gap Home Help Scotland Speyside West Isles Search
Navigation toolbar
Home | Help | Scotland | Speyside | West Isles | Search

[Photo] [Next]

Port Ellen

No: 43
Producer: United
Region: Islay
District: South Shore  -   Multimap view
OS Sheet 60 ; Map reference NR 358 458 ; Latitude 55 37.9° N, Longitude 6 12° W
Founded 1820s ; Operating Status: closed (1983); will not reopen

The rarest of Islay malts [later disputed - see below; jhb]. The distillery, founded in the 1820s and expanded in the 1960s was temporarily closed in 1984 and is still held in reserve by United. The distillery's white-painted warehouses form an attractive "street" close to the sea at Port Ellen, one of the three principalvillages on Islay. Port Ellen is also one of the ferry terminals on the island.

Adjoining the distillery is a modern maltings, issuing pungent peat smoke lest anyone requires reminding of the island's preoccupation. The malt goes to two other distilleries owned by United Distillers: Lagavulin and Caol Ila.
© Michael Jackson 1994 Gleaned from the Malts mailing list:

Years ago the distillery was convereted to a 'community' malting facility. Several of the Islay distilleries have their malt peat smoked to their specification there. Take Bowmore as an example. Only 10-15% of their malt is floor malted and smoked (for the tourists) at the premisses. The rest may be from Port Ellen. I do not agree with Michael that Port Ellen is the rarest of Islay Malts. He is wrong. The rarest is Malt Mill. [ub 124/q4.98]

There is virtually no chance of Port Ellen starting up again. It has been converted to a malting and is now basically a factory. The owner is United Distillers (now UD&V) which also owns Lagavulin and Caol Ila and therefore won't see the use of having another Islay malt in their portfolio. When we passed by the plant last year, the old part of the distillery (pagoda etc.) looked to be in a state of slight disrepair, which certainly does'nt bode well in itself. Therefore, M. Jackson is unfortunately correct! [mh 126/q4.98]

Regarding the the shape of the distillery - I'd say it is more than a little run down. A friend and I spent some time crawling around it this past September - it seems highly unlikely to reopen, at least without the sort of full overhaul G&M has put into Benromach. We were told that the stocks of Port Ellen are diminishing rapidly, and that much of the remaining warehouse space is used by other Islay distilleries, such as Lagavulin. Visiting with G&M that same trip, they stated that their stocks of Port Ellen were also diminishing rapidly, and that they have had to start rationing their stocks out, since the Port Ellen has been so popular. There certainly seemed to be no shortage of it on store shelves while we were there, but...

Regarding the Port Ellen maltings, the somewhat consistent story we heard from distillery to distillery on Islay was that there is an accord among the Islay distilleries to use Port Ellen malt in order to help maintain employment on the island. The different distilleries which still do maltings of their own use different amounts - e.g., Laphroaig uses about 70% Port Ellen malt (30% of their own floor maltings). Caol Ila and Lagavulin have all of their malting done at Port Ellen. Interestingly, Bunnahabhain said that they did not use Port Ellen malt in their spirit destined for single malts (only for the blends). [tt 126/q4.98]

This is accurate. I went on a tour of the maltings for my show and was told that the facility was very nearly closed in favor of larger, more efficient maltings on the mainland, but that the public outcry was so great they worked out a new deal with the Islay distilleries. It's an interesting place, they have these huge drums that they use to germinate with, that rotate once every 15 minutes to turn the malt, and the kilns for peating are the size of small airplane hangars! Well worth the time if you can manage to get a tour. [bb 126/q4.98]

Port Ellen is my favourite single malt, the distillery hasn't been turned into a maltings, the distillery is still in tact but has been mothballed since 1985. There isn't much chance of it opening again. The distillery is almost hidden by a maltings UD have built in front of the distillery for the other distilleries on the Island [as 126/q4.98]

Distillery rating: 4*

Port Ellen, Islay


15 yr old, 80 proof
Another milder Islay. I prefer the Caol Isla for this style. [lh]

The whisky varies tremendously from relatively small but malty ones that might fall into your "rather bland" category, to fairly complex medium-bodied whiskies that are quite interesting, to one- dimensional heavily peated ones. Color might be an indicator as the heavy one I had was a lot darker than the others, and the relatively small ones were quite pale. It's a whisky that seems to benefit from a little age, say 15 years instead of 10 or 12. my favorite reminds me of an old bottling of Clynelish because it nicely balances several elements, but the Islay is smaller in every way, including price. Unfortunately, glass isn't always clear so i'll leave you with one piece of concrete advice: don't buy a Cadenhead bottling of this. I've had two (an 11 and a 12) and they were both in your "rather bland" category. [anon]

Some find it uncomplex but I'm very fond of the 15 y.o. by Gordon & Macphail, which comes closest to my lost love, the "old" Lagavulin 12 y.o. "Big, peaty, smooth" come to mind. [map]

Gordon & Macphail markets several lines of whisky in the US including the so-called Connoisseur's Choice line. This is not the purest form of gambling available to me, but I can definitely remember some very atypical bottles in that line. They currently have a Port Ellen 15 that is so far from the norm, you might find it hard to believe that it is a Port Ellen. Much bigger than the three other Port Ellen's I have known. A fun bottle if you like big Islay malt, but somewhat one-dimensional.

SMWS Cask-strength:
The thing that struck me was that the peaty/smokiness was very apparent in the 'nose' but almost totally absent from the taste. [jhb]

SMWS bottling 43.9 - Port Ellen 1983, aged 11 years

Absolutely delicious. The dominant aroma and flavour is, to put it unromantically, of tar. Tar as used for caulking seams, of course, with other seashore odours. More subtly, I could say it reminded me of the scents on an upland sheep moor. Either way, I would recommend you to try this while it's still around. Port Ellen no longer distills. [jw, 1995]

Hear "Port Ellen" pronounced in AU or WAV format
Search Dr. Do'g's index for the history of Port Ellen
There just might be some news about Port Ellen in The "Scotsman" newspaper