Nose: Smoky, sweet, salty – quite coastal. Hints of citrus – mainly lemon; and traces of nature reserves (from where I grew up). Quite soft and subtle for the peat level.
Palate: Smoky and salty, vanilla and lemon – a slightly floral hint lurking too. The smoke is clean and bushfire-like rather than the usual Islay medicinal peat. the smoke levels are consistent with what you’d expect from the peat levels of this whisky, but the rest of the palate is remarkably mild and smooth. Somehow the palate is both delicate and solidly heavy at the same time.
Mouthfeel: Thick, oily, a slight alcohol tingle but velvety smooth – I think I’ll actually call it luscious.
Finish: I’ve had longer finishes in a whisky, but this is certainly no light weight. The finish starts of salty, moves through a fruity sweetness, before a lingering smokiness hangs around; all while a slight warmth and tingle stays on the tongue.
Balance: It’s not often you can say that a peaty whisky is completely and utterly balanced. This Port Charlotte though has somehow wound the smoke in, around, and through all the other essences that make up this whisky – the vanilla, the salt, the lemon, and the floral notes. Sweet and savoury, fruity and smoky, light and thick; it’s quite an impossible combination that somehow exists.
This whisky is part of Bruichladdich’s Scottish Barley series – where all of the barley is grown on the Scottish mainland. They also have a sister series, Islay Barley, where all of the barley is grown on the isle of Islay. This Port Charlotte, like most of the Port Charlotte releases is peated to 40ppm, and bottled at 50% ABV with no artificial colouring, and no chill-filtering. Port Charlotte is Bruichladdich’s brand for their heavily peated whiskies – as opposed to their unpeated whiskies, which are branded Bruichladdich, and their very heavily peated whiskies, Octomore. Unlike most Port Charlotte releases, this whisky has no age statement.
This whisky needs a few minutes to breath before you take a sip – a time that I suggest you use by thoroughly examining and enjoying the mesmerising nose. If you open the bottle from new, pour a dram, and knock it back without a breather, you will be hit by a rush of sweet smoky salt with a bit more burn than you’re probably looking for – give it some room to breath though and you will be rewarded with a palate that plays with your taste buds and a build that tantalises your tongue.
I have to admit that despite being a massive peat monster, and well and truly being a member of the “cult of Laddie”, I have not had a lot of experience with Port Charlotte – I jumped straight to Octomore on my peated Bruichladdich journey. Recently however I have had the chance to sample a couple of different Port Charlotte releases, and fear I may have been missing out.
All Port Charlotte whiskies are distilled, aged, and bottled on Islay at the Bruichladdich distillery. Bruichladdich was founded in 1881 by three brothers; William Harvey, John Harvey, and Robert Harvey – a family that traces its routes through two other distilleries in Glasgow dating back to 1770. When the Bruichladdich distillery was built it was a state of the art distillery, and was one of the few distilleries where the buildings were purpose-built. This allowed the distillery to install their trademark tall-necked stills that produce the Bruichladdich style. The distillery changed ownership several times until it was closed in 1994 as being surplus to the requirements of its then owners.
In 2000 the distillery was purchased by Mark Reynier (now CEO and significant shareholder at the Waterford distillery) and a group of investors through his company Murray McDavid. Jim McEwan was hired from Bowmore to be Bruichladdich’s new head distiller, and production restarted in 2001. In 2012 the shareholders voted to sell the distillery to Rémy Cointreau for £58 million – against the very public wishes of Mark Reynier. Since 2013 the distillery has been running at full capacity, and new warehouses are being constructed to enable aging of considerably larger volumes of spirit.
Port Charlotte’s first release was bottled in 2007 at five years of age, and has been a regular release ever since. It was at this point that Bruichladdich formed their three-brand profile, and removed peated whisky from the Bruichladdich brand.
Whilst Bruichladdich was state of the art when it was originally constructed, a lot of the original equipment is still in use today – and most processes and calculations are done by hand, with none of the distillation being automated or controlled by computers. All Bruichladdich spirit, including Port Charlotte, and Octomore, are very slowly distilled through their Victorian-era equipment.
If you haven’t tried this whisky, and enjoy peated whiskies, I highly recommend doing so – it is a spectacular drop!