Tag Archives: port ellen

A Quick Trip To Japan

I recently had to make a quick trip back to Japan. This was far from a planned trip and even further from what any reasonably financially conscious person could consider appropriate given my current financial state of affairs. Especially with tickets running at about $1200/each and that like any self respecting posse I roll deep – four deep to be precise.

As many of my friends are quick to remind me, I shouldn’t be complaining. Instead I should be grateful for the opportunity to head back across the pond and enjoy the food and booze. Admittedly, both did take some of the financial sting away, at least temporarily. I did make the best use of my time to eat as much as possible while over there and I have the extra 5 pounds around my gut to prove it, but since this is a whisky blog I will stick to the whisky side of things.

Let’s face it there is still a lot more going on in the world of whisky over in Japan than there is here in the States. Be it the Japanese obsessiveness with being authentic and seeking to obtain the best whiskies or the States’ antiquated and oft nonsensical liquor laws, we usually have slim pickings. So I’m going to share a couple of my whisky experiences that I had during my brief visit last week.

Truth be told there are some whisky products that I am not all that disappointed are not available here. One would be the ever popular trend of the canned highball. The canned highball is as popular as ever – at least partially due to the huge highball commercial campaign by Suntory. I popped into one of the local grocery stores and their were at least six different canned highballs to chose from – even good old No. 7, Jack Daniels has entered into the canned highball fray. Out of curiosity I picked up a canon the limited – winter only – Suntory yuzu highball. It was pretty tasty actually, the synthetic yuzu flavoring did over power any possible remnants of whisky though. Light, refreshing and sweet, it is like the wine cooler of whisky drinks or a Chu-hi if you are familiar with the canned sochu drinks.

On to more positive whisky experiences…Liquors Hasegawa is a regular stop for me when I get over to Tokyo station. This great retailer is located inside of the vast underground city of Tokyo station and can be difficult to find your first time. But it will be well worth your efforts to find it. Liquors Hasegawa has a great selection of all types of spirits, wine and beer to just whisky. You can find 1960’s vintages of Armagnacs, Cognacs and Calvados. The best part is that they will pour you 10ml samples of certain bottles for a small charge.

I was fortunate enough to make two trips to Liquors Hasegawa. Realistically, even two was far from sufficient to taste everything that I wanted to. So I had to attempt to prioritize. On the first visit I started off with a sample of the newly reopened Japanese distillery Mars Shinshu 25 plus 3 (28 y/o). As you can tell by the age statement this is from their old stock before it was closed. The nose was fresh with apples, exotic spices and fragrant wood. While the palate was slightly bitter with the same fragrant wood, pencil shavings and some pepper.

Feeling like something a little richer I went with GlenDronach’s 21 y/o Parliament. This one did not disappoint. Plenty of rich sweet prunes and raisins along with stewed cherries. There was some sulphur on the nose but it had a nice chewy mouthfeel. Feeling like staying in the sherry realm, I decided to try the 2011 Whisky Live Tokyo single grain Kawasaki that was aged in a sherry butt. Not as big on the sherry as the GlenDronach but tasty nonetheless. A little synthetic, sweet dark sugar, cereal, the sweet grain softened it up.

Having enough of the sherry I decided to completely switch gears and went with a 25 y/o Signatory Port Ellen. At about $5 for a sample, why the hell not? This was one of those very clean fresh Port Ellen’s. Fresh, big peat on the nose along with falling autumn leaves. Along with the peat on the palate there was some flint and metallic edges to it.

