No, we’re not showing a Monty Python sketch! But we are doing something different! Usually these reviews have only my notes and impressions, but today we have a first (of many, I hope) for our Newcomers Whisky reviews…..today’s review will be a joint review of the same whisky by Mike D. and me!
Mike and I both sampled the exact same release of the Port Charlotte 10 Heavily Peated whisky (Batch 12/254) and in today’s post we will share our combined tasting notes, opinions, and ratings – all from half a world apart! You see, our reviews were done completely independently – Mike conducted his “research” in Perth and I did mine in Plano….so there is no risk of cross-pollination of ideas or impressions, just honest, straight-forward feedback!
Alright, as usual, before we proceed, its time for a little history, because the story of this Port Charlotte whisky is an interesting one. And its story ultimately converges with that of another Islay distillery, Bruichladdich, so the brief background will show the final link between these two Islay whisky distilleries.
The Port Charlotte distillery was originally named Lochindaal (named for the prominent “Sea Loch” that pushes almost to the center point of the island). The distillery was located in the heart of Port Charlotte village, which sits on the eastern short of the Rhinns almost directly across the Loch from the village of Bridgend and the Bowmore distillery.
Lochindaal distillery was a purpose-built distillery designed to provide work for the island’s crofters who were being displaced from their farms during the period known as the Great Clearances. Constructed in 1829, the distillery managed to survive into the 20th Century.
Lochindaal’s first owner, Colin Campbell, operated the distillery for just a brief two years. Over the next few decades the distillery went through a series of ownership changes: McLennan & Grant from 1831-2; George McLennan 1833-5; Walter Graham 1837; Henderson Lamont & Co until 1852; Rhinns Distillery Co 1852; William Guild & Co until 1855 when it finally had a period of stability. John B Sherriff acquired Lochindaal in 1855 and ran it independently until 1895, then it was operated under the name J B Sherriff & Co Ltd until 1921. In 1921, the distillery was taken over by Benmore Distilleries Ltd who were later acquired by Distillers Company Ltd (DCL). Sadly, because of the impacts of the Great Depression and declining demand, DCL ultimately closed Lochindaal in 1929 as “surplus to needs” and it was never reopened.
Although the Lochindaal distillery was closed in 1929, “much of the distillery’s original buildings remain in use, even today. Some of it was used by the Islay Creamery until the early 1990’s, the shore-side warehouses remain in use by a local garage and the Islay Youth Hostel and Field Centre, whilst a roadside building is now used for vehicle repairs and the distillery cottage is inhabited. The bonded warehouses on the hill behind the distillery site have been in continuous use by other distillers and are currently used by the Bruichladdich Distillery. This is one lost distillery on Islay that has a good photographic history, which clearly records the distillery site during its century of operation.” (www.islayinfo.com/lostdistilleries.html)
So….if the Lochindaal / Port Charlotte distillery closed in 1929, how is it that we are drinking a “Port Charlotte” whisky? To answer that question we need to understand a bit about the Bruichladdich distillery because it plays the central role in the revival and release of Port Charlotte whiskies.
The original Bruichladdich distillery was built in 1881 by the William, John and Robert Harvey, members of a dynastic whisky family that had owned two Glasgow distilleries since 1770. The distillery was designed by John, engineered by Robert, and financed by William and other family members. The distillery was run by William Harvey until a fire in 1934 and his death in 1936. Over the next forty years Bruichladdich underwent several ownership changes until 1994, when it was shut down as being “surplus to requirements”.
“Bruichladdich remained silent until the distillery was purchased by a group of private investors led by Mark Reynier in 2000. Jim McEwan, who had worked at Bowmore Distillery since the age of 15, was hired as master distiller and production director. Between January and May 2001 the whole distillery was dismantled and reassembled, with the original Victorian décor and equipment retained. Having escaped modernisation, most of the original Harvey machinery is still in use today. No computers are used in production with all processes controlled by a pool of skilled artisans who pass on information orally and largely measure progress using dipsticks and simple flotation devices.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruichladdich_distillery)
The revival of the Port Charlotte name was an idea that came from Mark Reynier and Jim McEwan, the two gentlemen responsible for bringing the Bruichladdich distillery back to life in 2000. You see, Lochindaal distillery had historically produced peated whiskies, so the concept was for Bruichladdich to produce several different “styles” of whisky: whiskies sold under the Bruichladdich are unpeated, the Port Charlotte whiskies are produced with heavily peated barley, and those sold under the Octomore name are “super-heavily peated”, considered to be “the most heavily peated single malt whisky in the world”.
After Bruichladdich restarted production in 2001, they began producing “heavily-peated” whisky designated for release under the Port Charlotte name. Each annual release was designated as PC with the number of years it had matured. PC 5 Evolution was the first version released back in 2006 and each year thereafter a PC hit the markets. Note that with this release of a 10 year-old, they are using the full Port Charlotte in the name to distinguish it from the PC series. The Port Charlotte 10 Heavily Peated also differs from the PC series by being released at 46% abv, while all released the PC releases are bottled at cask strength.
The PC series proved so successful that plans Reynier and McEwan submitted plans to build a new, stand-alone Port Charlotte distillery. At the moment, though those plans are presently on hold and I have not heard anything more about it moving forward.
