Dec 092017

Sometimes your friends just blow you away, and that’s what happened when I opened a package of samples I got from a dear friend from Finland, whom we’ll call Mr. M. There were some really beautiful drams there, some of which I already reviewed. This one, however, I had a hard time with, and didn’t publish my notes at the time of the tasting.

The Eastern Highlands village of Brechin was home to two distilleries, one of which is still operational: North Port and Glencadam. The distillery was established in 1820 by the Guthrie brothers (well, I should say Guthrie brothers, without the “the”, as there were 13 of them, but only three were involved in the distillery) and was named Townhead Distillery. The distillery is named for the north gate in the medieval village wall, which lay nearby. After a century of family ownership, North Port was sold to DCL, and was mothballed intermittently until it was closed in the first wave of distillery closings in the 1980s whisky loch.

Barnard has a rather brief description of the distillery in his 1877 seminal tome:

“The Distillery was built in the year 1820. Previous to its erection, Brechin and the neighbouring towns were supplied with Whisky made in the northern Grampians by smugglers, who carried it from thence in kegs slung across the backs of their ponies. The originators of the firm were Messrs. David, John, and Alexander Guthrie, brothers of the late eminent divine Dr. Thomas Guthrie, and the present proprietors are descendants of the same family.

The Whisky is Highland Malt, and the water used in its manufacture is conveyed in pipes from the Grampian Mountains, and the peats employed in drying the malt come from the same source. The district around Brechin being highly cultivated, barley of the finest quality is grown and carted by the farmers into the lofts of the Distillery, where nothing but the very best barley is malted. The annual output is 100,000 gallons.

Though the buildings of the Still House and Malt Barns are old the internal arrangements are of modern description, and in every case where machinery can be used in place of manual labour advantage is taken.

The spirit is distilled in the old-fashioned Pot Stills and condensed in Worm laid out in the bed of the Den Burn which runs through the works. The warehouses for the storing of Spirits are as fine as any in the north. One, built a few years ago, and which contains 100,000 gallons, is 200 feet long by feet road.“ 

(Alfred Barnard. The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. London, 1887.)

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All that’s left today is the facade of what used to be the office, and it’s no longer a Safeway, it’s a Co-Op now, and the street name, Distillery Rd.


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North Port/Brechin 1975, 26 Years Old, Signatory Silent Stills, Cask 2960 Distilled 29.8.1975, Bottled 3.9.2001, 211 Bottles (55.6% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, slow legs.

Nose: Very slow to open and reluctant to play ball. Honey and a bit of dough, hint of an oily perfume and a maritime note and a sour hint. There’s something old on the nose, though not old books or leather, maybe old stale smoke. Water brings out a bit more of the honey and a better whiff of the sea.

Palate: Harsh peppery spice and some peat. Dry and very full bodied. Somewhat malty. This is a harsh whisky.

Linger: Leaves some spice and dryness, and a drop of residual sweetness. The dryness on the tongue stays for a long time.


I was waiting for this for a long time. Obviously, you can’t really form an opinion on a distillery from a single cask tasted, but I had a bit of a hard time with this one. It’s a harsh dram, that demands that you be willing to work with a dram that isn’t here to ‘play nice’.

I have since tasted another North Port, also from Signatory, 1976 cask 3887 which was a somewhat easier drink.

Thanks to Mr. M. for this piece of history!

Sep 252015

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:

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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! 

Sep 092015

WOW, this 300th post kind of sneaked up on me. In my mind, I was somewhere past 200 posts in this blog, sharing the more interesting parts of my whisky journey. But the 200th post was published on February 14th, 2015 (we tasted the Aultmore 21), and here we are at another milestone.

Again, let me thank you for sharing this journey with me. I love your feedback, comments and emails, and really look forward to hearing your thoughts, opinions and comments through any media. Granted, the journey is personal, but we’re all on the same trail.

This is how The Simpsons commemorated their 300th episode! Photo Credit:

This is how The Simpsons commemorated their 300th episode!
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I have accumulated eight tastings of Port Ellen upon which I have yet to write, and will use this festive opportunity to go share them. This series will take us through the Jewish new year five day weekend beginning this Friday, and give us time for one more tasting flight before I travel to Scotland and London for the annual Whisky Show.