I thought I was done but spotted something I have been wanting to try for some time: Four Roses Super Premium which is not available in the US. The sweet syrup on the nose gave way to the charred oak but was overall fairly restrained. The mouth was smooooooth but full and well balanced. Nice hints of vanilla and cherry cough drops. Balance was the key to this one for me.  Since it was still 11:30am by the time I emptied out the last of the Four Roses, I figured that I should get some food and be a little more productive with my day in Tokyo…





I did return a couple of days later and knocked out a few more samples while I was there: Acorn’s 19 y/o Rosebank, BB&R 38 y/o Glenlivet, OB Talisker 25 and an odd ball 1986 Dupont Calvados just for fun at the end. Why the US does not allow for retailers to sell samples like this is irritating to say the least. There were no derelict drunkards terrorizing the city because unlimited small 10ml samples were being sold. Well except for me…



Filed under Imbibed Musings

Whiskies of the World Expo

As always, full disclosure:  Both Whiskies of the World and ImpEx Beverages were gracious enough to provide us with tickets for this event.  Many thanks!  Since both of us attended we each gave our own impressions of the event.

Although I don’t like to bring up the past, I think doing so in this context is a useful exercise.  Last year’s Whiskies of the World (WoW) Expo was to be honest, a disappointment.  It was the first WoW event for the new owners and unfortunately it showed.  The biggest issue for me was the lack of space and crowds.  The venue, the Nikko Hotel in San Francisco, simply wasn’t large enough for the number of people.  However, over the course of the last year I was happy to hear about the owners’ commitment to learn from the mistakes made and to make the 2011 expo a great whisk(e)y event.

So I went into this year’s WoW with a cautious optimism that things were going to be better.  This year saw WoW return to familiar territory, the San Francisco Belle Hornblower Yacht.  I arrived with several of my friends at 4:45pm as the VIP ticket holders were going to be allowed in at 5:00pm.  There was no confusion in the line and we moved smoothly onto the yacht.  After boarding and picking up some of the free swag and tasting glass I headed out to find my predetermined targeted drams that I wanted to make sure that I tried.  The first floor was where the food was being served and the second and third floors is where all of the whiskies were being served.  The fourth floor was the deck of the yacht were you could enjoy a cigar and the fresh air.  There were also several master classes available to attend to learn even more about some of the whiskies.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to any of them this time.

As I have mentioned before in my coverage of large whisky events, I go for the experience.  I want to enjoy myself and not to have to worry about keeping track of each and every whisky I tired, let a lone take detailed tasting notes.  This event didn’t have a largest or greatest selection of whiskies, but the pours available were still quite plentiful and impressive.  With that being said, some of the new to me highlight whiskies that I tried:

Douglas 27 Year Port Ellen:  Dead-on-Port Ellen flavors. It was a treat to be able to taste some Port Ellen again after a long, mostly financial based, hiatus.  Nice to see a new line from the independent bottler Douglas Liang who also put out Old Malt Cask.

Douglas Fettercairn 9:  The first time I tried a Fettercairn – a bit of an odd fellow with some green vegetation notes.  Not what I would label a great whisky, more of an interesting, off the beaten path whisky.

Glenglassaugh:  I tried the 26 year old and it was a well rounded experience.  What was really interesting though was their new make spirit though.  Getting the opportunity to try what comes off of the still before it is aged in a cask is a great experience.

Chieftan’s Single Cask 15 Year Old Mortlach:  This yummy sherried whisky was graciously bottled at cask strength.  The nose was beautiful and the palate didn’t disappoint.  A strong candidate for my next splurge bottle of whisky.

Chieftan’s 1982 Teanninich:  Again, bottled at cask strength.  I have had a couple Teanninich expressions before, but the wonderful basket of fruits on the nose and the pallet really made this an enjoyable dram.


High West Silver Whiskey:  A clear whiskey that is made from oats.  I actually really enjoyed this whiskey and I didn’t think I was going to.  It is great when I am surprised like that.  The only thing was I felt like I was missing some raisins for my liquid oatmeal cookie.

St. George: our local distillery had a wide variety of expressions available to try.  From gins to their own single malt whiskey.  They also had, what I would say was the oddest tipple of the evening, a spirit that was derived from a wort composed of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale and IPA.  It left me with an impression of an amped up hopped barley wine.  Limited batches of this are supposed to be available later this year.

