Whisky Advocate

Review: Port Ellen 30 year old (2009 release)

January 6th, 2010

This is my next favorite of the recent Diageo Special Releases (after the Brora 30 year old).


Port Ellen, 30 year old, 57.7%, $370
Port Ellen whiskies are going to just keep getting rarer and more expensive. This old-fashioned whisky is beginning to show its age, but is still holding up nicely. It’s clean, with no excessive oak and soft sweet maltiness for balance. Earthy and rooty at times, with tarry rope, beach pebbles, leafy smoke, bourbon barrel char, black licorice, lemon peel, and hints of shellfish and diesel fumes (like following a boat in the ocean). Long, smoky, lightly briny finish.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 93

29 Responses to “Review: Port Ellen 30 year old (2009 release)”

  1. Brian Bradley says:

    I am thinking about buying this one. PE is that exotic sports car of Islay. The one you always want on the shelf for the bragging rights; however, you have to pay to play.

  2. patrick says:

    and you have better to be quick. It flies off the shelves as quickly as it came in Europe

  3. Alex says:

    For Port Ellen on a budget, the folks at Diageo used to produce an Islay sampler of 5 200ml bottles – Lagavulin 12 & 16, Caol Ila 12 & 18 and Port Ellen – in a nifty box for European market. The only rub was the Lagavulin 12 and Port Ellen, both typically at Cask Strength, were rectified down to 46 abv. Regardless, at about 75GBP from the Whisky Exchange it was a great sampler of Diageo’s Islay offerings and intro to Port Ellen.

  4. John Hansell says:

    Alex, I guess 46% abv is better than 43 or 40.

  5. Todd says:

    Looks like I will have to break my rule not buy ridiculously expensive whiskies on this one. I’ve long had a soft spot for Port Ellen. I recall buying UK release # 1 about 10 years ago for just under 100 GBP. It’s amazing how well they have stood up to age. Any idea how much longer they will continue to release these John?

  6. butephoto says:

    Sounds great but way out of my price range as usual. They didn’t last long on the shelves here, that’s for sure.

    Again there’s a very interesting article by David Stirk at the front of the new Yearbook which compares Brora, Port Ellen and Rosebank so this is very timely.

  7. bgulien says:

    Still have a 7th release unopened on the shelf.
    Almost afraid to open it, because gone is really gone and I don’t know if I can afford to replace it.

    I believe there is still a lot of PE in that big Blackgrange warehouse, only to be distributed in a strict regulated way.

    Who, in Diageo, could foresee at the time of the closures, that the old casks from the closed distilleries would be worth gold.

  8. WolfgangU says:

    Having bought releases 2 through 8 for under 200 euros each (I was born too late into the whisky world to get #1), I probably should get this one as well. But when I could have got it for 220 euros I hesitated and now at 250 on average I am out of the game.
    Just be content…

  9. Micah says:

    I bought the 8th release, 29 year old for my 29th birthday and it was the best $300 I have spent on scotch. It is also the only time I have justified spending that much and wish I could afford to make it an annual tradition. By far my favorite all time bottle.

  10. B.J. Reed says:

    This was my Christmas Present from my wife 🙂

  11. WHISKYhost says:

    Last year, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottled a 26 Year Old Port Ellen and sold it for a *mere* $195. It’s really very good. If you’re interested, I posted my tasting notes just yesterday:

    Jason @ WHISKYhost

  12. B. J. Reed, I am jealous! I have never had the pleasure of trying any Port Ellen. Maybe this should be my New Years Whiskey Resolution!

  13. Leorin says:

    @Alex: The 20cl bottles in the Islay Collections were not rectified down to 46 abv.! But the PEs in that small bottles do have a slightly different alcohol content to the big bottles.

  14. Nice job, WHiskyHost! I haven’t opened my bottle yet.

    I wish this was a purchase I could justify.

  15. Henrik says:

    Lucky owner of 2 bottles of last years release.. 🙂
    But I had to stand in line for 4 hours in freezing wind and snow, so I earned my treat!

    It´s pretty rediculous what you are prepared to go through, but it was the only way to get hold of these beauties if you live in Sweden… 🙂

  16. patrick says:


    This type of information will never be released, but normally the price reflects the rarity and over the last 2-3 years, the prices have increased of about 30%. Last year, I have read that 18 bottlings of PE were released in 2009.
    Regarding Diageo, it is their 9th release. If you estimate that 1 cask yields 250 bottle and app. 6000 bottles are released every year over 9 years, you could assume that Diageo used something between 200 and 250 casks since the launch of the PE annual releases…

  17. B.J. Reed says:


    There is also a Provenance Sherry bottling of Port Ellen I Love (distilled 83 bottled 06) – not sure if any is left but if you can find a bottle grab it!

