Review: Port Ellen Whisky

Name: Port Ellen 29 Yr Old 1978 8th Annual Release

Classification: Single Malt Whisky

Producer/Distillery: Port Ellen, Islay, Scotland

ABV: 55.3%

Price: $1200 - $1500

Recommended: The best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Where to Purchase: The Whisky Exchange

The story behind Port Ellen is complex and fascinating, details captured in the flavor of the distillery’s increasingly rare bottles of whisky. Closed in 1983 due to a downturn in the whisky market, the distillery’s limited edition releases are now some of the most sought after bottles in the world, making me question how I managed to obtain one and wonder if my developing whisky palette was undeserving of such a treat.

There’s something deeply saddening about a once $30 bottle of whisky now selling for anywhere between $1200 - $1500, especially given the remaining product isn’t family owned but run by Diageo, a publicly traded consumer goods company.

I was privileged enough to acquire bottle number 4,401 of the 8th annual release, one of only 6,618 bottles that were distilled in 1978 and bottled in 2008. I also learned that fancy whisky comes in a box, much to my delighted surprise.

Since acquiring the bottle, I’ve learned that Port Ellen probably won’t be around much longer, making my bottle even more exceptional.

The first (and last) thing I gleaned from the brown liquid was a smoky vanilla flavor, hearkening me back to a delectable helping of pork belly I enjoyed with my wife and her best friend at Atticus Finch on a rainy day in Rotorua, New Zealand. It’s one of my fondest memories of that trip, and Port Ellen is the perfect portkey (Harry Potter reference, for the non-nerds) back to the windswept shores of New Zealand. A drop or two of water calms the otherwise scorching power of the whisky and elongates some of the lesser flavors like cider and honey.

Though I’m still a relative newbie to the whisky stage, Port Ellen’s 29 year old is the best thing I’ve ever tasted. It’ll be hard to avoid drinking it to the last drop.

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