I am happy to say that there was plenty of room on the yacht and it was easy to access the booths for a pour.  This provided ample opportunity to chat with the brand representatives as well as with some of the creators of the whiskies.  I was able to have several good and informative chats during the evening.  Good job WoW you redeemed yourself from last year and WoW 2011 was a success.  I was able to take my time and try several amazing whiskies, speak with some very knowledgeable folks, and share the experience with some great friends.  As always, the whisky you drink is only as good as the company you are sharing it with.  – Chris


I spend a decent portion of last Saturday on a boat drinking whisky.  Not a bad gig, all things considered.  As long as I didn’t look out the window I was seldom reminded of the fact I was not on dry land.  There was the occasional lurch, but that could have been the liquor kicking in.  I had planned on getting in and out early but only succeeded partially.  While I arrived early, was admitted early, and got down to tasting early, I ended up lingering for a respectable three hours.

I enjoyed more the a few good whiskies and conversations while avoiding more than a few questionable options.  It was at a point early in the evening when tasting Glenglassaugh’s elder offering that I noticed a set of smaller, attractively squat bottles.  These, it turned out, contained Glenglassaugh’s  Clearac, Blushes,Fledgling and Peated.  These are the underage expressions of Glenglassaugh’s fundamental spirit.  Being a fan of experimentally young spirits, this was a treat.  I am an inveterate imbiber of Ichiro’s New Born, Double Matured, and Heavily Peated, all of which never made it to the age of three.  Having recently enjoyed a little of Yamazaki’s new make, it delighted me to get at some fresh expressions from Scotland.  The Clearac, essentially Glenglassaugh without the pesky barrel maturing process, was appropriately colorless, with a bright nutty aspect and a clean, pear-sugar note.  Good, clean fun.  The Peated built upon this with a decent but not overly dramatic layer of its eponymously accurate name.  The Fledgling has a short pit stop in ex-Bourbon casks.  Unfortunately for me, my memory appears to have taken a brief pit stop as well when I tried this – as Mr. Reagan would say, “I don’t recall.”  The Blushes is what I enjoyed the most.  New spirit aged for a fleeting six months in red wine casks, this was an experiment that worked.  The smooth, simple spirit took on a slightly lush character borrowing some of the redder tinges of the wine cask along with a respectable touch of wine-sourced berry notes.  I hope other distilleries attempt this end run around the traditional concept of Scotch.  It could make for more exciting possibilities in the whisky-but-not-scotch category.

That aside, it was a great night for adding to the glass collection (yes, I have a thing for glasses as well as bottles).  In the glass swag-away category thanks go out to Crown Royal (useful tumbler), Maker’s Mark (sweet little patented-wax-dribble shot glass), and of course, the 2011 Whiskies of the World taster’s glass (pleasant stem affair).  Not a bad trip for a boat that didn’t actually go anywhere.  And yes, I did end up drinking a Maitai at some later point in the evening. – Nate


Filed under Tastings

Provenance Port Ellen 23 Year

Ah the much adored but extinct Port Ellen.  The mythical whisky that many Islay lovers dream about having a well stocked cabinet of.  Unfortunately we are jolted awake by the big ticket price tags that always accompany PE bottles.  Several months ago our whisky tasting group was lucky enough to pull together a large enough crowd to pick up this PE for one of our events – and we were glad we did!

Port Ellen

Color – Dark copper

Nose – Oh beautiful peat and smoke – but not overwhelming, dirty motor oil, rutty, a dark old cigar club with leather couches, seaweed, cinnamon rolls, a lot of things going on here.

Palate – Peat is nicely integrated and not over powering, damp furniture, varnish, nutty, touch of bitterness, tobacco leaves and oak

Finish – Holds well with some peat and old wood.

Comments: I wanted to sip on a little more to see if I could pick anything else up and the glass was empty. Man this is good stuff. Why does PE have to taste so good? This is a dark more brooding PE that is on the other end of the spectrum from the Scott’s Selection PE I tried earlier.

