Ah, Port Ellen Islay whisky, a collector’s and investor’s malty wet dream that continues to defy pricing parameters with values of old releases going up each and every year, and the price of new releases entering the market at astonishingly high prices to try and take out the secondary market’s fair share.
But with the rebuild of the Port Ellen Islay whisky distillery in planning, with building likely to commence very soon I, along with many of my whisky friends, colleagues, clients, customers, readers, followers and fellow whisky geeks often pass comment or raise the question; Will we still herald Port Ellen Islay whisky when the distillery is resurrected like a phoenix?
Around 18 months or so ago, as I sat in the audience of Bar Convent Berlin (BCB) reading through the slides I was about to present to a couple hundred industry professionals and veterans on the psychology of branding and packaging design, a curious press release entered my inbox that took all of my attention for the next few minutes.
The distilleries, which have been silent since they were closed in 1983, will be brought back into production through a £35 million investment by Diageo, the world’s leading Scotch whisky company.
The new Brora and Port Ellen distilleries will be among Diageo’s smallest distilleries, capable of producing 800,000 litres of alcohol per year. They will replicate as closely as possible the previous taste profiles of Port Ellen and Brora, with medium peated character at both sites. Subject to planning permission and regulatory consents, detailed design, construction and commissioning work, it is expected the distilleries will be in production by 2020.
My question then, which remains now is around flavour, release strategy and how much this new liquid will be coveted vs. the almost messianic Port Ellen Islay whisky releases we see on the market today.
They are marketed as being what they are – ‘dead distillery stock’, i.e. unrepeatable and rarer by the year due to the volume of bottles released and the Angels’ Share given that the youngest whisky Diageo must have left of true Port Ellen Islay whisky would not be a 36 Year Old, given that the distillery closed in 1983.
But in a couple of years, when the spirit flows again from a distillery named Port Ellen, producing whisky that is as close to the original spirit character as is chemically possible, what will that do to the highly-mature stock that Diageo has in its copious warehouses around Scotland?
Will it be as coveted? Will it be as investable? Will the new stock be as investible as the old stock was? Will it taste as good? Will the new Port Ellen Islay whisky releases be better than the original? Will Diageo resist the urge to release 3 Year Old ‘as its ready’ releases? Will there be NAS (Non Age Statement) Port Ellen Islay whisky releases in the future?
I do not have the answer to any of the above questions but I think it will be one of the most interesting storylines in the whisky industry that I will be following; especially as a qualified whisky geek who wants it to work, and wants Diageo to do the right thing by the brand, the legacy and the myths surrounding Port Ellen Islay whisky.
Wouldn’t it be nice, positive and bold for the next iteration in the Port Ellen Islay whisky story to start with a 15 Year Old or a 20 Year Old? Big problem there is not being able to release it until the year 2035 or 2040, which I’m sure will not be in the CapEx ROI plan, so I’m sure we will see young Port Ellen Islay whisky bottlings coming out in the coming years.
I just hope they stand up to what we all want and crave from the brand which is, simply; perfection.