So much whisky, so little time | Singapore | Tasting Notes

Port Ellen 25yo 1982 Berry Bros #2469 46% vs Caol Ila 29yo 1984 Hunter Laing 50.2%

Sister distilleries, one survived and the other didn’t. But why? That Port Ellen stopped distilling in 1983 is a great tragedy most today will agree on. That Port Ellen was only restarted in 1967 only makes it worse – so everything we know about its whisky comes from this little window in time.

So why did it close? The 80s were a terrible time to be a distiller. Sales were abysmal, naturally you look about your holdings to cut losses. Port Ellen had 4 stills, Caol Ila was just rebuilt in the early 70s and had 6 stills, representing a recent capital investment and potential to ramp up in the future. Port Ellen had been restarted though not entirely refurbished and future repair bills were expected. Both produced a peaty whisky, heavily peated malt could be obtained from Lagavulin alone, while Caol Ila could produce the unpeated highlands style whisky needed for Diageo blends, or more commonly its namesake medium peated malt.

And there is also the persistent allusion made that those who knew Port Ellen did not have much regard for its young whisky. Nevermind the great 30+ year olds we have today, but back then, it needed time and time is money.


And so for these, and possibly more reasons, Port Ellen ceased distillation. The distillery itself lives on in the form of a giant maltings facility called Port Ellen Maltings, which today provides malt of various peating levels to all of Islays distilleries.


Port Ellen 25 yo 1982/2007 Berry Bros #2469 46%

Port Ellen 2469

Nose Nose: Deep rounded earthy peat and acres of new suede leather. Boat shoes if you will, on a boat that’s sailing through a slow moving inlet. Quite a big muddy/earthy presence and rubbery phenolics, some salt as well. A deep and inviting nose, with lower register scents that fit with its easterly neighbours very well, though not massively complex for a whisky of its age. More earthy peaty than smoky? Love it.

Taste  Palate: Much more interesting on the palate, where it suddenly gets a lot more complex though we are in the same ballpark here. Lots of sweet and dry earthy notes – dry black earth, compost, damp rotting wood, also rubber soles. Also lots of these suede leathery notes again, and with time more brine and salted olives appearing.

Finish  Finish: Long, deep and warm with a late burst of spicy heat. More phenols and salt. Smoke appears too.


A seriously good and typical late period Port Ellen that shows well even at 46%. Was even really affordable until a couple of years back.




Caol Ila 29 yo 1984/2013 Hunter Laing OMC 50.2% 224 bottles ’15th Anniversary’


Nose Nose: Completely different, though very Caol Ila – which to me means maritime influence and a greener kind of peat. Beautiful integration though, is Caol Ila one of the few malts that does well at any age? So archetypical flavours – salt air and mouldering seaweed in drawn nets, vaguely ‘baked fish pie’ too, or you could say smoked herring which is a staple in these parts. More than a slice of lemon too. The peat is ‘lighter’ and ‘drier’ with lots of smoking dry grass and a bunch of herby-musty complexities. But age has really brought these scents together into a rounded somewhat subtle but perfect whole.

Taste  Palate: Much sharper on the palate though very clean. All the above but quite cutting with more menthol and lemon than the nose, and a big chunk of rock salt. Also a degree more medicinal. A bush on fire upwind. Love the clean elegant integration.

Finish  Finish: Long, smoking grass, peated malt, salt. Preserved lemon.


Also seriously good aged Caol Ila, displaying what you expect from that venerable work horse. A lot of people pass over Caol Ila as playing fiddle to the Kildalton malts. They do so to their detriment.

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This entry was posted on December 21, 2015 by in Caol Ila, Port Ellen and tagged , .
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