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Port Ellen 1979 30 Year Old 9th Release (2009)

Average score from 2 reviews and 2 ratings 91

Port Ellen 1979 30 Year Old 9th Release (2009)

Product details

  • Brand: Port Ellen
  • Bottler: Distillery Bottling
  • ABV: 57.7%
  • Age: 30 year old
  • Vintage: 1979
  • Bottled: 2009

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Port Ellen 1979 30 Year Old 9th Release (2009)

This is a “what might have been” kind of review. This is a review of a 30mL sample of a Port Ellen official bottling. The back story: An actual bottle of this 9th release (30 year old) Port Ellen sat at a store near my sister’s house for $369.99 for several years. They also had a bottle of the 8th release. I visited them on two occasions. Both times I was sorely tempted to purchase it . . . both times I passed. I went home and researched both to see which I might be more likely to enjoy. I had never had a Port Ellen before, and I really didn’t have the money to blow on either - let alone both – or waste on something I didn’t like. Finally, I reached a place of having the money and the confidence to risk it. I determined from extensive research of other reviewers’ opinions that the 9th release was THE official bottling of Port Ellen I was most likely to enjoy. On my next trip I stopped in to buy it . . . and behold . . . it was gone (along with the 8th release). My reaction was a bit of disappointment mingled with a healthy dose of cosmic fatalism: “it wasn’t meant to be.”

A few months later the option to buy a 30mL sample from Master of Malt came up. And for the price of an average bottle of whisky I got to taste this Port Ellen. I decided to try it just so I could “know” and put my mind to rest from eternally wondering “what if” about this bottle. After all, I had put in hours of researching all the reviews of all the official releases of Port Ellen. I had a spreadsheet comparing 9 different “experts/bloggers” (from Jim Murray to Whisky Fun to LA Whisky, to John Hansel to several other well know whisky bloggers). And I “KNEW” that if there was any Port Ellen I was going to like . . . it was the 9th release at 30 years of age. I tasted it alongside three other scotches for comparison: Big Peat (to see if I could tease out the Port Ellen in that vatting), Port Ellen 26yo 1983 Provenance, and Coal Ila 12yo (a bottle I own and am very familiar with – and the distillery Diageo kept instead of Port Ellen). Here is what I found out.

Nose: Starting off musty; I’ll give it time. After a few minutes (15min?) with the 26yo . . . WOW what a shock. I am almost tempted to think it is bourbon! Very sweet malt seems to dominate the nose. There is brown sugar, candied apples, and caramel. It really has me thinking of young bourbon. I’ll give it some more time (15 min more) . . . Nope, still all about the bourbon notes: charred oak, vanilla, and sweet sour mash. With some real hunting I am getting some peat and smoke. This is close to the Caol Ila in tone; higher then the Port Ellen 26yo. Seriously! A bourbon is in my scotch! The apples, the vanilla . . . it is almost infuriating. I have spent well over an hour with this nose (no tasting) and all I get are bourbon-esque flavors. Now that I have tasted it I am picking up on the medicinal notes, iodine, and some peat. But those are only hints in the background.
With water: apples, pears, vanilla, a little bit of coal and some peat. It seems quite deep and takes water really well.

Taste: Sweet malt, butter, lobster, apples, lemon, oak, peat, and salt. A wonderfully full and complex mouth feel.

Finish: Big pepper, spice, and hot pepper flakes. This is one big wave of spice and peat. It leaves a wake of salt, peppercorn, cayenne, and iodine. This is more of a medium long finish then a typical “long” finish.

Complexity, Balance: I’ll give it points for complexity, but not for balance. Each part: nose, taste, and finish – seemed to be coming from a completely different planet. Each part was nice in its own way, but not well balanced in my book. However, the depth of complexity is nice and lovely.

Aesthetic experience: This is a classic 30yo from Port Ellen. What is not to love? It is that classic bottle from Diageo with a classic simple label. In my heart it is a top 5 bottle of scotch. I just hate the price.

Conclusion: For me this dram is the quintessential reason of why I dislike sample reviews. I certainly got a snap shot of this whisky. And I didn’t like it. Oh, it was fine and all. But I wouldn’t buy a bottle at $80 let alone the near $1,000 they are going for online. Was it me? Probably. I really don’t think I was “dialed” into the frequency of this dram. I was on point with Big Peat and Caol Ila (both which scored in my typical range for them) . . . but in comparison this Port Ellen didn’t do well. I liked the 26yo from Douglas Laing much better. Does Port Ellen really smell like bourbon? It did for me on this occasion. If I had my own bottle maybe another night I would have tuned into to a totally different layer of this malt. As it is I can only give you my honest experience of this one time sample – for what little it is worth.

My take away - no regret about not buying this bottle. I am a drinker not a prospector. Glad I tried it. I will most likely never buy a bottle of Port Ellen. It just isn't my style of Islay. If you love it take comfort in knowing there is one less malt-head after your Port Ellen.

I like to think of it more as Metaphysical Angst ;)

Points well made.

And I totally agree: anything near $400 needs to cause bodily ascension (lovely reference to the 7th Heaven by the the way).

Was this representative? Who knows. I never will. It was enough of a snap shot for me. There simply isn't enough there in my "flavor profile range" to cause me to cause any "angst" of wonder. To hear Diageo talk about it Port Ellen and Caol Ila were very similar. Port Ellen was more "malty" while Caol Ila was more "oily." One can imagine that Diageo chose to invest in Caol Ila because it was more helpful in the Johnnie Walker range then Port Ellen. I can totally imagine that. Port Ellen was so very malty. The issue is that there are tons of other distilleries out there that can add that malty note to the Walker range.

The loss of Port Ellen seems (on an intellectual level) to be the loss of a distinctive distillery that was capable of producing a whisky that created a natural balance of malt and peat all on its own.

I'm just glad Diageo kept Lagavulin . . .

Bigger whisky budget for future conundrums? Absolutely. I'm working on it!

Holy Crap, Professor! The epistemological Angst of it all! Well, you could always wonder whether it was an unrepresentative sample you reviewed, and maybe that Port Ellen 30 YO 9th release was actually worth the $ 370 plus tax. For me $ 400 for a whisky requires production upon tasting of it of bodily ascension unto the 7th Heaven.

You and I will just have to have a bigger whisky budget to try to reconcile all of these unknowns and conundrums.


This 9th release from 2009 was one of the last official Port Ellen that was released with a somewhat normal price tag at the start. But that does not mean you can still find it at said price, of course. I will not start a debate on whether or not it is worth the 800 EUR it commands today, but I am quite sure it is pretty good.

The nose shows all the classic maritime traits, but it is sweeter on the palate than its predecessor (which is an advantage). Peach, apricots, juicy pears. Pine seeds and menthol. Medicinal cabinet. Sweet peat with light peppers. A bit farmy. Sheep stable? Then the lemons kick in. Very good nose.

The attack is less powerful than anticipated and surprisingly sweet. Again that wonderful balance between sweet fruit, salt and smoke. Truckload of liquorice. Peach and apricots. Sweet peat. Drying. Enticing.

Great long and dry finish on salted lime. What? Yep. And it is outstanding.

Big competitor for the 7th Release, which I still find to be the best. Make that legendary. But it comes very close. Yes, I gave it the same score. Surely you do not expect me to start scoring in decimals?

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