Review – Pontificating Upon a Pair of Port Ellen

There are few distilleries that even although silent whose names carry some major weight. Brora and Malt Mill are excellent examples of this phenomenon. Port Ellen is another.

The imminent revival of this Islay legend (see here for a little more on this) has put it into a slightly sharper focus with many speculating about how the arrival of the ‘new’ Port Ellen and it’s forthcoming future releases will impact upon the legacy of the sleeping Islay giant.

Personally I believe that this is a great chance to look back upon a bygone age, take information from the past and create a modern interpretation (I’ll admit to being a little bit more excited about Brora’s reopening as there is much more of the original equipment still in situ) My hope is that both of these reopenings are met with an open mind in relation to experimenting with fermentation times, barley varietals and yeast strains that have not been used since both were mothballed.

But that is a discussion for another day.

It is not everyday that you get to sample a Port Ellen, let alone a 40 year old expression so the element of good fortune that has led me to sitting down here with two separate expressions of this calibre is not at all lost on me.


Port Ellen (Casks of Distinction) OB, 1979, 40 yo, 44.4% abv, sample from a friend, (available auction only)

Diageo’s Casks of Distinction range is essentially a vehicle to offer for sale single casks of some of the companies rarest expressions. This particular expression comprised only 78 bottles and was bottled on 26th September 2019. The most recently sold bottle of this that I could find reached a whopping £23,500 on a well known online auction site.

Let’s see what is inside a cask worth £1.8 million…


The nose starts with the tiniest wisp of distant peat smoke. There are touches of surprisingly fresh citrus and sea breeze. The flavours present are all very gentle, well tempered by the time in cask. It is faintly earthy at times with fresh peaches, stonefruits and touches of white pepper.

The palate is immediately coastal with integrated oak. It is softly sooty with faint vanilla and fading tropical fruits, ripe pears and a faint touch of pencil wood. 

The finish is peppery with rising tannins and some toasted oak. There is a drying minerality, a little earthiness and some charred vanilla pods.

Very restrained and really rather gentle. Probably one of the most restrained Port Ellens that I have sampled. It is almost as if each flavour has it’s own time to shine, none being overpowering or dominant, seemingly changing with each sip.

Port Ellen 1979 9 Rogue Casks, OB, 40yo, 50.9% abv, sample from a friend (available here


The story goes that there were several casks of Port Ellen that had been left untouched in the warehouse as each was an outlier in terms of it’s flavour profile and were deemed unsuitable for blending.  These 9 ‘rogue casks’ have been married together to create 1380 bottles with a RRP of £6,400.

The nose has soft and old sherry influences, some musty white grape, tropical fruits Manuka honey and a little dunnage-esque dampness. Underneath there is Raspberry compote, soft tobacco and Braeburn apples. A faint yet perceptible peat reek sits in the background.

The palate is initially a mix of white ash and stone fruits, there’s a touch of soot as more tropical fruit notes appear. There is a wisp of old sherry followed by raisins, tobacco and the faintest coffee. As it develops there is a touch of tart red berries and some dirty brown sugar.

The finish moves from fruity to lingeringly oaky with notes of old wooden spoons, black peppercorns and a slight tannic turn. Theres a faint brine note underneath it all.

The addition of water brings out a touch more red apple and vanilla whilst turning up both the coastal and honey notes.

You can find more tasting notes in the Amateur Drammers Archives.

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