Port Ellen Reawakens; On Taste – Port Charlotte 18 & Scallywag Chocolate Edition; Glen Scotia/Campbeltown Whisky Festival; Read The Cut & follow The Demeter Auction; Aberdeenshire Visits

Hello everyone

An embarrassment of riches on the tasting front this time but am featuring only two for now.

First up this time, there was a media release recently to let us all know that Islay‘s Port Ellen Distillery rejuvenation (it was closed in 1983) and, indeed, total refurbishment with a stunning interior and state of the art technology to explain some of the distilling process, is now complete. I‘m over in May but for only a couple of days so might not have time to see it. As that‘s Feis Ile week then it‘s bound to be heaving with people anyway. Better left for another visit, I think. However, to whet the appetites of all who‘d like to see it, I include some pics. The release also included some great video footage but I can‘t show that here. We are told, „At the centre of this rebirth are two new pairs of copper pot stills that will produce the first Port Ellen in over forty years. The Phoenix stills, recreated as an exact replica of the original stills from 1983, will run alongside a smaller set of Experimental stills, to allow for innovation to flourish from inception. The underlying mission at Port Ellen is to chart an Atlas of Smoke and explore this flavour profile utilising a range of experimental elements at the distillery, uniquely designed to support this investigation.“. It certainly looks impressive and there are other fascinating innovations in the still house and roller mill.

Two expressions from old Port Ellen stocks have been released to mark this reopening under the name of Port Ellen Gemini, both at 44 years old and drawn from three specially selected European oak casks and available in selected markets. You‘ll need a healthy bank account, though, as Port Ellen Gemini are priced at £45,000 (UK price inclusive of duties and taxes). Port Ellen Gemini Original has an ABV of 54.9% and Port Ellen Gemini Remnant has an ABV of 53.6%. I know Port Ellen expressions have been collectors‘ items for some years as stocks reduced but I still cannot understand how this price is justified.

In terms of visits „Port Ellen distillery will welcome the whisky community, connoisseurs, collectors and invited guests to experience a world leading immersion into experimentation in Scotch. A range of experiences will be available to book from June, from a full day private immersion for connoisseurs, to shorter introductions to the production process at this exceptional distillery. Port Ellen will also hold a monthly open day to ensure that passionate followers from around the world will have a chance to see inside the re-envisioned distillery.“ So, as you see, there will be several different visit formats for enthusiasts, aficionados and the simply curious. I come into all three of those categories and do hope to visit when time allows.


Before we get into this week‘s whiskies on taste, a note about some rather special whiskies, created by two very special women. They form part of the Demeter Collection for the OurWhisky Foundation fundraising auction which is on now until 8th April via www.whiskyauctioneer.com. OurWhisky Foundation is a non-profit organisation recognising, supporting and empowering women working in whisky around the world, while advocating for a more inclusive and diverse industry“ and the auction will raise funds which „will be donated to the OurWhisky Foundation in support of its work providing initiatives and projects that support women working in whisky“ . I‘m thrilled about both whiskies but especially the first which is a 44 year old Dalmore.

The creative mind behind it is Margaret Nicol (pic here – credit: David Parry and of The Dalmore 44 from OurWhisky website), who is celebrating 50 years in our industry, 45 of those at Whyte & Mackay where she‘s spent almost all of that time working alongside Richard Paterson. I have heard people there say that when Margaret was away or on holiday, Richard was lost without her. Power behind the throne! The titles I‘ve seen used for her elsewhere in the past are Blending Assistant  and Blend Controller which really don‘t do her justice but she‘s an unassuming and very down to earth lady who has been of help to me in the past. You can read a lovely piece by Becky Paskin about Margaret including interview questions on The Cut at https://www.ourwhiskyfoundation.org/the-cut  . The second whisky that I‘d like to mention in this auction is a creation from the renowned Rachel Barrie and is The Glendronach 30 Year Old Single Cask. Some of you may know that this distillery is particularly special to me as it was the first one I visited when I joined the industry years ago. If you go to The Cut, as above, there‘s also a good interview with Rachel. It saddens me to think that she feels she‘s only arrived“ now when I and others have long held her in highest regard for her talents as a creative blender and trailblazer. There‘s also an interview with the excellent Stephanie MacLeod and a host of other phenomenal women in the whisk(e)y world. Inspiring.

Regarding tastings, let‘s look at Port Charlotte 18 Year Old first; matured 74% in refill sherry wood and 26% refill French oak (we don‘t know which wine it held) then bottled at 54.3% abv with only 6,000 bottles available. Phenol level is 40ppm. This is the oldest expression of Port Charlotte thus far in its existence and I was really looking forward to tasting it. No disappointment here. It does remind me of Laphroaig 15 as compared to Laphroaig 10 when I looked after their marketing (though not at all in character and flavour) when I looked after their marketing i.e. the older version is a smoky, rich and deep dram but the corners are a little rounded off.

Appearance: Strikingly clear and sparkling light amber/old gold with tawny and polished brass highlights. Tears very slow and crawl down the glass.

Nose: Rich smokiness and peat but not harsh – quite mellow with soft oak aromas. Dark chocolate and coffee grounds. Also fresh fruit as well as perfumed flowers. Salty sea air. A hint of citrus oil and a little Turkish Delight. Then deeper sultana, raisin and sweet, dark fruit comes through with some leathery notes. [That leather might give a clue as to the grape type that was in the wine barrels.]