This is a 1978 Signatory Vintage bottling. 1978 was also popular with the official Special Releases, as four of the 14 official releases are of this vintage. This Port Ellen is one of the most challenging drams I’ve had, as it fights you on every turn. It’s very closed and unyielding, and takes quite a bit of water and time until it “plays ball”. When it does, it’s pretty nice, but even then there’s something reluctant about it. It seems like this one would require a lot more than a dram to fall in love with, or even to develop a serious relationship with.


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Signatory Vintage 1978 Port Ellen, 23 Years Old, Distilled 5.9.1978, Bottled 8.2.2002, Refill Sherry Butt 5268, Yielding 564 Bottles (59% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, with very thin and slow forming legs running reluctantly down the glass.

Nose: Not very enticing at first. Some mild wet peat, distant sweetness and vinegar with some wood spice. The nose is very shy and needs water.
Water brings out a little more of the sherry sweetness with pepper, cinnamon, a distant baking pound cake and peat. The whisky is now borderline piney. I set the glass aside (covered) for about a twenty minutes, at which point I let out a big Richard Paterson “haloooooo”: Now the peat and sherry take center stage with faint cereals in the background.

Palate: Fizzy peat, bitter citrus, hints of Christmas cake, faint notes of sherry with a peppery punch and a hint of rosemary.

Linger: Pepper in the back of the throat, bitterness in the mouth with a tiny hint of sweetness and quite a bit of dry tartness on the insides of the cheeks. The linger is not overly long.


This is one that will challenge you at every turn. At start, you’ll struggle to get anything beyond the uninviting closed nose and it takes a lot of coaxing to get the dram to open. Even when it does, it does so reluctantly to reveal a lot of complexity and different layers. Do not pour if you don’t have a solid hour to spend with it….

This Port Ellen was shared with me by my friend and Malt and Oak guest blogger Henrik, Kippis!!

Jan 132015

One of the really fun things about regularly exchanging whisky samples with friends, is the ability to get to some bottlings deep in their collections, those that are no longer available on the market, one-off single casks. In case you snoozed while that very limited supply was sold, it’s gone.

A curious Clynelish bottled in 2001 came in the last exchange with my friend Torben. This is a 12 year old Clynelish matured in a South African sherry butt. Not having heard of whisky in South African sherry butts (or of South African sherry), I was intrigued!

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It turns out that South Africa has a serious fortified wine industry (which would make sense, as they have a serious wine industry), and Signatory sourced several casks of which I now know of four bottlings (at 43%, 56%, 58.7% and 59.9% – the one I have here to review), and there have also been bottlings of Mannochmore by signatory in similar casks.

This one is really interesting. This isn’t Oloroso or PX style sherry, rather more of a Fino style cask with the full body of the spirit not only waxy, but oily. There’s also American oak there at work…


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Signatory Clynelish 1989, Distilled 17.5.1989, Matured in a South African Sherry Butt #3240 and Bottled on 24.11.2001, Yield 672 Bottles (58.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, very slow rolling small droplets.

Nose: Dusty and balsamic, Fino sherry like. Waxy and oily, heavy spirit on the nose, very coastal without being salty. A layer of honey and dried fruit reveals itself in a combination not in the “regular” profile of a sherry butt. Water brings out more of the sour-ish sherry and makes the honey a lot more pronounced.

Palate: Citrus and sultanas soaked in water, sharp cinnamon (like the concentrate you find in fireball) and pepper with honey. Water reveals a lot of the pepper making it extremely spicy.

Linger: Spices in the back of the throat, some citrus tangyness on the tongue in a medium finish.


This is an interesting dram, and I’d be really happy to try it after a glass of that South African sherry. The oily note is interesting as it usually gets lost in sherry casks. All in all, this is a fun dram. I wonder what it would be like with another 6 years on it….

Thanks Torben, for having such interesting stuff and for sharing!