Many feel that Port Charlotte whisky, distilled and bottled by Bruichladdich, is the epitome of modern Islay whisky.
It has all the coastal notes and the peaty pow you expect from Islay, but is also an elegant and complex spirit. Bruichladdich is famous for its slow distillation in Victorian equipment (seriously, their still room looks like a scene from a steampunk graphic novel!) and their standard releases before Port Charlotte were only ever very lightly peated (around 5PPM or less).
Launching as the new kid of peated Islay whisky back in the noughties, the Port Charlotte series has been a cult hit ever since. Bottlings tend to be very difficult to source as they were all limited production, with wide global distribution (and some travel retail), so it’s a real treat to get hold of any.
You can pick them up on the secondary market fairly regularly but they’ll set you back three or four times their original retail price.
I sourced my sample from WhiskySample.nl a wonderful, family-run business in the Netherlands. The site is in Dutch (but most modern web browsers will automatically translate for you) and they do ship internationally. Well worth perusing their stock if you’re on the look-out for something unusual to taste!
Anyway, on to the good stuff…
Nose: Not as fierce as expected. Icing sugar and candy, and a rich buttercream. The wine influence has imparted a thick and floral honey scent as well – really very rich. Some medicinal TCP, but faint compared to your typical Islay (it’s more like a sherbet tingle than creosote or bonfires). Some soft coastal notes of salt and seashells in there too.
Palate: Madeira’s strong and sweet to start, with a rising peat (and ABV!) burn. Very viscous and luscious mouthfeel, a typical side-effect of Bruichladdich’s slow distillation. I get notes of mandarin, blood-orange and grapefruit running through the middle, with some more icing sugar and peaty sherbet.
Finish: Some soft smoke (as opposed to peat) comes out as the tingle calms down and savoury notes of liquorice, hazelnut, and rolling tobacco develop into a long finish (five minutes later, I can still taste hazelnuts!).
Water: It gets a lot peatier (on the nose and the palate) when you add water! I think I prefer it unwatered, with that lovely, thick, creamy mouthfeel.
This is the second of the PC-series I’ve tried (the first being PC5) and I’m well impressed. Even as a self-confessed Bruichladdich fanboy, I challenge any seasoned peat-head not to enjoy this dram. All I can say is, it’s a big shame that these bottlings are so rare and that I hope the distillery put some more young Port Charlotte out in future.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a cracking dram at ten and twelve years old, but these younger releases have brilliant and unusual characteristics that seem to fade as the spirit matures.
Here’s to the power and beauty of youth!