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As we once again draw towards the end of another year it seems an opportune time to reflect on the past 12 months in the world of whisky. 2019 has been an interesting year with headlines seemingly dominated by one record-breaking auction after another, usually involving Macallan, at least until we were forced to talk about something else when Lidl released the best whisky in the world. The year could however just as easily be remembered for the frenzy around the range of bottles that celebrated the climax of a certain HBO TV show…
Another crop of distilleries opened across Scotland from Ardnahoe and Lagg in the Western Isles to Holyrood in Edinburgh whilst Douglas Laing shocked everyone with their acquisition of little Strathearn. Meanwhile new malts have arrived on the market from the likes of Kingsbarns, Bimber and The Lakes – not forgetting the first ever peated release from Glasgow Distillery’s 1770 brand.
Personally it’s been a slow year in terms of distillery visits, though I did manage to check out both Glasgow and Tullibardine before the summer and in the latter half I made it to a bourbon distillery for the first time in the shape of Kings County in New York before another visit to the Clydeside to watch a friend fill his very own cask in celebration of his 40th birthday.
There’s been plenty of other fun activities to keep me going right enough. There was the National Whisky Festival in Glasgow, The Whisky Social in Falkirk, Spirit of Alba in Kirkintilloch and then the best of them all, Glasgow’s Whisky Festival at Hampden in November.
In a big year for documentary films I attended the Glasgow premiere of Andrew Peat’s Scotch: The Golden Dram, went to a screening of The Amber Light, hosted by legendary whisky writer Dave Broom and then enjoyed a screening of The Water of Life, the Greg Schwartz-helmed biopic of distilling legend Jim McEwan.
I went to various tastings, hosted by the likes of Jim McEwan, Charles MacLean, John Glaser of Compass Box and Gregg Glass of Whyte & MacKay and paid a couple of visits to the Vaults in Leith where I enjoyed some fantastic drams from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
My year then culminated in a visit to the Whisky Magazine Awards in early December where it was my privilege to represent Dark Valley whisky of Tasmania as they scooped the award for best independent bottler in the non-scotch category.
While it’s nice to look back on the year however, I’ve never really liked the idea of naming a ‘best whisky’. Instead, what I’ve done since the start of this blog is round off the year with something a bit special. I’ve no idea if it was the best dram of the year, I just know that when I came across it I knew that it would be the perfect whisky to enjoy as I bid farewell to 2019.
There were other contenders of course. The 10 year old Glen Moray released by Douglas Laing early in the year was magnificent. The 21 year old BenRiach ‘Temporis’ was excellent and since August at least, I was fairly certain that a 13 year old sherry matured Benrinnes from Adelphi was going to be “the one”. Then I went to Hampden in November for Glasgow’s Whisky Festival and as the afternoon drew to a close I visited the stall of an old favourite – Bruichladdich. Up until that point my day had been filled with interesting drams but nothing that really stood out above all others. Then I took a sip of the Port Charlotte MRC: 01 and stopped dead in my tracks…
This Islay single malt was distilled from barley grown on the Scottish mainland and peated to 40ppm. The spirit was then matured in both first fill bourbon and second fill French wine casks before a final year of marrying in the very finest of French oak casks from the Bordeaux left bank. Bottled at 59.2%, un-chill filtered and natural colour, the Port Charlotte MRC:01 retails at £90 a bottle.
Smell: Smoke and berries. Raspberry, cherry, blueberry. Ash. Driftwood. Liquorice. Vanilla. Caramel. Chocolate covered coffee beans.
Taste: Oak. Dark chocolate. Leather. Fiery pepper. Maple syrup. Red grapes and raspberry. Charcoal and ash. Dry roasted peanut and almond.
Thoughts: At £90 a bottle the Port Charlotte MRC:01 is some way from being an accessible everyday sipper but as an extravagance for the special occasion the quality of spirit more than lives up to the price point.
Achieving balance between bourbon casks, wine casks and peated spirit is no simple task but Bruichladdich have managed it admirably. There’s a lot going on but no one element is allowed to dominate, instead you get a shifting, evolving experience that rewards each sip with something new. Fantastic stuff.
There now remains only the small matter of relaying my thanks to all of you who have read my reviews or engaged with my social media accounts over the last year. This website has been a labour of love and to see so many people enjoy it is a real honour. Thank you.
I’ll be back on the 6th of January with the first review of the new decade but until then, allow me to wish you the happiest of New Years and the very best of drams for 2020.
For more on Bruichladdich visit here.