Age: No age statement
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.
Colour: Yellow gold
Nose: Wonderfully clean and crisp, like a salty sea breeze on a clear Islay day. Aromas of grilled prawns and smoked salmon intertwine with the floral profile of heather in full bloom. There’s a sweet smokiness to this whisky, kind of like a beehive on fire. You can also spot a whiff of seaweed, but this dram is nowhere near as medicinal as a Laphroaig or a Lagavulin. Since there is no interference from any sherry maturation, this Port Charlotte smells like a typical Islay dram. Quite promising!
Palate: Medium bodied and rather alcoholic. Although this whisky has not received an additional finish, it certainly does not lack for complexity. Port Charlotte’s sweet, floral character is on display again, perfectly balanced with the peaty, salty notes that we’ve come to expect from the Islay heavy hitters. Notes of toasted vanilla and shortbread give way to flavours of liquorice and caramel, but the taste is less exuberant than the nose would suggest.
Finish: Ufff, intense! The finish takes a while to unfold, but when it does the warming explosion is long and ferocious. The bottling strength of 50% is really working wonders here. A pleasant sensation of wood smoke and barley takes this whisky towards its climax. Only on the aftertaste does the peat truly develop, lingering on for quite some time.
Verdict: Port Charlotte Scottish Barley is quite an interesting dram. It manages to display all the typical fiery characteristics of an Islay whisky, while somehow being quite light and friendly. Although peated to 40 ppm, this dram doesn’t feel all that smoky, which is in large part due to the trickle distillation and Bruichladdich’s high necked stills. In some ways, Port Charlotte Scottish Barley is not dissimilar to Ardbeg 10 year old (which uses a purifier on the still), although much less earthy and smoky. What Bruichladdich have created with the Scottish Barley is a dram that’s ideal for those who are new to heavily peated whiskies. I distinctly remember disliking my first ever Laphroaig, and I can’t help but wonder if things had been different if I’d had this Port Charlotte first. Well worth a try!