Islay’s spectrum of flavours, the island’s stunning scenery, and it’s deep-rooted history with whisky make it one of, if not the most popular whisky region. With 8 distilleries (9 with Ardnahoe Distillery recently opened in Port Askaig, April 2019) dotting the landscape, and each with its own distinctive style, from bottle design to marketing, and from nose to taste, there is a wide array of appreciation to be taken in with all that the island offers.
There’s Lagavulin’s ever-popular 16 Year Old offering, from it’s elegant bottle shape to its dry yet rich and smokey profile, which has been a favourite in the whisky community for many years and, alongside Ardbeg and Laphroiag’s 10 Year Old offerings, are 3 of Islay’s best sellers, perfectly showcasing the powerful profiles that we all associate with the single malts from this small, rugged Inner Hebridean landscape.
Indeed, some whisky fans new to Islay’s much-heralded peat and smoke flavours may be unaware that there’s actually a lot more to the island’s flavour profiles than just the powerful scent of ashtrays and peat, of smoke and soil.
Bruichladdich distillery’s 10 Year Old offering of their heavily-peated whisky range, Port Charlotte, is one such profile. The bottle alone is a retro belter; a throwback to when bottles were robust and dumpy-looking. If bottle aesthetics were all that a single malt were judged on, then it would certainly have my vote. However, it’s usually the contents that matter, and fortunately Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte vanguard single malt definitely stacks up to the rest of Islay’s big hitters.
Bruichladdich – Scottish Gaelic for Brae of the Shore, and pronounced Brook-Laddy – have a long relationship with Islay and, like many of the island’s distilleries, it’s had an up-and-down existence.
Founded in 1881 by 3 brothers, the Harveys, on the Rinns of Islay, on the Westernmost peninsula of the island, Bruichladdich Distillery was ahead of its time, with a state-of-the-art design, a new and improved site layout, and custom-built buildings that set it apart from the older redeveloped farm distilleries.
The distillery was ran by the Harveys, complete with familial feuds and distillery fires, until the 1930s when William Harvey passed away. For the next 6 decades, the distillery would change hands with a succession of owners, narrowly avoiding closure on several occasions, until 1994 when it was finally closed for good. The closest Bruichladdich would come to making whisky over the next 6 years would be when the premises was used for storage by Islay’s other distilleries.
Finally, in December 2000, a sleeping giant stirred when a group of private investors, many with countless years of industry experience, stepped in to buy the distillery. Over the first 6 months of 2001, they set about dismantling and rebuilding the entire site, making careful plans to ensure that the original Victorian facade and decor would endure, and that all equipment that could still function and operate to the standard of a modern distillery would remain – today, Bruichladdich is a whisky purist’s dream, with all production still overseen by highly-skilled distillers wielding dipsticks, and not a computer in sight. Today, Bruichladdich are firmly established again as a mainstay of Islay’s whisky community, and long may it continue. Hopefully, my review does their hard work and dedication a wee bit of justice, even if my photography skills do not.
The Port Charlotte 10 Year Old is peated to 40ppm and from a combination of first-fill American whiskey casks, second-fill American whiskey casks, and second-fill French wine casks.
Nose: There’s a strong whiff of oak about this, but it’s well-balanced with the peat smoke – it almost comes across as leathery, but in a pleasant manner, with a hint of pipe smoke/ashtray. There is sweetness coming through though, with some floral hints, and there’s certainly either fudge or caramel, but little to suggest any wine cask influence so far. 7.5/10
Palate: There’s an oily feel on the mouth, definitely reminiscent of a rich wine, and it’s also a wee bit ashy. but it all marries well with hints of pepper and smoke. Some vanilla and fresh-cooked pastry as well, which gives the whisky a bit of an unexpected second layer. 7.5/10
Finish: A long finish, with the smoke slowly dissipating. The sweet notes coming in to play at the end, with some spices that remind me of mulled wine. It all goes rather well together, with the smoke still lingering on its own at the end. 7.5/10
It’s a strong performance, and leaves little wonder as to why this single malt is Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte stalwart. Reasonably priced, very enjoyable, and readily-available – definitely one I would be happy to have on the shelf.