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Dr John Hawkins

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Port Ellen 21 year old 1983 Sherry Cask

Posted on 2008/05/14 23:06:34 (May 2008).

[Tuesday 13th May]
Of all the whiskies I've tried over the past few years, still the one of which I have the fondest memory is almost certainly the Fortnum and Mason Port Ellen (long term readers of the Maison will probably recall that I went on about it rather a lot). Whilst I eeked this bottle out for as long as I could, all good things do of course come to an end, and all I have left now is the label.

So for some time now I had been looking to find a similar bottle. There seemed to be little or no chance of finding exactly the same bottling again - it was a single cask bottling with an outturn of only 305 bottles - but I held out hope I might find a bottling of a Port Ellen with a similar character from another cask.

The Fortnum and Mason Port Ellen had actually been bottled for them by Douglas Laing - part of their Old Malt Cask range. It was a 21 year old, distilled September 1982 and bottled July 2004, and had been matured in a sherry cask. Given that I still had the label I'd even been able to find the Douglas Laing cask reference - number 1282.

Over the weekend I had spent some time scouring the web, and ultimately The Whisky Exchange for something similar. To my delight I'd hit upon a Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask bottling with a similar age (21 years), distilled and bottled roughly around the same time (February 1983 - October 2004), and perhaps most importantly it was matured in a sherry cask as well (this is not all that common for Islay malts). It's one of 435 bottles from DL cask ref 1572.

So I ordered that on Sunday, and it arrived today.

I'm pleased to report it is quite superb - it posesses many of the same fine qualities of that legendary Fortnum and Mason bottling. Here's my attempt at some tasting notes:

The overriding themes are of course strong Islay notes but also a great sherry finish. On the palate it is earthy, really sweet and extremely well rounded. It has an incredible richness that borders on chocolate or perhaps sweet miso paste - bucketfuls of umami - all the while with a fabulous peaty underpinning. Do I detect a hint of fireworks? Leather perhaps? Engine oil? ...but all of these outlying notes are mere nuances - I actually find it quite a mellow and sublime whisky, an absolute pleasure to drink (but certainly by no means uninteresting).

It is also incredibly more-ish - you may be surprised to hear this but actually most whiskies I only want a single dram of - I tend to crave variety and quickly want to move on to try something else instead. This malt though has pretty much everything I want in a malt, and I'm actually loathed to have anything different afterwards.

The tasting notes on the label itself read:

Nose: musty-sweet, barbecue smells, tobacco smoke and leather.
Palate: dry then sweet. Tar flavours with a real peaty kick.
Finish: long and intensely smoky with a charocal aftertaste.

A quick Google search found some other tasting notes for this cask - see here.

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