Port Ellen 37yo – Diageo Special Releases 2017

Port Ellen 37 Feature

Well done. You’ve made it. Today marks the tenth, and final, review of this year’s Diageo Special Releases. We started last Monday with Lagavulin 12yo, and worked our way through Caol Ila 18yo, Collectivum XXVIII, Teaninich 17yo, Glen Elgin 18yo, Blair Athol 23yo, Port Dundas 52yo, Convalmore 32yo and Brora 34yo. We end our series of reviews today with the seasoned veteran of the Special Releases, Port Ellen. Being the other side of 30, I can remember the days when the annual release of Port Ellen was just over £100 a bottle (the RRP of the 7th release in 2007 was £125). It’s heartbreaking to look back now and realise just how crazy things have become. Having said that, if things hadn’t become so crazy, then Diageo may not have taken the decision to reopen Port Ellen, or Brora for that matter. For all the noise, both positive and negative, surrounding this news, I completely agree with Dave Broom’s comment (which mentions Rosebank, another closed distillery which is due to be revived) on scotchwhisky.com:

“Only those with hearts of stone would have failed to celebrate the carefully choreographed announcements of Brora’s, Port Ellen’s and Rosebank’s reopenings. Hearts of stone, or the belief – as spouted on anti-social media – that nothing Diageo ever does can be praised (Ian Macleod is naturally exempt from this). Damned for closing them, damned for not reopening them, damned when they do. Those embittered naysayers aside, the news has, rightly, been welcomed. It means jobs, and it means a return of whiskies which were either iconic or became elevated to that status.”

The resurrection of closed distilleries, if done properly (and I’m sure neither Diageo nor Ian MacLeod will fuck things up), should be received warmly, with open arms, and without condition. The reputation and provenance of iconic brands such as Port Ellen, Brora, and Rosebank, should be comforting to those who have looked negatively upon their reopening. Elevated to the highest pedestals imaginable, the brand owners can ill afford to ruin their distilleries’ legendary image. Diageo and Ian MacLeod have far more to lose than they will ever gain, should they not pay careful attention to every minute detail regarding production of their respective spirits. If they get it right, and they will, we will take it for granted, and not much thanks will be given. Get it wrong, and the single biggest shitstorm conceivable will ensue amongst enthusiasts, collectors and drinkers alike. The reopening of these distilleries marks a new chapter in what will hopefully be a long, and as yet, largely unwritten, history.

It’s fitting that, having started with Lagavulin 12yo last Monday when news of the reopenings first broke, I close this marathon review session with one of the most talked about releases of the year; Port Ellen 17th Annual Release. It was distilled in 1979, matured in refill American oak hogsheads and butts, and bottled at 37 years old. The final 2017 Special Releases review, here goes. It’s been a blast, guys…

Port Ellen 37yo – 17th Release
1979 Vintage
Diageo Special Releases 2017
2,988 bottles only
51% ABV
£2,625 here

Nose: Oh my. It’s all here. Everything about Port Ellen in a single inhale. Classic notes of wet straw, damp smouldering bonfire, sweet peat, burnt seaweed, ash from a seafood barbeque, faint tarpaulin, sandalwood, a wooden sail boat and old leather. There’s sweetness with dried apricots, honeycomb, and smoked apples and tickling spiciness with some cracked black pepper. I could nose this for hours. I really could.

Palate: A touch pepper, then glazed ham with a pinch of cloves, sweet earthy notes, chutney with juicy currants, charred bacon, wet canvas, hessian, camphor and phenol oils. There’s apple chews, refreshing lime notes and a bit of lemon rind too. Then the smoke rolls in; gentle, but muscular, waves of it.

Finish: Luxuriously long, with lingering clean peat smoke and a citric lemony sweetness.

Overall: There’s something magical about tasting Port Ellen whisky. There really is. As with almost every Brora release, the spirit quality is excellent, the cask influence is moderate, and the final whisky is both charmingly complex and wonderfully intriguing. It’s little wonder these brands have attained near-mythical status. I cannot begin to convey how fortunate and privileged I feel at having been able to taste so many different expressions of Port Ellen over the years. Tasting whisky like this is not just an exercise in flavour or aroma, it’s more visceral than that.

It’s liquid history.



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