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Filed under Port Ellen, Whisky Impressions

Some Quick Notes on Tasting the Chieftain’s Lineup

Chieftains is another IB, however it was not widely available in the US until a couple of months ago.  So when I learned that K and L Wines was hosting a tasting for some of the US lineup, I signed up immediately.  The event was limited to 35 people and filled up quickly.  It was a little bit of a trek to make the tasting: Martin’s West in Redwood City, but I was betting it was going to be worth it.

The lineup was quite extensive, covering varying regions and flavor profiles:  Allt A Bhainne 31, Dalmore 11, Glencadam 22, Glenrothes 14, Longmorn 13, Linkwood 16, and the great Port Ellen 25.

Allt A Bhainne is a fairly obscure distillery and not many people know about it.  It is located in the Speyside region and is used primarily for Chivas Regal blends.  So it is very rare to get the opportunity to try a single malt Allt A Bhainne.  This malt was surprisingly lively for its age – full bodied, butter, grassy with a slight hint of smoke which was also a surprise.

Dalmore is a distillery that we are a lot more familiar with.  It is located in the Highland region of Scotland and generally has deep-sweet flavors.  This malt was enhanced in a Madeira cask.  I found the Dalmore to be rather underwhelming unfortunately.  There was some tropical fruit sweetness, caramel, you can taste the wine influence but it faded rather quickly.

Glencadam is another Highland malt but it does not release many single malts.  The Glencadam was viscous and chewy with lots of malt.  There was some licorice and grain notes with some fruit underneath it all – a decent dram.

Glenrothes is a very well known distillery out of the Speyside region.  This Glenrothes was finished in a Burgundy cask to add some wine flavors.  The distinctive dark red fruits and sweetness immediately came to the forefront.  The wood was definitely present as well.

Linkwood, like Glenrothes, resides in the Speyside region of Scotland.  However, you probably won’t find a bottle of Linkwood at your local bar.  My first thought was WOW! Big fruit, malt and green apples.  I also found flowers and some heather in the palate.  I really enjoyed this malt, it tasted almost like a Lowland malt to me.  A big surprise.

Longmorn is a neighbor of Linkwood in Speyside.  This malt had baked bread, oak and grain with a slight hint of smoke.  Unfortunately, it faded really fast and I didn’t find it all that interesting.

Finally, I was able to taste the Port Ellen.  For those that don’t know, Port Ellen is one of the most sought after malts out there.  Port Ellen, located in the Islay regions, was demolished in 1982 making whatever was left aging in barrels at that time the last whisky to ever be produced from this distillery.  Unfortunately, the price point for Port Ellen’s is extremely high and keeps increasing as the years go by and the stocks of the whisky dwindle.  This Port Ellen was a nicely balanced malt.  A perfect balance of peat, coastal brine, seaweed, smoke and ashes.

Over all the Chieftain’s line up is solid but to be honest I was expecting a little more.  I really enjoyed the Linkwood and the Port Ellen.  The others weren’t bad but they didn’t stand out for me.  It is nice to see another IB enter into the US market.  I am hoping that Chieftains line will flourish and continue to grow so that we can all experience different and unique flavors from more great distilleries.


Filed under Allt A Bhainne, Dalmore, Glencadam, Imbibed Musings, Linkwood, Longmorn, Port Ellen, Whisky Impressions

Scott’s Selection 1982 Port Ellen 21 Year Old Review

Well here I find myself with another extinct distillery – Port Ellen.   The legend of Port Ellen is quite large and there is a wealth of information about it in the whisky blogosphere.  I really wouldn’t have much to add to it.  So following the path of least resistance I won’t even try.

Independent bottler Scott’s Selection  bottling of Port Ellen.  Distilled in 1982 and bottled in 2003.  Bottled at cask strength 56.4%ABV.

