Port Ellen Gemini: Twin whiskies mark the Islay legend’s return

Port Ellen Gemini: Twin whiskies mark the Islay legend’s return

Kristiane Sherry |

Ahead of its highly anticipated reopening next month, iconic Islay distillery Port Ellen has released its oldest single malts. Kristiane Sherry explores the Port Ellen Gemini duo. 

It’s been over 40 years since spirit flowed from the stills at Port Ellen Distillery. Perched on the Islay shoreline, the maker has a more storied history than most. Initially founded in 1825, it was shuttered in 1930 before being rebuilt from 1966-7. In 1973, the maltings opened next door – more on those shortly. But in 1983 its fortunes waned once more and it closed – many thought for good. 

Then in 2017 major whisky news broke. Present day owner Diageo announced it was to restore distilling at the site. In the three decades since it last made whisky, Port Ellen had become highly sought-after. Dwindling stocks commanded ever-higher prices, and collectors flocked around rare bottlings. The site itself had been dominated by the maltings, which had become a beating heart of sorts for the island. Most distilleries bought their peated malt from the site – something that may now change as Diageo’s own demand for peat soars. 

Now the site is almost ready to reopen as a distillery in its own right. The stills are set to be fired up next month, a new volume in Port Ellen’s rich compendium of whisky-making. And to celebrate, Diageo is releasing Port Ellen Gemini, a set of two 44-year-old bottlings – the oldest ever from the producer. Presented as a duo in a folding, mirrored case, the two 70cl crystal decanters feature portions of the casks that held them. 

“Marking the return of this iconic distillery, and a new light in its future, Port Ellen Gemini is true taste of a legend reborn – a never before seen release of two unique and priceless expressions of a much-revered whisky, inspired by our rarest cask,” said Master Blender Craig Wilson said.  

The focus is smoke, with the two expressions – Gemini Original and Gemini Remnant– drawn from just three European oak casks. They were then split into two portions, which undertook different maturation journeys.  

Gemini Original found its way into a reserve European oak butt. Celebrated whisky writer Charles Maclean said it “lends vitality to both aroma and taste”. It's an amalgam of sweetness, saltiness and smokiness, wrapped in a remarkably smooth texture. And at 54.9%, it’s surprisingly robust, too. 

Meanwhile Gemini Remnant was held in a remnant cask. Every distillery has them – they are used to measure and hold excess spirit from a filling run. It would have seen an enormous array of whiskies in its lifetime, and now it was used as a ‘finish’ here. Having been reseasoned, it was said to impart sea salt, smoke, dried fruit and oak. According to Maclean it “markedly increased the flavour profile” of the 53.6% ABV expression.  

“Port Ellen Gemini invites whisky connoisseurs to compare and contrast a twin pair of 1978 Scotch whiskies, shared in its original form and finished expression,” Wilson continued.  

“The finish is nothing short of historical: an extraordinary remnant cask that cradled three decades of Port Ellen spirit, now restored and revived, a worthy touch to this rare Scotch. It is a fitting tribute to the past and future as Port Ellen returns once again.”  

Port Ellen Gemini is priced at £45,000 for the pair, inclusive of duties and taxes in the UK. Interested? Drop us a line – we have access to these remarkable whiskies for a very lucky few. Our team is always on the look-out for rare whiskies. If you’re after something for your collection, just let us know. We’d be delighted to help. Our email is .

Port Ellen Gemini tasting notes

Tasting notes from the Port Ellen team: 

Port Ellen Gemini Original 

Nose: Explore light prickle, hints of baked pear and sweet edible seaweed. Dive deeper, for maritime scents born of long years in a sea-side warehouse. Surface, to faint traces of smoke that become ashy, as with a spent bonfire. Late on, seek out a sweet suggestion of soft fudge. Add water to find that sweetness and smokiness more pronounced. 

Palate: Find pleasure in the firm, smooth body and vital, sweet-spicy flavours. Marvel at the intensity and freshness of those flavours after so many years. Discern a dash of salt mid palate, amid the embrace of a smoky warmth. Add water to find a smooth mix of baked apple skins and lightly medicinal aromas, the charred ashes of a bonfire clear in the development. 

Finish: Luxuriate in its length, leaving aromatic sweet smoke to linger on the palate. 

Port Ellen Gemini Remnant 

Nose: Find pleasure at once in rich and fruity top-notes of dark sherry, spirit-soaked prunes and old dry oak spice. Search below for fainter hints of tobacco and charred wood ash, with hints of salt and sawdust. Note how all of these combine slowly, revealing sweet, rich charred ash-smokiness. Add water, to sense sweet, rose-perfumed notes and chocolate-coated toffee caramel. 

Palate: Enjoy voluptuous smoothness, allowing it to envelop the palate. Sense rich, sweetly fruity and full-flavoured notes, with sumptuous, sweet spiciness and gently smoky warmth. Add a little water to enrich the sweetness of this passionate flavour symphony. 

Finish: Savour the long, rich and intense sweet-smoky flavours, as they reach a spicy, crisp crescendo made spicier still if a drop of water is added, with a last wisp of smoke in the long aftertaste.