It has taken me a little time to get used to the new Port Charlotte bottle design. At first glance I thought of a miniaturised watercooler bottle, albeit a rather more fun one to gather round for a conversation. It’s stubby, yet sleek. Distinctive, but (judging by initial online conversations) possibly divisive. But, to my mind, its slightly alien appearance is just what the range needs.
Moving Port Charlotte into its own custom glassware sets it apart as its own skew of the Bruichladdich range – now each (Bruichladdich, Octomore and Port Charlotte) of the three expression types shouts visually about its inherent differences before one even pops the cork out of the bottle. The relaunch allows the distillery greater scope to reach out to new entrants to the whisky market – to the uninitiated, a unique bottle design helps embed Port Charlotte as a brand in its own right – rather than it just being seen as Bruichladdich – but peated.
Likewise, if you consider the odd place that is the travel retail market (where Bruichladdich have positioned a variety of expressions over the years), having a bottle design that jumps out in a veritable sea of homogeneity allows Port Charlotte the scope to catch the wandering eyes of the part-time whisky buyer – those who’s busy travel schedule allows only a cursory glance before heading off to the departure lounge. Being distinctive doesn’t necessarily mean being different.
The first edition of Port Charlotte 10 year old was launched around 2005. It was aged in 1st fill ex-bourbon casks and delivered at 46%. Fast forward to 2016 and a second edition was unleashed – the ABV was upped to 50% and the cask composition became rather more eclectic, with 1st fill ex-bourbon being joined by sherry, Tempranillo and French wine casks. Both were limited edition releases.
Mid-2018 saw Bruichladdich ring the changes to Port Charlotte, with a bold relaunch that revamped the entire product range. Islay Barley 2011, MC:01 2009, MRC:01 2010 were joined by a now permanent Port Charlotte 10 year old. Still delivered at 50%, but with a cask composition of 1st fill (65%) and 2nd fill (10%) American whiskey casks and 2nd fill French Bordeaux wine casks (25%) – American ‘whiskey’ rather than ex-bourbon as those casks hail from Jack Daniels in Tennessee. The peating is still at the level it’s always been across the Port Charlotte range – 40PPM – on the heavier side of thing, and in the same ball park as the southern isle Kildalton distilleries (Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig).
Nose: An expressive amalgamation of peat, fruit and farmyard. Rubbery smoke with a tinge of ashtray and surface cleaner is lifted by citrus peels, fresh pineapple, vanilla and a good dollop of honey. There’s plenty of Laddie farmyard here – wet hay, sties….even a hint of Swiss cheese. Running throughout are oaty biscuits and toasted bread alongside oven-roasted herbs (sage and rosemary). Dilution adds real meatiness into the equation with a Sunday ham joint and air-dried Serrano.
Taste: The arrival is very oily with good weight and mouthfeel. It delivers an impactful array of sooty smoke (hearth ashes, coal dust – you get the picture) with sweet, but tart pineapple and lemons lifting things out of a bottomless peaty pit. There’s development here – at first, minerality – hewn limestone and quartz – then into cask spices with plenty of pepperiness and more than a pinch of sea salt. Quite layered for just 10 years of age. Reduction is far from necessary and indeed quite transposing on the palate – juicy tinned orchard and tropical fruits, but at the expense of both smoke and overall definition – 50% is the way to go with this bottling.
Finish: Quite long with salt and pepper giving way to minerals and tart but juicy lemons.
Port Charlotte 10 year old is packed full of character, aroma and flavour progression and raw power. It never feels like it deviates far from Bruichladdich’s underlying sweet, honeyed, lemon-tinged spirit character – but it cleverly manages to add integrated layers of coastal smoky flavours on top of this profile. As 10 year old entry-level bottlings go, this is up there amongst the best. A modern classic.
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