In a crowded field of the world's top single malt Scotch whiskies, the cult single malt from a long-closed Islay distillery, Port Ellen, was declared "Best Single Malt" at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which announced its 2009 results this week.
The accolade (accompanied by the award of a Double Gold medal) went to the 29 year old cask-strength bottling of Port Ellen, released last year from the owner's diminishing stocks. The distillery, on the southern coast of Islay, opened in the 1830s and closed in 1983, though its warehouses still exist today alongside the Port Ellen Maltings.
The annual releases of the irreplaceable Port Ellen are anxiously awaited by malt whisky connoisseurs and collectors, particularly those in love with complex smoky Hebridean whiskies. The 2008 release consists of only 6,660 bottles, with a recommended price of Â£180. Drawn from ever-dwindling stocks, the few rare bottles which are not pre-ordered sell out within days of reaching the retailers' shelves. Some retailers are already taking orders for the 2009 release, due this September.
An extremely limited single-cask bottling of Port Ellen, distilled in 1981, was on sale last year to visitors to the Islay Festival, in an edition of a mere 200 or so bottles. They are now selling on the internet for upwards of Â£2000.
The 29 year old Port Ellen that seduced the judges at San Francisco is the 8th release of this rare malt. It was one of a handful of limited cask-strength single malt whiskies released last September in Diageo's annual Special Releases series. Tasters described it as "elegant, compelling and mellow" with its characteristically powerful tar-smoky, almost antiseptic, notes playing alongside a spicy rich fruit palate.