It is some 20 years now since Islay’s Bruichladdich distillery was reincarnated into the “Progressive Hebridean Distillers” that we know and love today. With industry legend Jim McEwan at the helm, the Ileachs have come to produce 3 distinct and revered brands from the same distillery: Bruichladdich remains the unpeated single malt that the distillery is known for, Port Charlotte (named after the nearby port and defunct distillery) is their peated single malt, and Octomore (named after a nearby farm) is their brain-blowing super-peated rocket fuel renowned for its dizzyingly high PPM count.
Whilst Jim McEwan has since retired from being Bruichladdich’s master distiller (only to take up the helm again at Islay’s newest distillery Ardnahoe) the base has been laid for Bruichladdich and new standards are now being set. On that note then, here is their Port Charlotte 10 Year Old – the whisky that is now branded as their “signature” bottling of their heavily (but not super-heavily) peated single malt whisky, and with it, comes quite the statement of intent:
We believe an “Islay” whisky should live and breathe the fresh salt tang of Islay air, all its life. This is not a spirit distilled on the island and immediately shipped off to the mainland to mature in some undisclosed warehouse. This 10-Year-Old Port Charlotte has been conceived, distilled, matured, and bottled on Islay alone.
We are a young team with deep-rooted values, and an ambition to make the ultimate “Islay” Islay whisky. A whisky made by people not software; a whisky watched over every day of its maturing life by those who made it; a whisky born of a community, of a vision and burning desire to kick-start a single malt whisky revolution. This Port Charlotte 10-Year-Old is who we are. This is where we’re from.
We are a community committed to our island and to our radical principals of whisky making. This Islay single malt is an expression of who we are and where we’re from. Heavily Peated with elegance and finesse, it is a unique whisky that no-one else could have made. We crafted it the only we way know how. The hard way. By hand, nose, and eye on ancient, stubborn equipment. With passion and respect. With soul.Bruichladdich/Port Charlotte
Whilst there is no comment about the casks being used, we know that this single malt scotch whisky is “Distilled, matured, and bottled non-chill filtered and colouring free at Bruichladdich distillery, Isle of Islay” at a hearty 50% ABV and presented in a very sturdy 70cl green glass bottle.
Sure enough it has a peaty start but it’s quite a light, flowery, and perfume-like smoke. It’s not a full-on smoky assault, as it’s tempered with sweet heather honey smells. Quite sugary sweet actually, with sherbet dib dabs coming to mind. It also has the signature Bruichladdich touch of salinity to it, which I love (and will probably romanticise about below). Quite a pure set of single malt ingredients in there too: barley sugars, malted grains, and grist. Clean and lovely Islay.
It’s peat. It’s sweet. It’s a treat. Those same sugary sweet flavours appear and are followed by some sharp flashes of oak spice and alcohol burn, which team together to deliver a one-two combo of black and white peppery heat. Once acclimatised to the peat and heat, there’s a really noticeable soft texture to the whisky and it has a proper dessert feel to it – there’s a definite crème brûlée flavour about it. Crème brûlée seems to be a regular tasting note for my peated scotch whisky notes but here it’s not just the charred sugary topping it’s also the proper vanilla custard/crème underneath – it’s almost Cornish ice cream like in its flavour.
White pepper heat fizzles all the way down – a tidy tonsil tingler – and the peat smoke lingers long enough to leave its Islay imprint without overpowering.
Really quite refined – in both senses of the word. This tastes to me like a refined, sophisticated, clean single malt, but also there’s a refined sugar flavour to it. The whole thing has a very direct, pale-coloured, simple, set of flavours and influences to it. That’s not a negative point being made either. You can taste good, pure ingredients being used to their best. Though the heavily peated malt is a prevalent flavour, the white sugar / sherbet / vanilla / honey sweetness is the star of the show with a delicate sea salt (again, white) supporting role, and a white pepper finale – basically proving to be an exercise in excellent seasoning. Even the peat smoke leaves the palate cleanly – which is crazy because it is literally the smoke from burnt dirt.
Despite all the sugary sweet notes above, this manages to avoid being overly sweet. It reminds me of all the sweetness you get from a traditional cheese cake but is stopped from being too much by the hint of lemon and the tang of the cheese itself. The similarities don’t end there either as this whisky definitely has a buttery biscuit base to it too. There’s a delicate balance of pure ingredients and influences being shown in this malt’s construct.
One of the things that I love about Bruichladdich’s unpeated expressions is their slight salinity, which always transports me back to sitting on the jetty outside the distillery over Loch Indaal. We’d just completed a tour and warehouse tasting, we were sat with a new bottle of the Laddie Ten from the store, holding our new memento glasses in hand with time to spend before the taxi arrived… I have very fond memories from my first visit to Bruichladdich and it was a real eye-opener and burgeoning moment in my malt journey. I was really happy to find that element also present in this Port Charlotte and it is one of the elements that stops this from being an overly sweet dram (the others being the oak spice and peat smoke).
There is no mention of the cask type(s) being used to house the peated Bruichladdich spirit but I would hazard a guess that it is solely ex-bourbon barrel based on those clean vanilla tones and the absence of many fruity flavours.
The bottling percentage at an even 50% does not overpower either. It hits the mark really well and brings enough zip to bring it all alive. All of my notes in fact talk about balance and nothing being overpowering.
The bottle and packaging comes with a lot of prose and a lot of rhetoric about its provenance. The marketing videos are also really strong, and hammer home the Islay-born-and-bred sentiment that the distillery operates by. Probably too hard hitting to be honest. What I do like though is that all the statements start with “we” and there is an emphasis on community and Islay spirit, so to speak.
Despite the heavy marketing, they are not hiding anything in their malt. The packaging clearly states “Distilled, matured, and bottled non-chill filtered and colouring free at Bruichladdich distillery, Isle of Islay.” You can’t say fairer than that.
Based on my own rhetoric above, the (sadly discontinued) Laddie Ten is one of my all-time favourite whiskies and so I had high hopes for this peated sibling and did not want to be disappointed.
I was not.
I am thoroughly enjoying this whisky and am at real risk of running out of it soon. I usually associate peated whiskies with the autumn/winter season, which is why I’m drinking it now, but it is so light, soft, and sweet that this could become an all-year-round thing.
Sample disclosure: I bought this bottle myself alongside a bottle of their Classic Laddie. All notes are intended as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whisky. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.