Port Ellen

Color – Light gold

Nose  – Peat, light smoke, BBQ’d oysters, apple cider, coastal brine and seaweed.

Palate – Oak, clean, surprisingly sweet at the front, then the peat and smoke starts to come out but not overly dominant, hints of citrus, mouth coating, the cask strength works well.

Finish – numbing with a nice malty sweetness on the way out with the peat smoke and ashes  nicely framed in the background.

With H2O

Nose – Opens up the oak and malt even more.

Palate – Really takes the alcohol edge off and rounds it out, licorice, oak is more dominant, but where did the peat and smoke go?

I really enjoyed this PE.  It is more on the clean, straight forward peat and smoke side of things.  Instead of the leather and tobacco flavor profile that I have tasted in PE before.  I do prefer it neat though as I was really surprised how much the peat and smoke was muted with the water.


Filed under Port Ellen, Whisky Impressions

Short Re-Cap of April #Whisky Tasting in San Francisco

Date of Tasting: April 15, 2010

With colder than normal weather, there was some concern about having an outdoor tasting. While jackets or other garb offering a layer of warmth were a sound idea, the fog, chill winds, or any otherwise inordinately inclement weather failed to materialize. And at 6:30 it was still light out so the out-back seating worked well for what was a respectable turnout of the 3rd Thursday crowd. In addition to Aberlour’s A’bunadh, the line-up boasted a few untested (but highly anticipated) quantities including a Dewer Rattray Auchentoshan and a Provenance Port Ellen. A 10-year Glen Grant also worked its way into the night’s sanctioned festivities.  All purchased from our wonderful local retailer: Whisky Shop


Taking a non-standard tack, the evening kicked off with a cask-strength dose of the 18 year Auchentoshan. The bold beginning was well-received. Owed in part to yet another excellent selection by Dewer Rattray, in part to a surprisingly complex Auchentoshan, and in part to everyone’s need to get down to the business of drinking, this first round improved already good moods and set a high bar. It also got people munching on the Mediterranean platters which work well to pad the stomach without compromising the taste buds (unless you go a little to heavy on the red chili sauce, which tends to bring out the heat in any dram). And so a night both low-key and cosmopolitan ensued: fine scotch whisky paired with hummus and falafels in the back of an upscale restaurant on a cooling April in San Francisco.

The A’bunadh came quickly on the heels of the Auchentoshan. Looking more sherry than some sherries, the dense almost-sanguine color was a pleasure in and of itself and at 59.5%, it built upon the fanciful flavors of the proceeding lowland with its not-misplaced reputation for a densely packed, intense whisky. As is typical, each drinking at there own pace, engaging in conversations more engaging than others, etc., the lock-step pace of the tasting began to fracture with some breaking away while others lingered.

The Respectable Side

Looking up at what is left of the Auchentoshan

In this haphazard but traditional manner the Glen Grant started making the rounds. Billed as a 43% palate cleanser to both take the heat down and to make way for the Port Ellen, the Glen Grant jumped rapidly to the head of many revelers’ favorite-of-the-night list. Lush and pleasant. And instead of getting boring it just got tastier and more popular. 3rd Thursdays are no exception to the second law of thermodynamics and entropy is essential to any casual whisky tasting.

By the time Port Ellen was pouring the muse of low level chaos had established a beachhead and the night was “officially” on.  The Port Ellen caught some by surprise and left others wondering but by the end of the evening’s festivities, it was just as empty as the Glen Grant. I thought the Auchentoshan had a swig left in it but the angels appeared to have taken a second share while my back was turned.


I would be remiss if I failed to mention a surprise entry for the late-night stragglers. Glenmorangie’s Astar was lauded by the still-extant palates as a real treat. So much so that half a bottle went missing quickly amidst the conversation and delight of those still drinking. – N. Nicoll (Formal tasting notes to follow).  Pictures provided by R. Polnar.


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Filed under Tastings