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Issue 63 - Gone but not forgotten (Port Ellen)

Whisky Magazine Issue 63
April 2007


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Gone but not forgotten (Port Ellen)

In the latest of our new series,Gavin D Smith delves in to Port Ellen's past

It is a fair bet that if Whisky Magazine was to conduct a readers' poll to establish which closed distillery of the past half century represented the greatest loss, Port Ellen would come out very near the top. This is partly due to the continuing passion for all things Islay, but also because Port Ellen is an exceptionally fine dram by any standards.

Grant Carmichael was general manager for Distillers Company Ltd's Islay operations from 1978 until his retirement in 1995, by which time ‘DCL' had metamorphosised into United Distillers.

He says that “Port Ellen is a very, very underrated dram. It's only these last few years that people have discovered what a fine malt whisky it is. It's got a very different character from the other south coast Islay whiskies. It has the seashore character, and I also get a chocolate note off it. It's there among the best.

It's becoming rarer and rarer, and too expensive, but that's the law of supply and demand.” Port Ellen distillery is situated on the outskirts of Port Ellen village on the southern shores of Islay, and was established in 1825.

It was one of many distilleries that sprang up in the wake of the liberating Excise Act of 1823. Port Ellen was built by Alexander Kerr Mackay, who became bankrupt soon after the distillery opened. It was subsequently operated with little more financial success by various members of the Mackay family, before the youthful John Ramsay from Clackmannanshire was appointed to take control, being gran...

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