Spirits giant Diageo has been teasing the re-opening of the fabled Port Ellen distillery for a while now. While the Islay distillery shuttered over 30 years ago in in 1983, stocks of its whisky still remains — and we’ve seen occasional glimpses of it through singular releases like The Spirit Safe, a 39-year-old bottling; as well as over a dozen limited-edition releases of the Port Ellen 32 year old. The whisky even showed up in a special blend of Johnnie Walker Blue Label as part of a release showcasing the definitive qualities of the now-defunct distillery.
Now Diageo has released a 40-year-old expression — one of the oldest yet — made up of a blend of 9 “rogue” casks. This was a small selection of barrels that were discovered in 1979 to have unusual characteristics that were not suitable for the blenders of that time, and were put aside for further maturation and future use.
Fast forward four decades, four American oak hogsheads and five European oak butts have been chosen by master blender Dr Craig Wilson to create an unprecedented expression of Port Ellen — which has been bottled at a cask strength of 50.9% ABV.
With the Port Ellen Rogue Cask, Wilson – who is also responsible for other whiskies like Lagavulin, Dufftown, Mortlach, and Brora – has created additional layers to the distillery’s soft peat and sweetness, giving the blend notes of tropical fruit and baking spices on top of much complexity.
The re-opening of Port Ellen was announced in 2017, with the operational date slated to be in 2020 — although there’s still no word on how this has been affected by the current pandemic. What we do know though, is that the distillery will endeavour to reproduce the same spirit that was made decades ago — with a pair of copper stills built to closely resemble the original Port Ellen stills. The distillery will also house a second pair of smaller stills — used to create “alternative spirit characters…to experiment with new whisky styles”.
The Port Ellen 40-Year-Old and it is available exclusively through the Diageo Rare and Exceptional Private Client Team. Interested enthusiasts can get in touch with the Private Client Team by writing to PrivateClientSG@Diageo.com.