The Glory of Port Charlotte
As someone who works in the wine and spirit trade, the moments of true excitement, those moments of making a discovery and tasting something new, seem to be more and more rare. It is those types of moments that got us excited about drinking quality products in the first place though, and I find myself continuing to search for the next moment of excitement.
Picture a tasting event, where there are 7 or 8 whiskies lined up on a printed mat, with space for tasting notes or other scribbles. Something, some smell, instantly distracts you from the other stimulus in the room when you sit down at your chair. One of these glasses holds a promise of something exciting. You casually waft your nose above the rims searching for the suspect. You get to somewhere near whisky 6 or 7, where the peated whiskies have been saved for the end of the tasting, and you strike gold. Then the leader of the tasting, in this case a fiercely proud brand ambassador from Bruichladdich, calls you to attention.
The story behind this glorious peated whisky, distilled at the Port Charlotte distillery, is one of passion and adventure. The Port Charlotte distillery was closed in 1929 apparently, but has been revived by Bruichladdich, in conjuncture with the imminent closure of the Inverleven distillery. Ten men worked though the night, perhaps overreaching the shallow resources of the freshly revived Bruichladdich, to tear down and then reassemble the equipment of the old Inverleven back on the Island of Islay. There was barely room. But Port Charlotte, gone for decades, had been reborn with vision, sweat, and the probable end of someone’s life savings. They said Bruichladdich couldn’t make a peated Malt. They were wrong. The distillery has even been planned to have zero carbon footprint.
Ten years is a long time to wait, so starting at year 5 Bruichladdich cheated a little and bottled a whisky from this new distillery called PC5. The secret of what they had done was out. 6,7,8, and 9 followed each year as demand and excitement have built. While I’ve never tasted the 5, the memory of the PC7 at that tasting has stuck to me like few other sensory experiences. I have since searched out as much of this great spirit as I can afford. Each expression has been given a name in the native tongue to represent the soul of the spirit.
PC6 – Cuairt Beatha – 61.6%
This malt, finished in Madeira cask, greatly reveals the nature of the Port Charlotte peat character. The smoke is rich and oily, but yet soft. PC6 has a real clarity, where you can pick out the different peaty elements and use the knowledge to compare how unique Port Charlotte is in comparison to its Islay neighbours. The flavours ring in the mouth like big chime notes, livening your palate with the greenness of young spirit and leaving a lingering subtle bitterness of burnt sugar and tannin.
PC7 – Sin An Doigh Ileach – 61%
The first impressions of age and wood among the spirit are revealing themselves. The smoke has sweetened into the oil of nuts and aromatic woods in an antique shop, but all held up by a pure and strong campfire ash. The sweetness of aroma carries into smooth flavours of childhood peanut brittle, just a touch of candied treat inside a chiseled woodsmoke frame. The finish slowly unravels over time and subsides gradually, a noticeable difference from the sharp ring on the finish of PC6.
PC8 – Ar Duthchas – 60.5%
A play of savoury elements in opposition to fresh elements. The freshness of green herbs, lemon and sea salt are on one side of your mouth, while a rich earthy smoke is on the other. A buttery character, similar to many Bruichladdich offerings, is the frame of these flavours. The sweetness kicks in on the finish, reminiscent of a salted toffee creme brulee. Masses of richness.
PC9 – An Ataireachd Ard – 59.2%
The salty, crisp air of Islay is showing itself now as the secret of this wonderful spirit. It is like a tether between the malt and the peat. A balance of flavour is more apparent in PC9, especially if compared alongside PC6. The smoke and sweetness and unusual savoury freshness is all there, but they are melding together into a new whole. I even reach for the word elegant, which is a hallmark of flavours in balance.
The procession of these releases has worked well to prepare us for the end goal of a Port Charlotte 10 year, which will emerge sometime over the next year. Jim McEwan and his gang at Bruichladdich presented us with the elements, and now they are putting them together to create something worthwhile and classic. While you still can, go out and try at least one of these rare malts.