PORT CHARLOTTE 10 YEAR
Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 100
AGE – 10 years
DISTILLERY – Bruichladdich Distillery
PRICE – $68
WORTH BUYING? – Aye!
In the before times, around 2018 or so, I gathered shoulder to shoulder with a group of whisky fans, all crowded together in the upstairs loft of a San Francisco bar on Mission Street called Forgery. A tasting with reps from Bruichladdich Distillery had been arranged for members of a local whisky Facebook group I follow. As I recall it now, they laid out five glasses for us, arranged from lower to higher peat intensity.
It was an incredible tasting, covering Bruichladdich standard releases as well as specialties like their Octomore series. The true wow glass of the flight was the Bruichladdich Black Art, which edition I now can’t recall. Well-aged, massively peated, incredibly complex and way too easy to drink. The other offerings had been impressive. But this was something else.
After that special night I thought of Bruichladdich as a rarity, largely out of reach in terms of price and availability. Their standard, un-peated “Classic Laddie” release was affordable, accessible, and good. But I’d sipped from the dark well, and it was that or nothing. So to be frank I didn’t pursue Bruichladdich and it slipped from my mind.
Then recently I was reacquainted with my great Islay love, Lagavulin 12 Year, and this reawakened my fondness for peat. I picked up a bottle of Ardbeg Corryvreckan and fell deep into its smoky chocolate whirlpool. This prompted me to pick up the slightly less expensive Port Charlotte 10 Year.
At uncorking, I was immediately struck by Port Charlotte’s ease and balance. Fruit, barley, malt and peat notes all worked in lovely harmony. The 100 proof was just right, lifting the flavors up while still maintaining a very cozy, warming and relaxed quality. It struck me as a potential go-to peated whisky along the lines of Lagavulin 16 (generally more expensive and, I’ve come to find, too watered down and light at 86 proof) or Lagavulin 8 (cheaper, a touch younger and 96 proof).
Aged on the Islay shores of Loch Indaal in a combination of first and second-fill American whiskey barrels, and second-fill French wine casks, the distillate itself is made from 100% Scottish barley and brought down to proof with Islay spring water. It’s a true Islay whisky. As their website puts it:
This Port Charlotte 10 year old has been conceived, distilled, matured and bottled on Islay alone. We are a young team with deep-rooted values, and an ambition to make the ultimate “Islay” Islay whisky. A whisky made by people not software; a whisky watched over every day of its maturing life by those who made it; a whisky born of a community with a vision and a mission to kick start a single malt whisky revolution, this Port Charlotte 10 year old is who we are. This is where we’re from.
So here we are, three days after uncorking and five pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – golden, straw, and sienna yellows
NOSE – soft peat, salty sea air, charred meat like steak, oyster shell, lemon, subtle vanilla and caramel and chocolate adding sweetness
TASTE – creamy, almost syrupy, with a strong salted caramel note amidst the peat and the smoke from that seaside grill where the steaks are done charring and the oysters now also getting their time over the fire
FINISH – warm, chocolatey, salty, with peat and smoke, and a subtle peppery tingle lingering
OVERALL – a great beach BBQ with seafood, meat, and some decadent caramel and chocolate desserts
For a whisky dubbed “heavily peated,” it’s certainly very approachable in that regard. I find the Port Charlotte peat salty, and strong in a gentle and inviting way. Certainly not a light peat. But not an overbearing one either.
All in all, this is a full meal in a glass. I’m ready to start with some oysters, raw, grilled or both. Then move on to a juicy steak, perfectly charred at the edges. And cap it off with a gooey, creamy chocolate and caramel dessert treat. All the while the salty sea air fanning the bonfire that’s been nestled into the sandy shore.
Like such an event, there is a sense of cozy comfort and pleasure about this whisky. The ocean wind might occasionally whip up and bring a chill to your cheeks. But you’ve got your warm clothes on and are heated from within by the good food, good whisky, and good company of friends.
Minus the seaside aspect, I’m taken back to an annual Christmas tree chopping event from my childhood. Several families gathered in the snowy forestlands off Highway 50, heading up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where one of the families owned the local lumber mill and a swath of land. Another family ran a seafood shop, and there’d be fresh oysters laid out in their half-shells with lemon wedges to chill in the snow. The families who owned wineries brought wine to keep the adults warm. (My parents knew the right people!) The kids had hot chocolate and would roast marshmallows on twigs freshly snapped from the surrounding trees, often assembling the hot gooey marshmallows into s’mores. I remember distinctly that feeling of the snow’s intense chill kept in check by various sources of heat—heavy winter clothing, physically exhausting snowball fights, crackling bonfires, grills, hot chocolate, stolen sips of red wine…
Move that memory to a chilly, sunny beach and this whisky would take up the red wine’s job.
I’m actually tasting this on a sunny afternoon, made cold by a whipping wind coming in from the Pacific Ocean. So I’ve got my warm coat and cap on to keep the nice heat of this whisky in my belly where it belongs. I can see the San Francisco bay in the distance. When I’m done with this write-up, I suspect I’ll be headed to the seafood joint down the street for some take-out to bring back in time for the sunset and another pour.