“It was Jim’s idea,” says Mark Reynier, CEO of Bruichladdich. Mark is referring to the initiative to resurrect the distillery in Port Charlotte. With the closure of the Inverleven Distillery in 2003, Master Distiller Jim McEwan saw an opportunity to purchase the existing equipment before demolition. A team led by Bruichladdich’s General Manager, Duncan McGillivray, ventured to Dumbarton and dismantled the distillation equipment, bolt-by-bolt, and shipped it by barge back to Islay.
Though plans to put Islay’s ninth distillery into production have unfortunately met with delay, for all intents and purposes, this project is still a ‘go’.
For those not in the know, Port Charlotte is destined to be Islay’s next destillery. Pieces are coming together, and it is only a matter of time until whisky flows from the stills in the village of Port Charlotte. From 1829 through 1929 the Lochindaal Distillery produced a peated malt whose resonance lingered long enough to lead to Bruichladdich’s plans of renaissance. The buildings in Port Charlotte are still in tact from a time when the heavy hand of prohibition led to the Lochindaal Distillery being mothballed, however the last known bottling from this distillery was opened and drunk in 1963.
At the time of writing (2011) there is an indefinite hiatus in terms of rebuilding this highly anticipated addition to Islay’s stable of malt producing giants, however, irrespective of this, Bruichladdich has been producing a heavily-peated spirit under the Port Charlotte moniker for a nearly a decade now. Eventually, plans are to shift this production to what will be Islay’s newest phoenix…Port Charlotte.
Though we’ll likely never know what the original malt tasted like, the new Port Charlotte is an instant classic. It is a whisky that is simply unmistakeable. The releases to date are all are young, biting, citric, and carry that hallmark Bruichladdich buttery character. They are all smoky and peaty, with a phenolic character that seems contrary to the declared 40ppm peating level. The heft here makes me think this is a conservative number. Each also delivers a wonderful anesthetic feeling after a couple sips of each (not surprising at this high of abv).
Forgive me for not being able to source a bottle of PCMV (the latest Port Charlotte multivintage vatting, and sadly not available in Canada as yet), but in the meantime…here are the ‘Big 4’:
Port Charlotte PC5 Evolution
Bourbon and sherry casks 63.5% 40PPM 5 y.o. 6,000 bottles
Nose: Black licorice. Peat and smoke. Thistly and green with a touch of new make fruit.
Palate: Prickly on arrival. Caramel, sharp greens, tarry. New make peaks through a little.
Finish: Green apple and waves of smoke.
Balance: Young and sharp, but surprisingly already showing strong suggestions of what it will become.
Impressions: A little Caol Ila-ish, believe it or not. Somewhat fruiter and a little drier than the others in the lineup. Hasn’t quite mellowed with that caramely butteriness typical of the others. Not nearly as balanced as the others, but extremely charming in that ‘dirty girl next door’ kinda way.
Port Charlotte PC6 Cuairt-Beatha
Bourbon and Madeira casks 61.6% 40PPM 6 y.o. 18,000 bottles
Nose: Bucketloads of peat and smoke. Butterscotch. Hints of dust. Sharp and salty. Characteristic Bruichladdich butteriness.
Palate: Swirling smoke. Tar and anise. Caramel. Citrus zest
Finish: Neverending. Hints of oak here.
Balance: Deep. Sooooo deep.
Impressions: My favorite of the bunch. The nose, especially, is in a league of its own. Bold, unique, sexy. I adore this whisky.
Port Charlotte PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach
American Oak Finish 61% 40PPM 7 y.o. 24,000 bottles
Nose: Sharp smoldering peat and smoke. Pungent woodiness. Enormous caramel sweetness. Freshly picked garden herbs. Cola and citrus.
Palate: Dense smoke. Touch of dill. Mouthcoating.
Finish: Everlasting, but what would you expect? At this ABV and this heavily peated these flavors ain’t going anywhere.
Balance: A little more ‘in-your-face’ than the other two. But I likes…I likes a lot. I concede you’ll likely get a better balance out of the PC6 and PC8.
Impressions: Seems most aggressive of the bunch. Not sure why. Tried this on multiple occasions against the others, and even had concurrence from fellow tasters. Utterly delicious though.
Port Charlotte PC8 Ar Duthchas
Bourbon and Madeira casks 60.5% 40PPM 8 y.o. 30,000 bottles
Nose: What else? Peat and smoke. Amplified clean cucumber and hints of dill. Toffee. Cola. Citrus zest. Hint of chocolate.
Palate: Fruitier delivery. Slightly (and I mean ‘slightly’) easier smoke. Sweeter and more caramel. Citrus.
Finish: Ssssssssssmoky and woody. Fruitier finish lingers. Green apple.
Balance: Most balanced so far, but I miss the jagged tors of the earlier releases.
Impressions: A little more complex, but I prefer the more youthful bite. Saying this is my least favorite of the three is really not giving this its fair due, as it is still one hell of a dram.
Dissecting these gorgeous monsters is hard. You first have to disassociate the alcoholic burn and peat/smoke components. If you can do that, you’ll still be hard-pressed to find individual characteristics. This is essentially the same whisky at different ages, with different finishes. Logically, they would be fairly similar. The obvious solution would be to add water, but as said before…as soon as we start adding water it becomes hard to know that you’re tasting the same strength as anyone else out there. This sort of negates the review.
My personal opinion is that it’s more logical to simply weigh degrees of flavor and aroma balance and decide which one fits your palate best.
The wait for Port Charlotte’s rebirth is like the wait for ‘Chinese Democracy’, but we’ll be here with glasses raised to Bruichladdich when it becomes reality.