MISTAKE NUMBER ONE
Obsessing over closed distilleries
Focus on what’s happening right in the glass in front of your nose, and leave the fluffy romantic stories for the marketeers
This is an easy one to start with. I was at a tasting of some old bottlings from a private collection of an old friend, and one on taste was a 1971 Port Ellen.
It’s Port Ellen everyone, it MUST be good, right? It’s a malt drinker’s ‘holy grail’, that rare Islay gem of closed distilling history.
Truthfully, it was pretty woeful. Maybe it was a mixture of ‘old bottle effect’, maybe it was a poor run of the stills, maybe it was just a tired old cask that didn’t do the spirit much good. Who cares, it wasn’t good in the glass and that’s where it counts.
Port Ellen was a distillery that closed in 1983 due to the plummeting demand for Scotch whisky, and by some accounts it was some of the least consistent spirit output in the Diageo folio of distilleries (then known as DCL) at the time.
So is it always incredible on your palate?
Is it the golden mothballed elixir of Islay? No, not always. Sometimes though it just might be. In a blind lineup I’d challenge anyone to often pick Port Ellen apart from an older Caol Ila.
My point here is that even seasoned whisky drinkers sometimes overly-obsess over closed distilleries and fanciful stories told behind rose-tinted glasses of ‘better times’, not because their spirit was fantastic, but purely because of their scarcity and historical romance. Sometimes it was better back then, sometimes it wasn’t. Just like today.
How to avoid this? Explore the lesser-known non-superstar workhorse distilleries, lesser-seen SMWS distillery codes, and focus on what’s happening right in the glass in front of your nose, and leave the fluffy romantic stories for the marketeers.