Port Ellen – Are they taking the piss?

Port ellen2

I’ll start by saying that I have no problem with the sort of supply and demand system that we live with in this day and age. I’m usually fine with it. I am no way against big business or people making honest money. I have never-ever painted an image of Che Guevara onto my naked torso and occupied…well…anything.

Sometimes, however, you just have to stop and take a breath whilst looking at the price of something before asking “ARE YOU TAKING THE ABSOLUTE PISS?”

This is exactly how I felt when I saw the price for the 12th official release of Port Ellen from Diageo. It didn’t quite shock me to my very core but it did anger me enough to sit down and write this. What is this price that could have turned a usually happy- go-lucky blogger into a seething venom fanged rage monster?

£600.

I know it’s not earth shattering money but it’s still a hefty chunk of change for most people not employed by Google or David Hasselhoff. Although, I’m not sure even the amazing pay packet could get me to work for the Hoff. He’s a strange man. But I digress…

Why am I so annoyed by this new price? Well because last year the almost exact same whisky cost £300. For those not blessed with my amazing skills of mental arithmetic that’s an increase of £300. Which makes it a 100% price increase for almost exactly the same product in the space of a year. This is what has really got my panties all tied up in a bunch. This is what has set this cat amongst the unsuspecting pigeons.

There is not really much difference between the two batches. Both releases are 32 years old and both are bottled at cask strength. The 2012 release is slightly more limited. By a whole 24 bottles. I can’t see how a difference of 24 bottles has led to such a dramatic increase in price- so what has? It can’t be costs for the distillery. Port Ellen bit the dust (or at least was pulverised into dust) in 1983 leaving only the floor maltings. Duty increases have certainly not been that high in the UK this year or I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a cold beer while I write this. So what could it be?

I feel the smart bets would be on Diageo looking at the melee that ensued after the Port Ellen release last year and responding to it accordingly. Port Ellen has become increasingly hard to come by and I personally witnessed one brother sneak in ahead of the other to purchase the last bottle from one Edinburgh retailer last year. Sneaky stuff.

This family betrayal, however harrowing it may sound, is not what would have been setting off sirens in Diageo’s secret volcano lair. With the bottles quickly landing on auction sites all over internet within hours (not weeks, not days, hours) of the Port Ellen going on sale one major thing became apparent. Not everyone that had bought a Port Ellen did so for the love of whisky. Believe it or not some people simply bought it for a love of money. Speculators. Entrepreneurs. Greedy slime swilling hogs. Whatever you want to call them they are the people that I blame for this situation.

I guess I am annoyed because it means it’s just another whisky that people who love whisky will never get to try. Even by the dram behind a bar it’ll test the strain of even the hardiest wallet. It seems like yet another whisky that will be written about and tasted by experts but the everyday whisky drinker will never have a chance to try it. Port Ellen’s price has been driven up by people buying it with the sole intention of selling it on. They never wanted to try it. Other well respected whiskies have managed to keep their prices in line. The Brora this year, a 35 year old also from a distillery that no longer exists, is £400. Still not pocket change but a good deal less expensive than the only other consistent bottling in Diageo’s yearly special releases. It simply boils down to people knowing about the demand for Port Ellen and exploiting that fact.

This is what has ruined it for everyone when it comes to pricing of Port Ellen. This is what has made me so angry and why I felt I had to write this. Sadly I don’t think there is any going back now.

Turbo

Comments

  1. Wouldn’t you say that Diageo has mispriced it, then, from the get-go?

  2. Well said. I feel the same…

  3. Hi there,

    I do blame Diageo fair and square.

    They very well know about the hype about Port Ellen and Brora.

    They know that the demand for the Special Releases of these two malts exceeds their supply
    10.0000 to 1…. or more and only 1 percent among those demanders are whisky drinkers. The others are collectors and people with a hedgefond mentallity.
    What did Diageo do last year? They deliverd less than 3000 bottles Port Ellen for the whole world at 300.- Pounds.
    They repeat it this year at 600.- Pounds.

