Whisky Season 2012 Update: The Holy Grail

I've read many times that the reason so many whisky enthusiasts get so romantic about Port Ellen is because it was the first distillery they saw when approaching Islay from the ferry.  Since the port of Port Ellen is no longer open and all visitors must now approach from Port Askaig (thereby making Caol Ila the first distillery they're now likely to see), maybe some of the enthusiasm will die down.  Or maybe not.  There is something magical about Port Ellen.  Part of it is its majestic location on the shore of the isle. Part of it is the peat.  Sure there are some peated Broras, but most of the lost legends are entirely unsmoky.  Dallas Dhu, Banff, Pittyvaich, Ladyburn and the rest of the fallen distilleries made unpeated whiskies of a light, lean character.  Port Ellen is like the champagne of Islay - peated, but elegant.  Our fascination with Islay also fuels our fascination with Port Ellen.  The buildings are still there to look at, the warehouses empty and the stills ripped out, but the malting still continues next door.  What if Port Ellen had remained open?  Would we still love it so much?  What if Diageo had chosen to shut the door on Caol Ila instead?  Would all of our JW Black be swimming with Port Ellen while we hoarded Caol Ila like squirrels?  We'll never know.  All we can say for sure is that Port Ellen is gone.  It's not going to be reopened.  What's left is getting drunk and every time that happens we get closer to the end. 

Diageo's 11th Edition Port Ellen sold for about $600.  This year's 12th Edition should come in at well over $1000 - and you'll be lucky to even find one.  We've got 100 bottles of a single cask Port Ellen available for pre-order right now.  Is this the last time we see it for less than a grand?  Like the what-ifs that we ask when pondering what could have been for this storied distillery, no one can say for sure.  I do understand math, however, as well as supply and demand.  I would take a guess and say: "yes." 

We were incredibly lucky to land this cask.  Incredibly.

1982 Port Ellen 30 Year Old "K&L Exclusive" Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $599.99 PRE-ORDER - Whoever said that persistence pays off was so freakin’ right. The only reason we ever got a hold of this baby was that we’ve built some great relationships in Scotland. So when we asked at Sovereign, again, eyebrows raised, "Do you have anything you could offer us?" They offered. We tasted. We loved. They bottled. And it’s a true glory. The nose shows soft, earthy peat and struck match igniting pipe tobacco. The palate is all weathered leather tempered by sweet, mellowing dark wood. This long and powerful malt turns the phenols back up to 11 for a spicy, peaty finish. We’re not sure we’ll see another one of these. Diageo has been buying the few remaining casks back from bottlers well above market price for their 12th annual Port Ellen release, which retails for over $1,000. They bottled nearly 3,000 of those; there will only be 150 of ours.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll