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February 19, 2024

One of Scotland’s Most Sought After Distilleries Releases First New Bottles in More Than 40 Years

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Port Ellen is synonymous with superior single malt Scotch. The legendary distillery off the southeastern shores of Scotland is responsible for some of the most sought after whiskies of the 21st century. What makes the liquid so special? Beyond the exceptionality of its maritime-forward house style, people tend to pine for what they can’t have. And this facility hasn’t actually produced something new in over 40 years. Any releases during in the interim have come from a dwindling cache of patiently-aged reserve stock.

That’s all changes this March when Port Ellen is reborn along the coast of Islay, atop the same plot of land it’s called home since 1825. To commemorate the historic occasion, the distillery is readying a pair of peated malts older than anything its ever released before. The 44-year-old siblings, aptly titled Gemini, are packaged together and heading to the tippy-top shelf of a select liquor store (hopefully somewhat) near you.

Port Ellen Distillery sits atop the coast of Islay, where it’s called home since 1825.

Courtesy of Port Ellen

The tandem single malts rely entirely on whisky drawn from just three European oak casks, vessels that were originally filled at the distillery back in 1978. Port Ellen Gemini Original is an otherwise untouched representation of those commingled casks—crafted at a time when disco was still taken very seriously. It paints a poignant picture of the house style, a robust blend of brown sugar, bonfire, and salted seaweed, tempered only by the slow, steady hand of time.

Port Ellen Gemini Remnant is a richer riff on the original, thanks to a secondary maturation in a unique sherry-seasoned “remnant cask.” That’s an industry term for a makeshift holding tank, of sorts. It’s typically filled with the ends of assorted distillation runs in need of a temporary home before they head off to a more permanent destination. When the distillery shuttered in 1983, a band of local whisky makers salvaged the vessel and kept it safe for more than four decades—an important reminder that not all heroes wear capes.

After recovering the remnant cask, the folks at Port Ellen reinvigorated the oak with fortified wine before using it to finish the 44-year-old Gemini variant. What emerged after multiple months was a mahogany-hued spirit, sporting fudge and treacle in the nose. It’s creamier in mouthfeel than its twin sibling, and adds to its maritime base a lingering layer of cigar box and sandalwood spice. It’s a touch lighter in alcohol, too: 53.6 percent ABV compared to 54.9 percent ABV for the Original.

Port Ellen Gemeni come in luxury packaging to celebrate the distillery’s return.

Courtesy of Port Ellen

The dual crystal decanters sit side-by-side in an alabaster box with a beveled facade. Original wears the phrase, ‘A Giant Awakens,’ emblazoned below its white label. The black-labeled Remnant Cask carries the words, ‘A New Day Dawns.’ 

They also ought to come equipped with a warning label: ‘A Bank Account Is Emptied.’ Only 274 sets of Port Ellen Gemini will ship to market, each one arriving with a recommended price tag of $57,000.

So, chances are scant you’ll ever even get to see a set in person. But take comfort in the fact that you can see a working Port Ellen distillery as soon as next month. And a luxe vacation to Scotland, including roundtrip airfare, won’t cost you nearly as much as the oldest bottle you might encounter while there. 

Related: The 15 Best Scotch Whiskies of 2024

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