Dear Port Ellen,
You probably don’t remember me, we just met, and it was a pretty short meeting, but I remember you. I’ve heard about you from the other whisky bloggers, they all say you’re something special. When I saw you from across the room, I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I waited patiently all night to finally get a chance to talk to you, and when I did, I got all tongue-tied and didn’t know what to say. I probably blushed a bit and mumbled, but you were nice and you smelled good. I’m sorry if I seemed like a jerk and kept trying to talk to you…it’s just that you’re so gosh darn pretty. Anyway, I just want to say that it was really, really nice to meet you and I know we’ll probably not ever meet again and that you won’t remember me, but I just wanted to tell you that I won’t forget you and I thought you were beautiful.
Since the closure of Islay’s Port Ellen Distillery in 1983, its whiskies have become the stuff of legend. Old men sitting on park benches weep at the mere mention of the name, and when they do so, the clouds break and the Sun shines brighter. Petulant, complaining children suddenly grow quiet and contemplative. Dogs smile and birds sing with a bit more gusto. Or so I’ve been told. Up until a recent Signatory/Whisky Shop tasting, I’d never had the opportunity to try this mythic malt, and with stocks dwindling and prices rising, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get a chance.
The Nose: Pears and pear cider. A honeyed sweetness, round, sweet cream and peat…less peat than I was expecting but it is there, softened and restrained, just showing the more elegant side of decayed vegetation. There are notes of wood smoke, a little tiny touch of vinegar and subtle, subtle mint hints.
The Palate: Incredible, smooth, exquisite and elegant smoke. Perfect blend of honeyed fruit (ripe pear again) and peat and ash. While the flavors were strong and confident, there is very little punch-you-in-the-mouth Islay here, much more delicate and lithe. This is a ballet dancer of an Islay, not a brawler. Obviously, with 25 years, there was oak, but it was so well-integrated that it did not register as oaky or tannic. The whole of the palate was just that, so well-integrated and balanced.
The Finish: Wonderful, sweet wood smoke, peat and ash, still lightly sweetened and now carefully guided along by some great drying oak tannins that left me wanting more…much, much, more.
Thoughts: This was the first chance I’ve had to try a Port Ellen. My expectations were sky high and they were exceeded from the moment I put the glass near my nose. This is one of those rare whiskies that I feel very lucky to have tasted. The same words keep showing up in my notes: elegant, refined, delicate, sublime…devastatingly exquisite, so I’ll leave it at that.
Chieftain’s 1982 Port Ellen, 25 Year Old, Islay