Like Brora, Port Ellen was only operational for 15-16 years before being finally closed in 1983. For Brora, it was simply making the old Clynelish distillery operational again as a temporary measure to make peated whisky while Islay was suffering from a drought. Port Ellen had been, before two more still were added in 1966, mothballed for almost 40 years, not having produced whisky since 1929, shortly after being acquired by DCL.
While alive, Port Ellen distillery was never more than a stopgap and afterthought for DCL/UD/Diageo, and came of interest only posthumously. As you could have told from the previous posts in this series, I think that, in general, Port Ellen is somewhat overrated and had it not been closed, it would have just been another of the Diageo workhorse distilleries swallowed into the Johnny Walker behemoth, just another Caol Ila.
This does not mean, in any way, that I’d turn down a dram of Port Ellen or that I’ll do any less footwork to sample expressions, just that I think that the hype is somewhat out of proportion.
But there is a real exception to my general disenchantment: sherry casks, and in particular first fills. In those, the Port Ellen spirit shines, and the expression reviewed today is clearly one of those. It shines brightly!
This Signatory Vintage is a 1982 that was matured for 25 years in a first fill sherry butt, presented at full cask strength of 58%. Despite it’s potency, it needs no water, and its full bodied sweetness is a delight to all senses. So on to the tasting:
Signatory Vintage 1982 Port Ellen, Distilled 11.11.1982, Bottled 30.11.2007 from Sherry Butt 2844, Yield 526 Bottles (58% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Dark bronze, thick legs with a residual ring.
Nose: Dried fruit and smoke, with notes of coffee, dark chocolate, dried apricots and some smoke in the background. This one could fool you as a Benromach. The sherry influence here is really strong. The nose goes dry and salty with some leather joining in after a drop or two of water.
Palate: Thick and viscous with treacle, tobacco, peat. This is very drinkable without water despite the high ABV. Some ash, warm wood spices, oak, wood fire and smoke. This dram is very meaty and robust.
Linger: Sweet on the tongue, smoky and dry. Ash remains on the tongue. The smoky sweetness goes on and on for a really long time.
This is, by far, the best Port Ellen I’ve had. Beefy, thick, complex and highly satisfying, this is a “smoky Mortlach”. Wow, what a cracking dram!
Slainte Yori, Thanks for sharing this beauty!