First Impression: Port Ellen 15th Release 32 Yo

The 15th rendition of the Port Ellen annual release has been aged for 32 years old, a staggeringly long period when you think of your usual Islay suspects.

There exists a common consensus that a true Islay dram needn’t be aged for that long. There is a reason why Laphroaig and Ardbeg both do a 10 Yo expression, and why Lagavulin just released the 8 Yo to celebrate their 200th anniversary. The idea is that the longer the spirit interacts with the oak, the less peat influence it retains.

Now given, it’s mostly circumstantial rather than intentional that the 15th release has reached such an advanced age; and it’s true, this whisky is not the same Port Ellen some of you might have remembered from years past. For me the 15th release didn’t really resemble the younger Port Ellen expressions I have tasted, a SMWS bottling from 1991 and the first annual release. It is certainly different, but bear in mind that some of the most legendary whiskies ever bottled on Islay were aged for much longer.

On the nose, there is quite an immense dose of aged black tea note at first, along with a seaweed note, the peat influence is rather subdued though. It is like this appetiser of dark soy sauce cured seaweed that is often served in Japanese restaurants. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste. This is fused with a faint sun-dried ripe mango note and burnt toffee, much like Anzac biscuits, as suggested by Xander. Venture deeper and there is an incense note, laced with raisin sugar and brushed with a faint sooty smokiness and a hint of menthol right on the back end.

On the palate there is an interaction between syrup-soaked raisins that have been air-dried and a savoury note of Jamón Ibérico initially before it sinks into a thick body of ripe mangos complimented by a lighter tone of caramel slices. A rather floral character provides intervals of lightness and heaviness intertwining. Toasted peanuts appear on the mid-palate to give it some texture and then there it is, a clean, chic and smooth injection of smoke, though it just melts away, giving way to a peat presence in the finish.

Wee notes of charred wood and dark chocolate supplements the peat, which itself is delicate, an adjective one wouldn’t normally use to describe peat. It hangs around between the teeth, allowing one to reminiscence about the blissful experience that just happened moments ago.

I suppose we can all agree that price tags often influence, understandably but somewhat unfairly, on the satisfaction derived from whiskies, but can a limit based on cost be placed on true greatness?

I think not… there are these instances of unique experiences when truly special whiskies are being sampled. It’s a thing that transcends above the perceived romantic notions that are often argued as being the result of marketing. At close to $5,000 a bottle, I still feel this Port Ellen does just that.

The Audemars Piguet 15202 is an objectively expensive watch for its specifications. It is substantially more costly than the 15400, a similar offering that houses an in-house movement, one that is legendary in its own right.

Sure, a lot of watch enthusiasts would prefer the more practical 15400 or even the IWC Ingenieur SL, an excellent piece also developed by Mr. Gerald Genta that is far more affordable. But with the 15202, everything simply seems to be optimal; every detail and every aspect seem to just bring nothing but joy to the wearer, provided he or she understands and accepts its uniqueness. It’s not for others to say whether the watch is worth the premium or not.

And this is why the 15th release shouldn’t be faulted because of its hefty price tag but instead be celebrated for what it is.

To own a bottle is perhaps financially irresponsible, however this may just be the dram to ask for, on a quiet evening at the bar if the mood is right. You are not paying for an old scotch from a lost distillery; you are acquiring an experience, and the enjoyment associated with it.

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Lastly, thank you Xander, Sean, Dan Murphy’s and Sweet & Chilli team for organising a wonderful tasting.

-NL