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I’ve been sitting on these tasting notes for a few months now. Apart from the fact that I’m a lazy git I genuinely wasn’t quite sure how to put pen to paper. I mean how are you realistically supposed to write a review about five Port Ellens? That’s right, FIVE of them. At the same time. Sprung on us as a surprise tasting on a rainy Islay afternoon.
By now I’m sure you know of my short hop over to the peaty island a couple of months ago to meet up with some friends from the other side of the world. To say the five of us made some crazy memories is an understatement.
Distillery visits, NFL picks, bouts of arm wrestling, making friends, discovering Punk IPA, drinking 50 year old Lagavulin, scrambling up slippery ruins to gaze out over the Straits of Moyle, playing Guess The Malt with Jackie from Ardbeg – it’s hard to imagine we managed all of this in four days.
Yet none of that compares to one miserable afternoon we spent shut indoors thanks to a torrential downpour and gale force winds. Our planned journey to Jura on the day was aborted when we realised we couldn’t even walk without the wind knocking us off our feet so crossing over on a ferry was out of the question.
However, my buddy Curt Robinson had better plans for us miserable louts. He had, extremely generously may I add, carried with him all the way from Canada a number of Port Ellen samples for an occasion such as this. I mean it was Islay – we were bound to get rained in at some point, right?
So there we were, in our cottage in Bowmore, excitedly sat around the table, me with my note pad in hand, staring with gleaming eyes at this buffet of awesomeness.
We tasted them Right to Left with each one nominating a different favourite. I thought of rating each one but there’s really no need. They were all fantastic and there’s no point in splitting hairs.
1. Port Ellen 24 Years Old Dewar Rattray Cask Collection ABV 60.6% Distilled : 13.10.1982 Bottled : 17.09.2007
Nose: Citrus. Green lime. Lemons. Some vegetal notes. Green herbs. I like the barley sugars here. Crisp. Dry hay. White pepper. Smells quite sweet. Palate: Big! Thank you 60.6%! Quite spicy. Oily. Buttery. Dries mid-palate. Soft smoke. That barley sugar I got on the nose. The greens are back. Unspecified vegetation. Cereal notes. Finish: Very long. Drying. Oaky.
2. Port Ellen 5th Special Release 25 Years Old ABV 57.4% Distilled : 1979 Bottled : 2005
Nose: Very oily. The smoke is quite faint. Just a year older than the Rattray but has an added complexity. Quite fruity. Soft melon. Sweet candy. Oranges. Similar unspecified greens. Quite earthy now. Damp dunnage. But in a good way. Pink grapefruit. Vanilla. Palate: Drying. Again quite big. Settles down to a more fruity profile. Melons. Tropical fruits. Vanilla custard. Finish: Long. Oaky.
3. Port Ellen 6th Special Release 27 Years Old ABV 54.2% Distilled : 1978 Bottled : 2006
Nose: Hmmmm. Immediately seems better balanced than the first two. Which is saying a lot since they were pretty top notch. The mix of fruits and smoke is perfect. Tangy oranges. Sweet lemon candy. Lime. Tangerines. A very citrusy notes counter-balanced by the smoke. Beautiful. Palate: Sweet as well. Oaky. But a good oak. Again the balance here is lovely. The circus comes screaming through. Limes. Lemons. Oranges. Now red berries. The smoke is understated but apparent. Oily. Finish: Long. Quite magnificent if you ask me. Dry. Love it!
4. Port Ellen 8th Special Release 29 Years Old ABV 55.3% Distilled : 1978 Bottled : 2008
Nose: Not as big as the first three. A little mellow if you ask me. This one has more dark chocolate. Oily. Butter. The smoke is peaty. But mildly so. The familiar citrus overtones but now with a touch of pineapples. And the tiniest of oak. Palate: So sweet. Sweeter than all the others. Smoke. Oak. Quite dry. Sweet lemons. Fruity. Hint of cinnamon. Maybe. This one has big flavours but certainly not as complex as the 5th Release. Finish: Medium. Dry. Toasted barley. Oak.
5. Port Ellen 9th Special Release 30 Years Old ABV 57.7% Distilled : 1979 Bottled : 2009
Nose: Quite tangy. Sour candy. Pink grapefruit. Quite sweet. Faint smoke. Sweet barley sugar – quite a common thread here. Tropical fruits. Red liquorice. The same generic greens. And, of course, the citrus. Lemons. Lime. Palate: Very drying. The oak is king here. Sweet. Lemon. Limes. Sweet candy. Herbaceous. Smoke. Vanilla custard. Finish: Long. Sweet.
Overall Comments: There’s nothing much to say here other than God, damn what a rush! Miserable afternoon turned into one heck of a tasting proving once and for all that whisky will solve any problem. All the whiskies were quite scrumptious but my pick of the session was the 6th Release. That one just worked for me. Each one of us had a personal favourite which, again, is another thing that never fails to amuse me. Another memorable memory to add to my growing list of Special Islay Moments.