Tasting Notes: Port Ellen 7th Annual Release (and Pricey Whisky on the Cheap)

Credit: Scotch Hobbyist

Port Ellen 7th Annual Release (Quarter Bottle, 28 years old)

ABV — 54.7% — Natural Cask Strength

Legs — Tight, slow

Nose — tangy smoke, coal, some vanilla, a refreshing fruityness, maybe lemon. Slight prickle from alcohol if you sniff too long, but pretty low alcohol profile overall considering it is cask strenght. Maybe the age mellowed it? Some water moves the vanilla and lemon to the back and makes the smoke less tangy.

Taste — Slightly hot, more coal and less tang. No hint of vanilla or lemon carrying over from the nose. The coal goes on forever on the finish, particularly as the hotness fades. Not much difference with a splash of water, just less distinctive all around. Definitely recommend drinking this one cask strength. It’s mild enough as is, and you lose too much character with water. A lot of people compare this to Caol Ila and I can see why they make that comparison.

Overall — Really tasty dram, made even more enjoyable by two facts:

  1. This is normally a $400 bottle, or ~$50 per dram at a whisky bar, but I got 5 healthy drams out of the quarter bottle for a total cost of $23 (more on the math below). [Note: this bottle is now +$1200/bottle when you can find it.]
  2. I actually own a full bottle of this that I got for the super-reasonable price of $280 (normally not even close to being in my budget, but my wife got it for me as a combined wedding/birthday gift). So I actually got to drink a whole quarter bottle of this without actually opening my full bottle.

That all may sound a little crass — to be pricing my enjoyment of this scotch to such a degree — but while the dram is very good, the rarity, and the fact that it comes from such a legendary distillery, and is in my favorite whisky style (Islay), definitely play a role in my enjoyment here. I’ve definitely had better drams of whisky that aren’t nearly so pricey, but there is a whole history that becomes a part of drinking some Port Ellen. Additionally, I’ve managed to accumulate a few rare/pricey bottles lately and I’m beginning to ask myself what portion of my collection is for drinking vs. saving, and do I really want to be a Scotch collector? Not sure what the answer is but this quarter bottle let me neatly dodge the question this time around. I guess this is the whisky snob in me rearing its ugly head.

If you’re still with me, here’s some math for you, and here I should give some major credit to Scotch Hobbyist who did similar calculations on his blog. This Port Ellen Quarter Bottle (not to be confused with a Quarter Cask, which has to do with how whisky is aged, not bottled), comes from the Islay Gift Pack from Whiskey Exchange. The pack contains quarter bottles (200 mL) of Caol Ila 12, Caol Ila 18, Lagavulin 12, Lagavulin 16, and Port Ellen’s 7th Release. It costs about $115 American, or $23 per quarter bottle. I think you can see the savings here, but I’ll spell it out for you. In most stores, the Port Ellen 7th Release retails at $400 (usually), or $100 per quarter. So this is a steal. The other whiskies in the pack are nothing to sneeze at. Figured this way, The Caol Ila’s are a little more expensive than normal, the Lagavulin 16 is right on target, but the 12 year Lagavulin 2007 vintage is a deal in itself. That bottle is almost impossible to find anywhere except as part of the Islay gift pack.

If you’re doing scotch on a budget, this is a super sound investment that’s going to introduce you to some great Islays that are easy to find, and a few that are all but impossible to get or afford any other way.