Port Charlotte may not be as well-known as its sister offering, Bruichladdich, but Port Charlotte is nonetheless held in very high esteem by those in the know.
Port Charlotte is effectively peated Bruichladdich, and it is indeed, the peated offering by the distillery. Yes, the outrageously over-the-top Octomore is also peated, but it’s not exactly the best representation as it’s made in limited quantities and the intensity of which it is peated is pretty much the same as saying that a nuke is a perfectly sensible pesticide alternative.
However, until the launch of the Port Charlotte 10, Port Charlotte has always gone by the way of limited releases, unlike its unpeated cousin, which had a core range. In addition, the lineup has been revamped and its livery updated as well. It now sports a new opaque green bottle as a tip of the hat to typical Islay whisky bottles (which are often opaque green or brown) but with the modern or progressive/postmodern/hipster label design that the distillery has become famous for.
Display of values
Among other things, Bruichladdich the distillery has also become famous for unabashedly displaying its commitment to their core values: transparency in their processes, provenance of barley and keeping their production on Islay as much as possible while working towards making it entirely on Islay; with exception of the malting process, which is contracted to Bairds Malt of Inverness. Bruichladdich’s chief executive Douglas Taylor reiterates: “We’ve made this Port Charlotte whisky the only way we know how; with deep roots in the people, the place and the culture. ‘Islay’ has become a badge that is used despite increasingly fragile links to the island itself. We reject this notion. Our Islay whisky has provenance.”
The Bruichladdich distillery’s story is one that makes for great reading in this day and age – the community-driven distillery is currently second smallest on the island and yet, is the largest private employer with around 80 staff based on Islay. There’s probably a cheaper way to do it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way. It’s also a story I have no qualms about repeating ad nauseam. For in an age where distillation can effectively be done by one or two operators, Bruichladdich is an anomaly: ‘a whisky made by people, not software.’ For the most part, they’re spot on with what whisky fans want in their whisky: no chill filtration, higher ABV, less marketing BS, please. While the distillery has gone to great lengths to advocate how genuine they are – which usually people take to be the biggest BS indicator of all – their claims have been credible and it’s really hard to find a genuine complaint. Quite a feat, given how easily people can be ‘triggered’ these days.
Unlike most Islay whiskies that are pungent (in the nicest way possible) with a medicinal and earthy character, Port Charlotte is comparatively understated as peated whiskies go. This is thanks in part to a small middle cut along with tall stills, which remove much of the phenols and iodine that make Islay whiskies like Laphroaig distinct. Along with current distiller Adam Hannett’s more elegant (as opposed to Jim McEwan’s irrepressible verve) interpretation of the Bruichladdich range, Port Charlotte is considerably more elegant than what you’d expect from a typical, peated scotch whisky. If you’re wondering why French wine casks are used instead of the more traditional sherry, it’s because Bruichladdich are more focused on wine casks and sherry only forms a very tiny proportion of their inventory. According to them, they found that Port Charlotte seems to play very nicely with sweet wine casks.
Port Charlotte 10 YO
The new Port Charlotte 10 uses Scottish barley grown in Inverness-shire that has been peated to 40ppm (parts per million) and is drawn from a combination of 65 percent first-fill ex-bourbon casks and 10 per cent second-fill ex-bourbon casks as well as 25 per cent second-fill French wine casks. Port Charlotte 10 is now available at S$139 nett, retailing for 3 months at 1855 exclusively, and also available at La Maison du Whisky.
Nose: More smoky than peaty, more vanilla than citrus.
Palate: Surprisingly delicate for a heavily peated whisky (40ppm is generally in the strong category). Clean, with a central theme of smoky-meets-vanilla-sweet, and hints of salt and citrus.
Finish: The dryness is quite apparent here and is a perfect way to end it off. Don’t let the heavily peated label fool you; this is deceptively light and easy.
Joining the Port Charlotte 10 YO to complete the new Port Charlotte range will be three other expressions that will be rolled out progressively this year: the Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2011, Port Charlotte MRC:01 2010 and the MC:01 2009.
Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2011
The Islay Barley sub-series is the distillery’s best efforts at creating a whisky that is pure Islay, so you can imagine the great lengths that they go to just to make it happen. Oxbridge and Publican barley are sourced from three local farms: Dunlossit, Kilchiaran and Sunderland, which are then shipped over to Bairds to be malted and back. Like the Port Charlotte 10, it is peated to 40ppm. Unlike the Port Charlotte 10, the Islay Barley 2011 is 75 per cent first-fill bourbon and 25 per cent second-fill Syrah and Merlot casks.
Nose: Similar in nature to the regular 10YO but noticeably more intense and the aromas are constantly fighting each other – give it time to settle.
Palate: Salted caramel comes through a bit more and while the 10YO hinted it, this evokes a Talisker-esque vibe, with peach and apples thrown into the mix.
Finish: Lingering smoke with salt and coconut.
Port Charlotte MC:01 2009
A travel retail exclusive that will be arriving on our shores next month, the MC:01 is notable for the fact that it is the first time they’ve used casks that have held Marsala for nine years as part of an interesting maturation process. The MC:01 is made up of 52 per cent ex-bourbon and 48 per cent French Oak casks, aged for six years. They are then vatted and aged in Marsala casks for another two years. This release is limited to 30,000 bottles.
Nose: A subtle reminder that this series tends towards a drier style. Cloves? Hint of peach and vanilla sweetness. Play with air to vary the smoke.
Palate: The wine influence is very apparent here and the dryness compliments it well. A different kind of fruit basket and Christmas cake that plays tricks on your mind and expectations.
Finish: A gentle mix of fruit, vanilla and smoke.
Port Charlotte MRC:01 2010
The MRC:01 2010 features casks from Bordeaux Left Bank, and will be available only next year at selected bars and retail. The MRC refers to a special cask of French origin that the vatted mix of 75 per cent first-fill ex-bourbon casks and 25 per cent second-fill French wine casks spend a year in.
Nose: Peat smoke and berries. Not sure why the brooding green bottle when everything seems more like a Beach Boys MTV (wait, do they have music videos?).
Palate: A powerful rush of candy sweetness but mostly due to the high strength. Slowly, you’ll pick up more of peaches along with peat and smoke. Slight nuttiness as well (figuratively and literally).
Finish: The fruitiness is a bit more apparent here and goes well with the inherent dryness.
At some point, it was almost amusing to me that the dark intense look of the packaging was entirely at odds with what the whisky was like in character. In another context, you’d have thought that this was some Rhian Johnson-esque level of expectation subversion trolling, but no. The good news is, both Port Charlotte fans will have plenty of interest in exploring Adam Hannett’s take on this (relatively) underground favourite, while those unfamiliar with the label will find a unique Islay whisky worth spending time with. Though the MRC:01 and Islay Barley 2011 will only be available next year, the Port Charlotte 10 is available now and do check out duty-free for the MC:01 next month.