bring us towards an ashy < candid peat smoke coastal lemony barley-faithful sweeter [clotted creamy > vanilla] oak-aged finish, all super integrated, reflective,… I’ll stop there.
  • C: At an age where this whisky just beginning to diverge and meld into the tree of all spirits, this is a big colourful malt that would make the Wee Beastie run and hide. A tremendous whisky that on another day in different circumstances, with a different crowd… Emotionally I’m hankering after the previous two.

Scores 91 points





Port Ellen front

2 thoughts on “Old & Rare 2020: Port Ellen Trio

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