  18. Leorin says:

    I think we will see at least two or three more annual releases of PE but they will not get cheaper I guess…
    The official bottlings so far all were from the 1978 and 1979 vintage. Port Ellen produced untill 1983 and I would be surprised if Diageo would not have enough casks from 1980 to 1983 to continue their annual premium releases…

    If they keep on combining casks to baches or if they switch to release the rest of their vanishing stocks as even more expensive single casks is another matter though…

  19. Monique at the Dell says:

    This was the choice for a lot of people’s Christmas presents, mine included!
    It’s a fabulous bottle of whisky.
    Well worth the money at that strength, I certainly hope that they can keep them coming.

    Jason, great recommendation on the Provenance sherry above from BJ. I’d also add that G&M has a few priced under $300 that are fantastic, a 24 yo from 1982 stands out.

  20. BigMac says:

    IMO then Port Ellen is the most overrated Islay whisky there is…. I feel like Port Ellen is a ‘hit and miss’ whisky – That said, then of course there are good and also great bottlings out there, and all off the Annual Releases I’ve had (2-7)have been great , but if Diageo didn’t have access to the best casks, then who would, right?

    I’ve had from bad to excellent Port Ellens for some years now – and people at tastings (at least at our club tastings) always vote it best whisky of the evening, just because it’s closed and an Islay whisky – now that’s sad and its actually annoys me since the general Port Ellen IMO seems underpowered in taste to the other Diageos, Caol Ila and lagavulin – then there has been some unlucky cask releases from the Indie bottlers, most notibably from Douglas Laing in the OMC-series – several has ben heavyly sulphured, even from casks that by the looks of it haven’t had that much sherry influence – but I guess we can count on seeing all Indie owned casks of Port Ellen bottled, drinkable or not – and that’s sad!

    Positive note: One of the best Port Ellens I’ve had in a while was the first Bladnoch forum version at 60,4% – that one left in the glass for a good half hour before approaching it was sheer bliss! But they are few and far between, I’m afraid 🙁

    Happy hunting


  21. Yossi says:

    Hi John, nice review. You had me until you mentioned “Beach Pebbles”. Could you explain this to me? Thanks!

  22. I have to disagree with Claus, I don’t think Port Ellen is an overated Islay whisky. I think it is an outlier, like Laphroaig there is no other Islay whisky quite like it, and John’s comment about it being an old fashioned Islay is apt. We are now getting to the point where many of the surviving casks of Port Ellen are looking long in the tooth. Price and availability asside, we won’t be seeing many quality bottlings of Port Ellen much longer. Rumours persist that Diageo’s stocks are running low and no one knows just how long they will last. Among independents, Douglas Laing’s stocks are deep, but sooner or later these too will become too old or too weak to bottle. It is true that some bottlings of Port Ellen have had varying traces of sulphur, but that is true of many whiskies, especially single casks, from this vintage, and it is not always a bad thing. That there is so much variance in one bottling to the next of Port Ellen from Douglas Laing or others does credit to the whisky’s style. I’ve had many independent bottlings of Port Ellen from Douglas Laing or Signatory which I would rank among the best Diageo bottlings, and often at less than half the price.

    Andrew Ferguson
    Calgary, Canada

  23. Bamber says:


    Agree with you about the first Bladnoch forum bottling, but a lot of people don’t – they say it’s sulphury, but I don’t get that.

    Port Ellen is behind Ardbeg and Lagavulin for me, but ahead of the other Islays. Not too bothered about it myself and certainly not willing to shell out these kind of prices for the stuff.

  24. John Hansell says:

    Yossi, the next time you are at a beach where there are pebbles, not sand (like on Islay), pick up a handful, and smell them. And you can also imagine what they taste like.

  25. […] John Hansell speaks highly of the new Port Ellen 9th Release from Diageo. […]

  26. Yossi says:

    @John – I will try this. Very interesting. Have a good weekend

  27. […] Malt Advocate – John Hansell really digs this one, and comments on how well it holds up for its age. 93 points! […]

  28. William says:

    @John and Yossi: I’ve been chewing beach pebbles all day, but they’re nothing like a glass of whisky…

  29. Rich says:

    just had my first taste of the 9th, a fresh crack on Friday night. amidst the smoke, brine and damp earth, i distinctly detected notes of fresh summer strawberry. very unexpected, and very nice…

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