Review: 2018 Relaunch of Port Charlotte – Port Charlotte 10 Years Old, Islay Barley 2011, and MRC: 01 2010
When Simon Coughlin, chief executive of Remy Cointreau’s whisky business and one of the founders of the revived Bruichladdich, comes to town, you make the time to meet with the man. The former wine merchant partnered with Mark Reynier to buy the dilapidated property in 2002, and consumers promptly greeted its production — speaheaded by the irascible Jim McEwan — with open arms. Remy Cointreau acquired the brand in 2012, following years of lean times, says Coughlin, who recalls having to borrow cash from a wealthy widow to meet payroll during one particularly cash-poor quarter.
Today, Bruichladdich finds itself with a new master distiller and three brands under its belt — the mainline Bruichladdich (unpeated Islay Scotch crafted with dizzying variety), Octomore (the ultra-peated monster), and Port Charlotte (essentially Islay whisky as most people have come know it, with plenty of peat). Of this trio, Port Charlotte has been the brand that has languished the most, overshadowed by bigger names in peated malt and a bit lost amidst Bruichladdich’s massive portfolio. Coughlin aims to change that with this relaunch, which pares the brand down to just two permanent bottlings, with special editions popping up periodically. Very little about the liquid inside is changing, he says, though the core bottling is — in a move otherwise unheard of in Scotland — switching from a NAS expression to one with a 10 year old age statement.
At its core, though, Port Charlotte is all about the island on which it is born. “Our business runs from Islay. Everything is conceived, operated, and sourced as much as possible from the island,” says Coughlin, throwing some shade at other Islay operations which pay only lip service to production here. “Some well-known whiskies from Islay actually spend only a few days here before they are shipped off” to other parts of the country for maturation and bottling, he notes. “We think we’re the most authentic distillery in Islay.”
And that’s a statement that’s hard to argue with, particularly since Bruichladdich has been behind a movement to source even its barley from Islay, a crop that doesn’t grow especially well here. The company now works with 19 farms on the island and produces 1500 tons of barley, which accounts for 35 to 40 percent of all the barley the distillery uses. (At present, virtually all of it goes into the three “Islay Barley” bottlings that Bruichladdich produces, one for each of its three brands.)
To formally relaunch the brand — which is happening as we speak with the two new permanent bottlings appearing on shelves — Coughlin offered samples of its new products, as well as one special edition that’s not quite on the market yet. Naturally we tried them all. Thoughts follow.
Port Charlotte 10 Years Old Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt (2018) – This replaces Port Charlotte’s NAS Scottish Barley release and is non-chill filtered. Aged 65% in first fill American whiskey casks, 10% second fill American whiskey casks, and 25% in second fill French wine casks. Despite the claims of heavy peat (and 40ppm phenols), I found this very mild on the nose, with just hints of smoke, fruit, and grain. The palate is quite fruit-forward and very floral, the peat taking a secondary note — and more of a pure smoke character, without much of a seaweed/iodine note. Notes of orange peel and raspberry emerge over time. The finish is quite pleasant and creamy, very chewy thanks to the higher abv. A real standout of Islay whiskymaking. Compare to last year’s PC10 limited edition. 100 proof. A / $65 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2011 Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt – This is formally a NAS whiskey but it carries a vintage of its production date, making it roughly seven years old. 100% of this barley is sourced from Islay farms; aging is 75% in first fill American oak, 25% in Syrah or Merlot wine barrels. The nose is much heavier with peat than in PC10, though it would still be moderate from another distillery on the island. The palate is again bold with fruit, here heavy with banana, finding some marshmallow sweetness to boost its mouthfeel. The smoke is laced throughout all of this, leading to a relatively simple but surprisingly herbal finish. 100 proof. B+ / $70 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
Port Charlotte MRC: 01 2010 Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt – The first special edition to come from the relaunch, this is whisky distilled in 2010 and aged 50% in first fill American oak and 50% in second fill French wine casks. This is then vatted and aged for one more year in “MR” casks for one more year. They can’t put it on the label due to kooky Scottish law, but MRC stands for [updated due to legal threats against the distillery] a famous winery that doesn’t want its name used but if you email me I’ll tell you what it is. You’ll probably pick up a theme along these lines going forward. It’s a cask strength whisky and a powerhouse on the nose, with much more smoke than the prior two spirits. The palate is powerful with said smoke, but also finds lemons, green grass, and some tannins in the mix. The finish is gritty, intense, and sharp on the back of the tongue — but also a bit green. Suitable water wasn’t available to temper this spirit, but it sounds like a great idea. 118.4 proof. B+ / $110 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
- Review: Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2012 Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt
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- Tasting 2015 Bruichladdich Releases with Distiller Jim McEwan
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