Review: Port Charlotte 10 Heavily Peated, Single Malt Whisky
So now we know the history of Port Charlotte, which means it is time to get to the whisky review!
Port Charlotte 10 Heavily Peated was first released in 2011 and represented a bit of a milestone achievement for Bruichladdich; along with the Laddie 10, these whiskies were the first ones produced and aged for 10 years! The Port Charlotte 10 Heavily Peated was intended to fill a role as a standard-age release in the Bruichladdich line-up, however, from what has been written lately, that plan seems to have fallen by the wayside as a result of market demand for Scotch whisky. Now, like so may other distilleries, Bruichladdich appears to have almost completely ceased releasing ANY aged-stated whiskies, preferring instead to release NAS whiskies under specific characteristics such as “Islay Barley”, “Organic” and “Scottish Barley” – although, as an exception, they have issued at least two subsequent PC release, the PC11 and PC12, but only as duty free exclusives….and we’ll have to wait to see how long that continues!
Okay, time for some whisky! Let’s see what we have and how both Mike and I liked this one!
Color: Golden brown.
Nose (sans water): light smoke, hazelnut and honey with touch of vanilla and cinnamon. Maybe some wet vegetation but very limited peat.
Palate: Peppery with a pancetta saltiness and a slight sweetness. Undefined but maybe butterscotch.
Finish: slight peatiness with musty mushroom and earthiness.
Nose: still light smoke and vanilla. Leather tones but peat almost disappears.
Palate: waxy with sweet salty. Maybe sea salt caramel.
Finish: Sweeter and lingering salt.
Overall: For a “heavily peated” whisky there is something decidedly lacking. Lagavulin at 40ppm just has so much more and for a slightly lesser cost.
Color: amber gold.
Nose: a warmly peaty start full of seaweed, smoked fish, machine oil, earthy aromas, and what I usually group as PC “farmy” notes – slightly sour, full of damp hay and vegetation, wet wool. Yet there is an underlying light fruitiness and some spices that peek through. Water brings our more smoke, damp fishing nets, the ocean. But again, behind these earthy/peaty notes also lies some light honey, a delicate grassy note, along with some red apple and white fruits that brings a hint of sweetness, and a dash of lemon juice adding a softly tart citric note.
Taste: Sweet honey and red apple in the initial delivery before shifting to the peaty flavors, salty, baked bread. In the mid-palate, the fruits, the lemon, and a delicately ashy ending. With water, the peaty flavors are more on smoke and creosote, less of the earthy aromas. I also get some hints of fresh oak, but this remains full of the core peaty flavors riding on top of the soft underlying fruit, baked bread and honey notes.
Finish: Sweet, moderately warm, some spices, lemon, sweet malt, then becomes ashy, smoky and peaty with a nice mouth-tingling astringency at the end.
Overall: Definitely shows its lineage, sharing the slightly farmy note that I get in the PC range, but also has a connection to the unpeated “Laddie” whiskies – the creamy vanilla, soft fruits and delicate grassiness that add some complementary flavors. On the downside, this one is not at the same level as the previous PC releases.
Conclusion: As you can see, both Mike and I found some very similar notes as we nosed and tasted this whisky. Also, our ratings were very close, although my score was slightly lower than Mike’s. And Mike brings up the valid point that this whisky, while achieving a “good” score, is inferior to the Lagavulin 16, which apparently costs about the same or even less than this Bruichladdich Port Charlotte in Australia. (In the US the Lagavulin is more expensive than the Port Charlotte)
I know Mike has tried at least one other PC release (I know because I provided it to him!) and I have been fortunate to try the PC6, PC7 and the PC8, plus the Port Charlotte Peat Project, in addition to this one. Frankly, from my perspective, and as Mike noted, there is just something slight missing from this Port Charlotte 10. It seems to lack the excitement, the vivid notes, and explosive flavors that existed in the early PC versions – and it may simply be the lower abv percentage of this one (46%) as compared to the PCs which are bottled at cask strength and with abvs that range from 59.2% to 60.1%!
The PC releases are notoriously bold, aggressive, and definitely not for the timid whisky drinker. I recognize that perhaps some of the excitement around the PC releases was the “new and exciting” aspect of the earlier releases, while this “milestone” 10 year-old release actually hits the profile target that Jim McEwan and the team at Bruichladdich were shooting for. At the same time, being completely honest, the Port Charlotte 10 Heavily Peated seems almost sedate in comparison to the PCs that I’ve tried – although it is definitely better than the Peat Project release. I don’t want to infer that this is a meek whisky! Not in the slightest! Or that it is a “bad” whisky, because it is good, just not as good as the PC releases – in my opinion.
Port Charlotte 10 Heavily Peated offers a unique whisky experience. And while I would recommend almost any of the PC releases over this one, it remains one you should try if you enjoy doing whisky “research”…. but should you buy a bottle? I’d say that if you can obtain a sample first, go that route before you decide to buy a full bottle.
Type: Single Malt
Age: 10 (Bottled 12/254 09:22 10 OCT 2012)
Maturation: Mix of Sherry Butt and ex-Bourbon
Price: $63 (Specs – 2013)
Availability: May still be available, with some searching
Sample Source: Our own individual bottles
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ingvar Ronde, MagDig Media, Ltd.