This weekend gone, The Dramble headed over to the 3rd annual Harrow Whisky Festival, which takes place at the stunning Grim’s Dyke Hotel. The house was built between 1870 and 1872 for famous oil painter Frederick Goodall, but is best known for being the house that W.S Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan) lived for the later part of his life – indeed, he died of a heart attack whilst giving a swimming lesson in the lake on the grounds of the house in 1923. Nowadays, the venue is a Best Western hotel, and well frequented by wedding parties and functions – it’s a lovely location (very close to Dramble HQ too) for a small, well organised whisky festival to kick of the year.
Catching with colleagues from across the industry, including Dave Worthington from Boutique-y, Craig Watson representing Paul John and Jason Vaswani from the JasonWhiskyWise YouTube channel, we also spent some time with some bottlers that we’ve not seen on the festival circuit quite so much. One of those is Bartels, who both bottled under their own labels (including Highland Laird) as well as representing German indy Malts of Scotland as their official UK Distributor. Rebecca, Georgina and Ben (3/4 of the Bartels team) took us through a wide variety of their current expressions, but were also offering a dream dram that was impossible to pass up – a 33 year old Port Ellen at a highly reasonable price.
The 1983 Port Ellen comes from the Malts of Scotland Diamond series – bottlings of rare, old and particularly desirable whiskies. This one is drawn from a single bourbon hogshead (#1605), and bottled at 57.1% ABV, and was a release of 249 bottles. They’ll set you back a cool £1195 each. That’s old Port Ellen for you.
Nose: Immediate pronounced smoke – with a profile partway between ashy/sooty and medicinal/coastal. A fair amount of salty air and minerality gives aromas of brine, rocky beaches and seafood stock. Zesty lemons and good dose of menthol temper both the smoke and the minerality into something a little more relaxed and controlled. Complexity is driven from a host of supporting aromas – sweet coastal honey, seaweed and some underlying meatiness. Quite lovely. A few drops of water brings out real earthiness (soils and forest mushrooms) as well as a light nuttiness – walnuts perhaps. Whilst water does change the composition, despite the ABV of 57.1%, I personally preferred this unaltered – the quality of the spirit and the depth of the maturation removing any hint of bite or alcohol rawness.
Taste: Fresh, zingy and somewhat belying it’s three decades of maturation. Sharp lemons and pear juice are joined by sooty and ashy smoke – less than the nose would imply – rather restrained frankly. Rock pools, seaweed, kippers and seafood place this firmly in the coastal category and merge wonderfully with the fresh fruit flavours and deep, slightly earth peat. Wood comes out to play more on the palate – both planking and a few hints of furniture polish. Overall earthiness is quite high here – soils, wet leaves, mushrooms and a hint of dunnage warehousing. The addition of water smooths out the fruit flavours (I’m not sure that’s actually a good thing in this instance) and allows the underlying medicinal peat to really develop it’s TCP and hospital qualities.
Finish: Super long and straight out of A&E – surface cleaner, bandages, ointments and rubber tubing –with some pepperiness coming through towards the end.
This 1983 Port Ellen is powerful stuff – whilst it’s had plenty of time to unwind and calm in its hogshead and therefore presents subtleties, the underlying spirit still shines through brightly here – Its big and bold, and packed full of coastal influence. I much preferred it without water at its natural strength, which was incredibly drinkable straight out of the glass. A real treat and wonderful dream dram for Bartel’s to be showcasing at the Harrow Whisky Festival