Today we open the second sample from my advent calendar. After a new riddle that didn’t help my hair grow back, my friends and I finally guessed it was a Port Charlotte 2003 bottled by Hidden Spirits. You probably know that already, dear reader, but Port Charlotte was an Islay distillery. It was founded in 1829 by Colin Campbell on the north-west bank of Loch Indaal and was also known as Rhins Distillery and Lochindaal Distillery. It ran for a hundred years between 1829 and 1929, changing hands several times during that period. In the mid-1880s, Alfred Barnard reported Lochindaal was producing 128.000 gallons of spirit per annum, to compare with Lagavulin’s 75.000 gallons and Ardbeg’s 250.000 gallons at the time. Back in 1920, JF Sherriff & Co, then the owner of Lochindaal, was bought by Benmore Distilleries. Nine years later in 1929, Distillers Company Limited (DCL) purchased Benmore and closed down immediately Lochindaal. Then, in 2000, the nearby distillery Bruichladdich was acquired by the independent bottlers Murray McDavid, who wanted to revive the Lochindaal distillery by creating a new distillery in which to produce heavily-peated whisky, but the plans never saw the light of day, and since Bruichladdich’s acquisition by French company Rémy Cointreau in 2012, it seems highly unlikely that distilling will return to the Port Charlotte village.
Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich Whisky
Following its acquisition by Murray McDavid in 2000 and 5 years of silence, Bruichladdich started production of peated Port Charlotte whisky on 29 May 2001, being the first distillation carried out by the new team. In 2006, the first Port Charlotte whisky was released at 5 years old as PC5. Now, Bruichladdich’s range is declined over several brands. Unpeated whisky goes by the name Bruichladdich. Peated whisky is released as Port Charlotte, and heavily peated whisky goes under the Octomore brand. But there’s a fourth brand, Lochindaal, which is also heavily peated whisky. It is more heavily peated than Port Charlotte but less than Octomore, but this brand stays rarely seen, and mostly with independent bottlers.
Port Charlotte 2003 Hidden Spirits
This Port Charlotte, distilled on the 7th of July 2003, was selected by the Italian independent bottler Hidden Spirits. It was then bottled on the 20th of July 2017 at the age of 14 years old. Matured in a 2nd Fill Ex-Oloroso Sherry Hogshead numbered PC641, it had an outturn of 316 bottles at 55.5% ABV, all uncoloured and non-chill filtered. Should you want one, you’ll probably have to spend quite some time and some money to get one as this was released already four years ago, but should you live in Italy (or stay long enough to order and have it delivered) or go near Milan, you may be able to get a bottle at the Whisky Roundabout.
Neat, the nose starts on a bonfire, with some salted meat barbecued over the fire. There is something a bit lactic, like a piece of old blue cheese over some bread. Following the old cheese, there are farmyard aromas, like a stable with leather saddles and the hay on which the livestock sleeps. Wrinkling my nose, I also get some faint orange marmalade, caramel, brown sugar and liquorice. Reduction extinguished the bonfire, leaving cold ash, but also eucalyptus.
The arrival is full on caramel then moves to ginger for a second, then we’re back to the barbecue. Smoked ham, diluted soy sauce (the salted one), then citrus and chocolate. The ABV is not noticeable, there’s no hit in your face, it’s very well integrated. Chili peppers bring a wee bit of heat, but it doesn’t scream for the need of water. But with a few drops of water, it gets fruitier, with blood oranges, lime juice, while the smoke is more precise and clean.
Long, with chocolate, leather, dusty books and spent coffee beans, then ashes linger on the tongue for an eternity.
I must admit I don’t have a lot of experience with Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte. I’ve had the Scottish Barley, that I bought in 2019 and the bottle was killed in 2020. But I think that’s about it. But after having tasted that one, it really makes me anticipate trying a sample of the PC10 I have as well as opening my bottle of Lochindaal 10yo bottled by W.D. O’Connell. This Port Charlotte is like having a barbecue over a bonfire in a farm yard. Tons of aromas and flavours intertwine with brio, and I’m sure I’d pick even more things with more time and more of that whisky. This is brilliant Islay whisky, a cask very well chosen by independent bottler Hidden Spirits.