    Hindsight is always better than foresight so probably the melee of last year was an accident.

    But this year there is a plan behind it. And a plan badly carried out at that.

    The should have stopped the special release Port Ellen – in time – put the whisky into fancy decanters and sell it for real money a la Macallan Lalique for people with money.

    However you see it Diageo is either trying a half hearted ripp-off or wasting the opportunity of their life.
    With 10.000.- Pounds+ at least the collectors would have said no, not for me this time and a lot of anger would not have been raised.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  4. Not for nothing is Jason also dubbed The Bear. However, I applaud you for suppressing the animal fury and composing a very thorough and thought-provoking piece. By spelling out the economics of the situation (duty levels, release numbers etc.) you successfully show that it is barely-concealed greed.

    As for who is to blame, I think you have also exposed the scoundrels. I have never tasted Port Ellen, never been anywhere near a measure, and the people responsible for pricing me out of the possibility of doing so have never – and do not intend in future – to try it, either. I could have waved my hands at the fact that it may just be the wrong time in my life, socio-economically, but not when these procedures are taking place. A cult among whisky drinkers ought not to be cash for the speculators.

    Thanks.

  5. Due to the outrageous pricing of the latest annaul releases I have decided to boycott all Diageo products in the future. I can easily live without their whiskies and in any case much prefer the output from such excellent distilleries such as Springbank,Balblair, Bladnoch, Tomatin, Bruichladdich, Glendronach, Kilchoman etc etc.
    I started a thread on this very subject on whiskywhiskywhisky.com

  6. Prior to the current release the Port Ellen annual releases were truthfully seen as investments and Diageo cashed in on this time and time again but this time they have really gone too far.

    Port Ellen as we all know still exists in distillery form albeit not producing and I know the stocks are low of original casks but surely £600 is a ridiculous price but people will pay it.

    I believe Port Ellen is in a bubble and will dive soon like Dallas Dhu has done although that is making a steady comeback.

    Port Ellen at that price has even put off the investors.

    I’d rather buy a Littlemilll 30yo which is a distillery that has completely gone with no chance of ever being resurrected.

  7. Yes, £600 is steep and overpriced for what it is. But do you remember the Islay Festival Port Ellen a few years back? Priced at £99 and snapped up by the so called speculators. Lots of angry forum posts saying Diageo priced it too cheap and played into these peoples hands. Now, they’re pricing it at a level where there is not a lot of room for profit from these people (the 11th release peaked at about £600 and is dropping in value with every bottle sold) and also, how many of them will have a second thought before dropping £600???

    I was also very pleased to read online, that a certain whisky shop will only sell bottles of the Port Ellen, Brora or Lagavulin 21 if the customer also buys another bottle from a select list. Is this the way forward to ensure these bottles are bought by genuine whisky fans?

    On a positive note, £525 for the oldest ever Talisker seems like a bargain!

  8. Worst thing about it is that it’s not even very good. Had a dram today and it’s half the whisky they put out a couple of years ago but at twice the price. The Lag 21 is outstanding however and far better *value* than the PE.

  9. Brilliant post, and decent comments- i’m very grateful, cheers!

    Definitely agree with the comments above- lots of investors have ruined the whisky market for us connoisseurs- I live on islay where i used to enjoy the annual whisky festivals, however they have now turned into an investor free-for-all, with the poulation sky rocketting with idiots who camp overnight in order to snap up as many bottles as they can from the distilleires and plonk them straight onto ebay at a ridiculous markup (if you don’t believe me check out the listings in the first week of june every year).

