Port Charlotte is a heavily peated single malt produced at Bruichladdich distillery on the Hebridean isle of Islay. Founded back in 1881 by the Harvey brothers, the distillery is now owned by French spirits giant, Remy Cointreau.
Bruichladdich is a distillery that specialises in creativity, with a devotion to the finest of raw ingredients. Only barley grown in Scotland is used in production, with batches of unique spirit distilled from grains grown at different farms, at different parts of the country and in different soils and climates. Their belief in the French concept of ‘terroir‘ has raised many a scoff within the industry, but any experimentation that could enhance the complexities of flavour found in a dram must surely be welcomed?
Barley is smoked over a peat fire for varying lengths of time depending on the brand. The flagship Bruichladdich malt is largely unpeated, whilst Port Charlotte is peated to around 40 ppm (parts per million in phenols). Octomore meanwhile has seen incredible peating levels as high as 300 ppm.
The Port Charlotte malt is named after a village that stands roughly a mile along the coast from the distillery. It was once home to a distillery of its own named Lochindaal which though long since closed, remains a presence in the area thanks to some surviving warehousing, still in use by Bruichladdich today.
After the Mark Reynier-led rejuvenation of Bruichladdich in 2000, there was talk of re-establishing a distillery at Port Charlotte but sadly that project never came to fruition and the big plans on the island today seem to centre around creating a new malting floor at the current distillery instead, allowing much greater control over the peating of their island-grown barley.
The Port Charlotte malt has had something of a facelift in recent times with a bold new range packaged in a stylish and unique black bottle. This new look launched with the brand’s first permanent 10 year old, alongside a new Islay barley bottling, the MRC: 01, matured in a combination of bourbon and wine casks and MC: 01 a travel retail exclusive matured in Sicilian wine casks. Sadly however there was no room in the new range for an updated version of the PC Scottish Barley expression which had been something of a favourite of mine for quite some time…
Smell: Peat Smoke and Creamy Malt with Vanilla, Lemon, Pepper and Spice. There’s a real Earthiness with Grass and Vegetation too.
Taste: Sea Salt and Creamy Vanilla with Oak and Peppery Spice. Shortbread Biscuits and a touch of Liquorice mingle with Earthy Peat Smoke.
Value for Money: Cost around £45 / £50 and for that price you get a single malt of great character, quality and provenance, bottled at 50% abv.
Scores: 44.5 / 50.
The spirit of Bruichladdich rarely disappoints and this Port Charlotte is no different. The first time I visited the distillery I was poured a sample of the Port Charlotte 10 and a dram of Scottish Barley to compare. I bought the latter. Who needs an age statement anyway?! So whilst the distillery may be famed for their experimentation and for the release of more expressions than even the most dedicated collector can keep track of, they continue to be impressively consistent in the overall quality of their output. Long may it continue!
*I originally wrote this review prior to the news breaking that the range was to be updated and for one reason or another I kept putting off its publication. It happens sometimes. I try to publish reviews of single cask or limited edition bottlings in a timely manner in order to ensure the drams are still available when my review goes live but that sometimes means more permanent expressions get relentlessly pushed down the publishing schedule. Now that the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley is discontinued I questioned whether it was worth publishing my review at all but in the end, I loved this dram so much that I had to share it. Who knows, there may still be some bottles out there, or it may pop up at a reasonable price at auction from time to time. Should that happen, my advice would be to grab it while you can!