A long time ago, on an island at the end of the world, there was a distillery called Port Charlotte. She was the fairest distillery in all the land, known for her delicious fermented, smoky barley juice (even if her evil stepsister, Port Ellen, got all the limelight). Then, coming on 100 years ago, Port Charlotte fell into a deep, dark slumber, and couldn’t wake. World Wars came and went, and still she slumbered.
But all was not lost! In 2006, a noble knight appeared – Jim McEwan, a hairy Scotsman – to rouse Port Charlotte from her century of sleep and liberate her back to his kingdom of Bruichladdich (about 4 minutes away on the A847). There, the secrets of her barley juice were shared, and forever more would Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte tread the bogs and cycle paths of Islay together.
Bottled at a cool 50% and presented in another drop-dead sexy bottle, Port Charlotte is to peat what Classic Laddie is to straight malt – the representative of the style for Bruichladdich distillery. Heavily peated using nothing but Scottish barley (and plenty of Islay barley, in increasing proportions!) and delivered to us with the same laid-back “cool” as the rest of their masterpieces. Hit it!
Interestingly, the same colour as Classic Laddie, at least in the glass. A deep gold.
Proper Islay peat, heavy as hell and bone dry. Lovely.
But unlike many other peat monsters, there’s a lot more to Port Charlotte than “just peat”. My favourite peated expressions are ones that don’t forego depth and interest in the pursuit of smoke, and like Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Caol Ila, Port Charlotte has plenty to keep one interested:
Whipped cream. Salt. Chocolate. Honey. Olive oil, lamb chops. And like Classic Laddie before it, richly malty – a full on, balls to the wall malt whisky. Faintly, right at the back (you’ve really got to get your nosehairs exposed) is a deep citrus, glazed oranges, marmalade. Hell yeah.
Port Charlotte smells great – but it tastes bloody amazing. In fact, the taste is so wildly different to the nose that it arrives with somewhat of a shock, particularly after huffing at the glass like glue for the past 5 minutes.
Right off the bat we have some Involuntary Eye Closure – always a good sign! Hot, peaty alcohol on the arrival, developing into a rich, creamy barley with an almost grain-like sweetness. Some feel-good spices abound – cloves, cinnamon – with a bitter dark chocolate at the back. Grassy, but not overpowering. A little burnt toast. And again, dairy – like chocolate milk.
A little fiery TCP ride out – no surprise! – but warming and spicy. Big on the cloves on the way out.
Ooh, now we’re talking. It’s rare that I absolutely recommend water as the way to go, but even a teaspoon or two it all it takes to take Port Charlotte to new heights.
It’s only after adding a splash that I recognise there was previously something a little sulphuric on the nose and taste – not unpleasant, but present – which gets vaporised by the water. Much fruitier, a little more earthy (or rather, mossy) and a more citrus zest on the finish. A teaspoon of cold water per dram is spot on, love this stuff.
As I write this, I’ve also poured an extra shot into a tall glass with soda water and a squeeze of lime. Honestly, a cracking highball. Port Charlotte is also the weapon of choice for that final teaspoon of Islay whisky in any decent Penicillin. Versatile!
Port Charlotte is my favourite “standard release” peat monster. It beats out Ardbeg 10, The Peat Monster, Caol Ila. Utterly thrashes Laphroaig, of course. And while I still generally prefer my peat with a little sherry (Uigeadail, Lagavulin) or slightly less intense (Talisker, Kilchoman) – Port Charlotte is the gold standard for when nothing will do but a dose of flammable moss straight into the veins.
Again, that generous bottling strength needs to be factored against the price, which is unfortunately a little too close to Lagavulin territory for comfort. On the whole, this is a better value dram, a little more versatile (although I’ve yet to try it with Coke 😉 ) and a fantastic one to get creative with.