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Port Charlotte is the heavily peated version of the Bruichladdich single malt from the isle of Islay. The brand honours the memory of the long lost Lochindaal distillery which operated between 1829 and 1929 in the village of Port Charlotte, just two miles along the coast from Bruichladdich.
Despite preceding Bruichladdich by some years, Lochindaal was wound up when owning company Benmore was acquired by DCL, who subsequently deemed the plant surplus to requirements and closed it down. Many of the buildings have either been demolished or repurposed in the years since, though the original warehouses are still being used by Bruichladdich to mature their whisky today.
Production of the spirit which would become the Port Charlotte single malt commenced on the 29th of May 2001. It was the first distillation to be carried out by a new management team after the site had lain silent for 5 long years. The distillery had been spared the same fate as Lochindaal by a group of investors led by former wine trader and independent bottler Mark Reynier, and the creation of the new Port Charlotte malt represented the dawn of a new era for this once beloved distillery.
The first release, entitled PC5: Evolution, was unveiled back in 2006 and the brand has since grown to become a crucial part of the distilleries output with limited releases of a 10 year old version regularly appearing alongside both Scottish and Islay Barley expressions.
In 2018 however, the powers that be decided the brand was long overdue something of a makeover and announced that the focus of that year’s Islay Festival would be the complete relaunch of the range. Where it had previously been packaged in bottles identical to the main Bruichladdich brand, Port Charlotte would soon have its very own, bespoke bottle design, cast in the island’s traditional dark green glass.
The new range would be made up of four different expressions. A new 10 year old would be the first permanently available, age stated Port Charlotte and would be backed up by a 2011 vintage Islay Barley, a Bordeaux wine cask matured PC MRC:01 and a 2009 vintage MC:01 which had been matured in Marsala casks. In honour of the brands relaunch, every inch of turqoise paint at the distillery was redone in Port Charlotte grey for the duration of the 2018 Feis Ile.
Bruichladdich famously offer distillery exclusive bottlings known as ‘Valinch’ releases. These can be hand-filled by the customer, straight from a barrel which stands in the corner of the distillery shop. During my last visit to the island in October of last year, I picked up one such bottle for myself. The SHC:01 is matured in an ex-sherry cask for 11 years before bottling at 62.9% abv. It was available only at the distillery and cost £75 for a 50cl bottle.
Smell: California Raisins, Sultanas, Maple Syrup, Treacle, Struck Matches, Ash and earthy Peat Smoke.
Taste: Christmas Cake, Maple Syrup, Toffee, Cherry, Pepper, Charred Oak and Barbecue Smoke.
Thoughts: The trend for 50cl bottles continues to irritate me to no end but in spite of that, the SHC:01 is a rather splendid dram that offers a delightful balance between sherry cask influence and smoke. Being completely exclusive to the distillery shop adds a little additional sentimental value with the bottle becoming a reminder of a particular time, in a particular place. Like a visit to Islay itself, it is an immensely rewarding yet finite experience that can never be recaptured. Future visits to the island may be equally magical but they will never be the same and neither will the bottles on offer at Bruichladdich.
Quite simply, this is a magnificent dram. A huge mouthful of flavour with rich sherry notes underpinned by smoke. There are few distilleries, if any, that can produce whisky like this and if there were, I suspect they’d be charging more for it, titchy bottle or not. The exceptional quality of Bruichladdich’s distillery exclusives is remarkably consistent, giving another excuse, as if it were needed, to pay this most fascinating of Islay distilleries repeat visits.
For more on Port Charlotte / Bruichladdich.