Diageo Brings Port Ellen Scotch Whisky Front And Center With New Series - The Whiskey Wash

Diageo Brings Port Ellen Scotch Whisky Front And Center With New Series

By Nino Marchetti / February 26, 2019

The story of the fabled Port Ellen distillery is one that’s been told far and wide in Scotch whisky circles over the years. Founded back in 1825, this spirits making facility on Islay has gone through many ups and downs over its long life time, eventually being shuttered over 30 years ago in 1983. It is owned by liquor giant Diageo and, in recent times, one occasionally sees official special releases of its dwindling older stock appear in the annual Diageo Special Releases collection. Now, with a major revival of Port Ellen under way by its parent company, it has been decided to introduce limited edition expressions as part of a new series.

The Port Ellen Untold Story Series, according to those behind it, was created with an eye towards telling the background story of this distillery. It represents one of the first times we’ve seen Port Ellen in an official standalone capacity (besides the Special Releases, it has shown up in a focused Johnnie Walker expression and also as a travel retail exclusive). For its debut, Diageo has kicked out a 39 year old bottling dubbed The Spirit Safe.

Port Ellen: Untold Stories The Spirit Safe

Port Ellen: Untold Stories The Spirit Safe (image via Diageo)

The Spirit Safe was distilled back in 1978 and is said to be one of the oldest official expressions ever to emerge from Port Ellen. It is a single malt marriage of whisky that was aged in selected ex-bourbon and ex-sherry refill casks, and it has been bottled at 50.9% ABV. As is befitting of a higher end release like this, it comes with special packaging, specifically a locked display box opened by two keys. The first “unlocks the wrapping, the second key opens the window to the bottle, beautifully telling a story of innovative spirit and industry standard setting.”

“Setting a rare precedent for exceptional whisky since the beginning in 1825,” said Georgie Crawford, Master Distiller at Port Ellen, in a prepared statement, “this release is a perfect exploration of how early innovation at the distillery played a role in shaping the whisky industry as a whole. There’s an ethereal quality to Port Ellen and to the distillery itself. It is not easy to grasp what makes it so unique, but the people definitely matter.

“John Ramsay was an early innovator in the whisky industry, and not many people know how important Port Ellen was in the early days of the whisky industry. Through this release we hope to give more insight into why it is so special a liquid, not just for its flavour, but for its history.”

Port Ellen: Untold Stories The Spirit Safe

The dual locks inside Port Ellen: Untold Stories The Spirit Safe (image via Diageo)

“This Port Ellen: Untold Stories The Spirit Safe, 39-Year-Old, is an exceptional Single Malt Scotch whisky from this storied distillery on Islay,” added Tom Jones, Diageo Global Prestige Brand Ambassador. “Its ground-breaking founder skillfully harnessed the islands alluring, peaty wilderness and unforgiving coast line to create a distillery which produced cult whiskies with unrivaled depth. There is the regular smoke from the local peat, but this one is softer.

“As this release has been selected from a small number of casks, it is very different to other Port Ellen releases. Authentic in character, as it came from the casks and natural in colour, this liquid will no doubt inspire connoisseurs and collectors alike to own this once in a lifetime piece of history.”

As it stands now plans call for a global release of this Port Ellen expression in April, with just 1,500 bottles being available and pricing at a whopping £4,500, or around $5,960 USD. Limited official tasting notes suggest this release “embodies the regular smoke from the local Islay peat, but comes across slightly softer. Radiant in appearance, with exquisite beading, its smooth texture and sweet, salty then smoky taste gives a complex yet balanced finish.”