Bought: Whisky Auction, 5th October 2016
85/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
81/100 – Malt Maniacs (average from 4 maniac votes)
It seems fitting that my 600th Whisky Den post is about the iconic Port Ellen, arguably the most famous closed distillery of them all. Production stopped in 1983 and Diageo now own the remaining stock. The maltings from the old Port Ellen buildings still exists and continues to supply the other Islay distilleries to this day.
Whiskybase members have added 996 different releases of Port Ellen to their database. 26 of these are the distillery releases by Diageo, the rest are independent bottlings with the top 3 being: Douglas Laing (166 bottlings), Signatory (154 bottlings) and Gordon & MacPhail (90 bottlings).
My miniature of Port Ellen is by Signatory and scores a very respectable 85/100 on Whiskybase albeit from 1 vote. The bigger bottle, which is effectively the same whisky (listed here on Whiskybase) scores 84.67/100 from 3 votes. One member leaves the comment “tropical, juicy citrus-y starfruit with coconut oil. Touch of pungent fermenting malt. Refine smokes building up on palate gradually and sticky spicy oil remains. Rather short finish with ginger hot and ash smokes take over at the tail.”
81/100 on Malt Maniacs is a good score from them. One of the maniacs, Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun, gives the score of 83/100 and the following tasting notes:
Nose: Fresh, spirity, feinty and peaty. Smoke, cereals, rubber.
Mouth: Peaty, feinty and peppery… that’s more or less all.
Finish: Rather long but really lacks complexity.
Here is a video of the Port Ellen maltings, Islay, by Whisky.com (Feb 2016):
Bought: Master of Malt, 3rd August 2016
96/100 – Whisky Bible 2011
8.5/100 – Jo from Whisky Wednesday (video below)
84.83/100 – Whiskybase (average from 25 member votes)
Big Peat first appeared in the Whisky Bible in 2011 with a fantastic score of 96/100. In the latest edition batch 30 scores 92/100 and batch 31 scores 90.5/100, which means quality has slipped a little (according to the author) but not by much. Unfortunately my 20cl bottle doesn’t have a batch number on it but according to Whiskybase this quarter bottle first appeared in 2009. I’m hoping my version dates back to that time and the epic 96/100. The author concludes with “had the Caol Ila been reduces slightly, and with it the oils, this might well have been World Whisky of the Year”. Praise indeed.
Big Peat is a vatting together of Islay single malts. Douglas Laing who make Big Peat describe it as “Caol Ila spirit bringing sweetness, Bowmore the perfect balance, Ardbeg the medicinal, earthy quality and Port Ellen, a degree of elegance”. But as the price of Port Ellen rises you have to think there’s very little going into the Big Peat mix. I bet I won’t be able to identify it. Nevertheless Big Peat is a classic of its time and a dram that every whisky enthusiast should try eventually.
20cl tasting notes provided on Whiskybase:
Nose: Earthy, mossy and briney. That smoked kipper quality. Some ripe fruits lurk.
Taste: The smoke coats and fills the mouth. A decent oak roasted salmon oiliness. Leaves a little salt as well.
Finish: Long with plenty of smoke and sweet honey.
Here’s Jo from Whisky Wednesday with his review on You Tube (June 2015):
Posted in Big Peat
Tagged 20cl, 46%, Ardbeg, Big Peat, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Douglas Laing & Co Ltd, Islay, Master of Malt, NAS, Port Ellen, Port Ellen (closed 1983), Vatted Malt
Bought: Whisky Galore, 7th August 2015
94/100 – Whisky Bible 2008
90/100 – Malt Maniacs (average from 8 member votes)
91.89/100 – Whiskybase (average from 68 member votes)
No, this is only a 20cl rather than 70cl of this rare Port Ellen. Nevertheless it’s one of the most expensive whiskies in my collection. I felt I had to get an example from this legendary distillery before even a miniature cost the same price as a Manchester United season ticket (and just as hard to acquire!). At the time of writing this you’d do well to buy a 5cl of Port Ellen at auction for under £50. Even if you acquire one, will you be able to bring yourself to drink it at the price you paid?
I had to go back to the Whisky Bible 2008 to find Jim Murray’s review for this Port Ellen as release 6 came out in 2006. 94/100 classifies this dram as a “superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to live”. Hardly surprising for a distillery closed in 1983, which is now considered the connoisseur’s choice. So intimidated am I by this whisky that I wouldn’t dream of drinking any unless I felt my taste buds were finely tuned and having an exceptionally good day. Otherwise I’d feel I was wasting it.
I can only find 8 of the 14 releases likely to be covered by the Whisky Bibles in my possession and Jim Murray only scores the 4th release higher than the 6th with a score of 95/100. For my bottle he says of the taste “sweet delivery: the peat alternates with the soft Demerara for custody of the middle ground; spices abound” and summarises with “a luxurious malt and worth an hour of anybody’s valuable time.” Don’t worry Jim I have no intension of slugging it back with a dash of coke and a few ice cubes!
The Malt Maniacs (a group of very experienced whisky drinkers) provide ratings for the first 12 releases. 90/100 is slightly above average but equal with releases 2, 5, 7 and 12. Only 3 releases score higher – 11th (91/100), 9th (92/100) and 10th (93/100). On Whiskybase, 92/100 is very much the par score across all the releases but the 10th, 11th and 12th releases go up to 93/100. These are older whiskies, over 30 years, and in the video below by Donald Renwick (distillery manager at Royal Lochnagar) he mentions how well Port Ellen matures. He knew people who worked at the distillery and back then the spirit they produced wasn’t highly regarded. It’s sad that the world only found out how good old single malt from Port Ellen could be 20+ years after it closed. Bring the distillery back! And make it cheaper!