    Diageo however should rightly be ashamed. The country’s biggest drinks manufacturer has now taken away the last hope of anyone wanting to try any sought after whiskies, because at least previously the drinkers could try and beat the investors to the queue and get a bottle from source rather than drastically marked up re-sale. Diageo has now put this one past their means. Incidentally though, a quick thought on Port Ellen. The reason it closed was that during the 80′s when everyone was needing to rationalise their distillery and production portfolios, Diageo took the view that they already had an islay peaty production facility in Caol Ila, so didn’t need two. Caol Ila has much more production capacity, and also if you ask any of the locals in the know, nobody actually liked port ellen as the make was the least respected out of all the islay malts. I have heard stories of the lorry drivers at the time co-ordinating their deliveries with the “dramming” times of the distilleries to get their share, and apparently even they didn’t bother with port ellen a lot of the time.

    On a personal note, i have tried port ellen 6th, 8th and 10th release, and to be honest they are nothing to write home about. A nice single cask ardbeg, or one of the older late teens bottlings will knock its socks off any day of the week. Kilchoman is also going to be even more fantastic at mid-late teens than it is now, and its 5yo whisky can already hold its own against my all time standard bottle favourite ardbeg 10.

    My summary is that if you like port ellen, there are many other distilleries with better and cheaper examples on the market which will beat it hands down, and if it takes time to find them, more the better as this is the fun part. Leave the expensive rubbish to people with more money than sense, as they have no idea what real whisky is, plus they are probably the same people that got this country into the mess we are currently in. The rest of us will drink the real stuff with a quiet knowng smile and stick two fingers up to the fools.

    PS Macallan Lalique, Highland Park 50, what were they thinking..

  10. Da stili classici ma sobria che si basano su colori neutri e disegni di veramente stili occhio popping e innovativi che caratterizzano gli ultimi look per pezzi di tempo, si è sicuri di trovare proprio quello che serve per tutte le vostre occasioni importanti.

  11. I agree it’s completely ridiculous. I bought a bottle of the 4th release some years ago at a very sensible price, something like £90-£100. Expensive for me at the time, but I was treating myself. I was about to open it last night, when something made me check the price – I found a website selling it for £995. Now I don’t want to open my bottle, which sucks. I should just open it and be damned I guess, but then I find myself thinking about quite how many more CLs of enjoyment (ie loads) that could be had for the same money….

  12. I have a bottle of 4th release which I bought way back when for something like the same price as Jonathan above. Unlike him though, I opened it (when I bought it) and have about half left… In agreement with a lot of the posts here, it isn´t really anything that special and seeing the prices they fetch now I rather wish I hadn´t opened it…

  13. I’m a happy man.
    Years ago I got a second release. OMG.
    This was one of them, I always dreamed of.
    I drank it in two years. And at the end of the last dram, I was very sad.
    But I got a second one, I thank E-Bay. And I have still some drams left.
    I fear the moment of the last one.
    Well, thatfor I pay sometimes a lot of money ( in this case around 200 € each).
    But 600£ for a 12th release. No, never.
    That’s something for those rich Chinese Collectors over there.
    Makes me sad.

  14. Before I forget it.
    I’m always looking for good wine. In the late 80ies I bought several Bordeaux 1982 (Lafite, Mouton, and so on) for less than 100.- Swiss Francs. I all drank and loved them. One is left: Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1982. It’s several thousand Francs worth today. Well, a round birthday with friends, christmas or the birth of the first child of my children will be worth, to open that bottle. And I will like it, because it’s a great wine, not because it’s worth a half car.

  15. I purchased this bottle last week for $600.00 US dollars– still high but no near the above prices

  16. I wonder how people are feeling now, a few years down the road? New PE releases have increased even more in retail price and the earlier PE releases have been dragged up with this. Surely the retailers and investors have benefited most from this trend. Personally, I don’t blame Diageo for hiking PE pricing to follow the trend. After all, a few thousand bottles of PE each year isn’t going to make the slightest blip to their year end numbers. Its the “investor” who is ultimately responsible. For me, whatever the reason behind the trend, I am disappointed because I have a couple of PE releases including a 1st release that I will never touch for financial reasons. I was fortunate to try a dram of the first release, many years ago. I was very excited at the time and enjoyed it immensely. But, that is a very distant memory which I’m unlikely to relive.

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