With water, the viscosity shows clearly. Nose is softer and a little flatter at first until it reopens. Buttery, creamy notes. Smoke a little sharper. More fresh, sea air and sweet malted barley. As it sits in the glass a little waxiness develops and a tiny hint of sulphur.

Palate: Quite mouth-coating. Rich, with peat smoke and slightly oily. Toasted malty barley and some zingy black pepper as well as plenty of dried vine fruit from the sherry casks. A pleasant coffee ground and dark chocolate bitterness – also a little like well-done toast. Spices with heat and wood fire embers that catch in the throat.

Finish: Long, smoky, malty and very dry. A rich flavour with spice and slight salt.

A must explore for Port Charlotte fans who want to track its development after trying some, if not all, of the others. Also for those who want to try peaty/smoky without the harder edges. Price is around £175 in UK.

Next tasting trial was for Douglas Laing & Co‘s Scallywag Chocolate Edition. This is a blended malt using Speyside distilleries which include Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes plus others. Not chill-filtered nor with added colour, it is bottled at 48% abv and is the seventh such bottling. Initial maturation was predominantly in sherry wood with mainly port pipes for finishing.

Appearance: Light amber gold with rich brass highlights. Tears are slow at first but then swift and close together.

Nose: A touch of youth at first, I thought, plus some waxiness with oak and satisfying earthiness. It stays closed for a little while, gradually opening to mellow fruits and a dab of orange oil. Cocoa powder with dark fruits (thanks to some of the sherry and port grapes); warm spices and melted demerara sugar.

With water, initially a fresher nose. Still some oak and earthiness. More milk chocolate notes than dark; fresh nuts and vine fruits.

Palate: Medium, slightly coating mouth feel but also nut skin astringency. Dark chocolate-dipped fruits. Toasted barley maltiness and some nut sweetness.

Finish: Medium length; an attractive mix of spice, sweet malt and cocoa bitterness; finishes dry.

Price for this one is around £60 in UK and it is available in other selected markets. I‘m happily tasting this one with milk and dark chocolate this Easter weekend. It‘s very approachable but still multi-layered and moreish.

Last week I was at a media event for Glen Scotia as mentioned last time. Those heading for the Campbeltown Whisky Festival in late May (before Islay) are in for a treat if heading to this distillery. I believe some of the sessions with Master Distiller and Master Blender are already sold out and I don‘t know if they intend to add more but there will be plenty to see and try out. Our evening began with some general information about the distillery and its festival intentions before a very informative tasting of three Glen Scotia expressions at cask strength with the Master Distiller. All expressions were from 2015/16, one from bourbon wood, one from sherry and one a peated version matured in bourbon wood. We were asked for favourites and, though the peated is definitely a quality offering, forming only a small percentage of their output, I found it hard to choose between the two unpeated samples. All delicious and not at all nose burning, despite strength. The blending session with their Master Bender, included whisky writer Becky Paskin (see The Cut above) who has extensive knowledge of Glen Scotia, told us of the distillery‘s own practices to create its various expressions and, based on that knowledge and our own taste preferences, we were given the chance to create our own ideal blend from sample bottles using whiskies like those we had tried in the previous talk and which we could then bottle to take home. Those attending this session at the Campbeltown fest will get the chance to do the same.

Harking back to The Glendronach, mentioned above, I spent a few days in Aberdeenshire this week and was keen to revisit this distillery as I hadn‘t been up for a number of years. Visitor Centre team member, Lizzie, once she had finished a sherry maturation masterclass, kindly took me for a quick show round and offered a couple of tasting samples while we chatted (I wasn‘t driving) and I was able to give names to some of the people in the old photos on the wall and some info about other previous brand activity. I also had a really interesting conversation with her husband, John, who works there too. Both excellent visitor hosts.

The visitor centre, which was completed not too long before Covid hit us all, is beautiful as is the shop area . Rachel Barrie creates wonderful expressions with the distillery stocks and you can see them all here, some rare and very special. The distillery itself hasn‘t changed much except that the old malting floor building has gone and there is much new building about to start, with the predictable sea of mud in the wet weather last week, alongside renovation of The Glen House which we used to use as a VIP visitor accommodation and dining facility. Actual plans on paper were not divulged but it is all intended to be ready for 2026 when the distillery will celebrate 200 years since it was first licensed. Since I have a significant birthday that year, I hope to be back up to see it all once the work is completed. If you are in the area or can make a special trip there, I do encourage you to visit.

Another call was made to Duncan Taylor, where I know a couple of the managers and owner, just to see what they‘re up to with their various brands these days. They‘re based in Huntly so not far from The Glendronach and recently won an award (another one!) at the Whiskies of the World for an expression of their Octomore brand. They are available to visit (please check first) and have a beautiful Club Room behind The Bank restaurant which they also own along with other properties on or next to the main square. Other projects are in progress so more on those another time.

Well, I was originally intending to use notes on The Falcon from Cardrona and some samples from The Glasgow Distillery this time but this column is quite long enough already so I will definitely include those in mid-April. I‘m off to try more whisky and chocolate.

Till next time, happy dramming.

Slainte mhath,



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