“End of the Year Bottle” – The Port Ellen Preview
Port Ellen Distillery was an Islay distillery. Islay is an island on the southernmost coast of Scotland. Islay malts are known for their extremely smoky character derived from peat. The peat is used to try the grains, which have a high moisture content from their proximity to the ocean.The Douglas Laing house produces the whisky at cask strength, without colouring or chill filtration. The barrel used for this bottling is a “refill Hogshead”. The Whisky sat in this cask from the date of distillation at the Port Ellen Distillery until September of 2015 when it was bottled by Douglas Laing. “Hogshead” describes the size (250 liters), which is the end result of dismantling and rebuilding American barrels (four American Barrels are used to make three Hogsheads). “Refill” means that at least two previous whiskeys have aged in this cask, drawing out flavors from the cask, and allowing the current whisky to absorb less color and flavor. The result is that the whisky retains much more of the distillery character. All Scotch Whisky by law must be matured in oak casks. The use of “Hogshead” means that the barrel was first charred and used for an American Whiskey (likely Bourbon). Likely another Scotch Whisky occupied this barrel before used for this Whisky.
Today, nearly every cask from the Port Ellen Distillery is unique. The Diego company has purchased much of the stock remaining after the distillery closed, along with rights to the name. Diego releases selective bottlings each year. Because of the stock has been depleted over time, each remaining barrel may be of a different type, aged in a different location, and of a different age. The remaining casks purchased by those other than Diego have been taken to various locations around Scotland and have been aged and selected for bottling at different times. The end product is that no two barrels have the same characteristics. Of the 36 Year Old Xtra Old Particular, only 227 bottles will ever be produced.
Douglas Laing has labeled this bottling as “Xtra Old Particular.” This naming scheme is borrowed from the cognac scheme of “VSOP” (Very Special Old Pale) and XO (Extra Old), which describe the age of the oldest cognac in the blend. Used for Scotch Whisky, the naming scheme carries no real meaning, but instead is merely a branding concept. Douglas Laing uses this XOP label for the “best of the best from the Douglas Laing family vaults.”
Tasting notes are available from Douglas Laing and Masters of Malt. The notes are consistent with (a) heavily peated Islay whiskeys, (b) long-aged whisky, (c) well-used barrels, (d) sweet barely single malts and (e) saltiness from nearness to the sea. The Nose is described as “fruit salad and lemon with a little camphor and sootiness.” The Palate is described as “Syrupy fruit and oak, rich tea biscuits by the fireplace, a little green olive and a lime peel.” The Finish is described as “warming and spicy.” Douglas Laing describes the whisky as follows: “The nose is subtly peated, running to warm beach sand and citrus with now more evident phenols. The palate shows initially sweet barley and peat, with coal dust and chimney soot, all showing through its pelagic style. All of the above is evident in the finish, plus more spice, soft chewed leather and late tar.”
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.