Port Charlotte Scottish Barley

Port Charlotte Scottish BarleyDistillery: Bruichladdich
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

It’s been some years now since Bruichladdich distillery decided to split its range: Bruichladdich for its unpeated whiskies, and Port Charlotte for its peated expressions (plus Octomore for the ultra peaty stuff). This means that at least you know what you’ll be getting with a Port Charlotte: smoke!

Port Charlotte is named after the village close to Bruichladdich distillery, which is where much of its whisky spends time maturing in the warehouses. Port Charlotte Scottish Barley is peated to a level of 40 ppm, placing it in between Lagavulin and Ardbeg in terms of smokiness. The stills used at Bruichladdich use a process known as trickle distillation. Combined with the unusually tall shape of the stills, this creates a clean, floral spirit, so clearly on display in drams such as the Classic Laddie.

The fact this Port Charlotte is made with Scottish barley isn’t really anything special, as most Scotch whiskies are. If you are partial to this kind of sentiment, I suggest you try the Islay barley instead, which is in fact locally grown. Bruichladdich rightfully style themselves as progressive Hebridean distillers, and they really have pushed the envelope with projects such as Octomore (hugely successful) and X4 (a flop), as well as several unconventional cask finishes. There’s not much progressive about the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley though, as this whisky was aged in traditional bourbon barrels – no matter how hand-picked they may be. Instead, the Scottish Barley is a solid Islay dram that’s bound to please.

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Kilchoman Distillery

Kilchoman Tasting

Today I had the pleasure of attending a whisky tasting led by Peter Wills, son of Kilchoman distillery owner Anthony Wills. Naturally then, there were some fantastic Kilchomans lined up for us to explore, and Peter was able to share his wealth of knowledge with us. A full description of the whiskies can be found below, but first a short introduction to Kilchoman distillery.

Kilchoman distillery was opened in 2005, becoming the first new distillery on Islay in 124 years. Located in a farmhouse where all processes from malting, distilling, maturing and bottling take place, Kilchoman provides an interesting insight into what a traditional whisky distillery may have looked like two centuries ago. Correspondingly, Kilchoman is by far the smallest distillery on Islay in terms of capacity, and indeed one of the smallest in Scotland.

Kilchoman Tasting

Peter Wills sharing his stories from Kilchoman

Kilchoman produces a typical Islay style whisky, with medium to heavily peated expressions. The distillery still malts about 30% of its own barley, which spends about a day under a peat fire in the kiln. The result is a medium peated barley, to about 20 ppm. For the remaining 70%, Kilchoman depends on the Port Ellen Maltings, which delivers the barley to a specified 50 ppm, putting Kilchoman on par with Ardbeg in terms of smokiness. However, the distillation process at Kilchoman is designed to produce a clean, fruity spirit, which smooths out the peaty flavours and the young age of the whiskies somewhat. Since Kilchoman’s stills are small, the spirit has more contact with the copper, taking out many of the impurities. What’s more, the stills are relatively high, allowing only the lighter alcohols to make the cut. This is one of the reasons that Kilchoman’s whiskies are so very drinkable from a young age.

For maturation, Kilchoman chooses casks that previously held Buffalo Trace bourbon. Since the distillery’s production capacity is so small, fewer casks are needed, which means they can be shipped whole, rather than be taken apart and reassembled as is standard practise. This means that the wood doesn’t dry out, and there is often still a small amount of bourbon in the barrels when the first whisky goes in. This benefits Kilchoman’s whisky in terms of flavour and speeds up the maturation process.

Kilchoman Distillery

Some of the casks at the Kilchoman distillery

From the moment the distillery opened, Kilchoman has experimented with different types of casks, selling their whisky in numerous limited editions. Anthony’s background as a wine merchant and independent bottler has given him a good knowledge of the effect that different casks have on whisky maturation, meaning that these limited editions have by and large produced excellent results. As a result, Kilchoman has gained a loyal fan base, who eagerly purchase the limited number of bottles that the distillery can produce (unfortunately this is also driving up the price). This also means that Kilchoman hasn’t seen the need to sell their whisky to blenders, as every precious drop is bottled and sold as single malt. This is all for the best, as Kilchoman produces some fantastic whisky. Tonight I was lucky enough to try seven different ones, which are described below.

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Laphroaig Four Oak

Laphroaig Four OakDistillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Over the past years, Laphroaig has been happily experimenting with different types of maturation. Quarter casks, bourbon barrels, sherry casks and virgin oak are just some of the casks used in Laphroaig’s recent NAS expressions. But why choose when you can actually use all of them? This is exactly what Laphroaig has done for their new expression, aptly called Four Oak. Given this name, it may not come as a surprise that the Four Oak one-ups the Triple Wood by adding an extra layer of maturation. While the Triple Wood is essentially a sherry finished version of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Four Oak adds the virgin oak character that’s also found in Laphroaig QA Cask, meaning it really has a wealth of influences to draw upon. The QA Cask and Triple wood are both excellent Laphroaig expressions, albeit quite different in terms of character. Do the two styles mix? Let’s find out!

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