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Port Charlotte is a village on the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides. It was founded in 1828 by Walter Frederick Campbell who named the village after his mother, Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury. The village was set up primarily to provide housing for workers at the Lochindaal Distillery.
Walter Frederick Campbell was Laird of Islay. Known as an improving Laird, he spent heavily, incurring debts of £800,000 on improvements to the infrastructure. He was also a great supporter of the island’s distilling industry and encouraged the foundation of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.
The Lochindaal distillery in Port Charlotte operated on and off until the 1920s. After the parent company had been swallowed up by DCL, the distillery was closed and dismantled. Some of the buildings remain, however, including warehouses that are used to store casks of ageing Bruichladdich.
When Bruichladdich distillery needed a name for the new peated variant of their single malt whisky, it made sense to look down the road to the next village. The first Port Charlotte bottling was released in 2006 and the brand has since become a key part of the distillery’s output.
In 2018, Bruichladdich announced that Port Charlotte was to get something of an upgrade. The brand would relaunch with four new expressions in an opaque glass bottle that paid tribute to the traditions of the island.
At the forefront of the range was a new 10-year-old. It marked the first permanent introduction of an age-stated bottling to the Port Charlotte range. Bottled at 50% abv the single malt uses 100% Scottish barley and has been matured in first-fill American oak, refill American oak and refill French wine casks.
Smell: Being Bruichladdich the whisky is rather malt-forward with the raw ingredients very much in evidence. There are also lots of fruity elements though, like lemon, pineapple and grapes. There’s smoke, of course, but not the medicinal, iodine reek of Islay. This is more like the cliched bonfire on the beach. Salty sea air. Also notes of liquorice, vanilla and fresh oak.
Taste: Big earthy, smoky arrival with chargrill. Sea salt and pepper. Charred oak. Barbecue. Honey and biscuity malt. Orange and lemon. More grapes. Ginger biscuits. More pepper before the smoke returns for the finish.
Thoughts: I have a complaint to make. Every time I buy a bottle of Port Charlotte, the contents disappear within a few short weeks. There are more than 100 bottles in my cabinet at any one time but for some strange reason, the fill level on the Port Charlotte falls faster than any of the others. There should be some sort of rule against making whisky that’s this drinkable.
This ten-year-old Port Charlotte is a big peaty dram, make no mistake about that, but there’s a lot more going on than just smoke. Complexity seems to be one of the keywords for this brand now. It’s like different groups of flavour are being pulled and tied together by strands of earthy smoke. It’s fascinating and utterly delicious. Bruichladdich also remains perhaps the only Scottish distillery to bottle at 50% abv as standard, which means you get a lot of booze for your buck. There’s quite a bit of competition in the 10 – 12-year-old Islay category but this Port Charlotte can match any of them. Maybe even better them. It’s a phenomenal whisky. I just wish it would stick around a bit longer.
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