While barbequing is done all over the world, it is a genuine American pastime. A rite of passage, even. Americans will dig a path through waist-high snowdrifts to use their grills and smokers. On any holiday weekend, folks pack parks and backyards for fun and to enjoy outdoor cooking. The summer air is full of delicious aromas.
Some of the very best barbeques I’ve
experienced are from run-down, roadside shacks in Kentucky. The smoky
smell of grilled meats of every kind makes my mouth water. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if the meat is hot
smoked over fire or smoke cooked. I love it all.
The wood used is at least as
important as the choice of the meat itself. Some woods impart a smokier flavor.
Others create a sweeter taste. And, then, there are the rubs, marinades, and
sauces. Anything can be done with these additives, giving the meat its own,
The point is barbeque is awesome.
We love barbeque.
Today I’m here to let you in on a little secret: If you love barbeque, you’re going to love Port Charlotte Scotch whisky.
Wait a second there, Mr. Whiskeyfellow… Bourbon and Rye are paired with
barbeque. Heck, we use those in our sauces and marinades. And, we drink them with
our grilled meat. What’s this Scotch stuff you’re trying to foist on us?
I've never led you down the wrong path yet... stay with me.
First of all, I must offer you transparency. One thing I admire about any brand is transparency. I hold myself to that same standard. I was approached by Bruichladdich, the distillery behind the Port Charlotte brand, to publish sponsored content about the brand. A majority of this piece fits that bill. What is not sponsored will be my tasting notes and review.
Port Charlotte is a small
village on the island of Islay. The village used to be home to the Port Charlotte Distillery (soon renamed Lochindaal Distillery) from 1829 to
1929 before it was shuttered and abandoned.
Two miles away from Port
Charlotte is the village of Bruichladdich,
home of the Bruichladdich Distillery. Bruichladdich acquired the defunct
Lochindaal Distillery in 2007, but has, to date, not resurrected it. However, it has brought the name of the town
back to life as Port Charlotte for its heavily-peated whisky brand.
You might be thinking that you've tasted Islay Scotches and I am off my rocker. Trust me here, please.
The term appellation is one we hear a lot in wines and brandies: champagne
must come from the Champagne region of France, otherwise, it is sparkling wine.
Cognac and Armagnac must come from their respective regions. It works for spirits, too.
Port Charlotte versus Pretty Much Every Other Islay Whisky
Port Charlotte is different from
every other Scotch that comes from Islay. Did you know that to be legally
called an Islay whisky, all that has
to happen is the malt has to be distilled
on Islay? The barley itself doesn’t have to come from Islay. The malting doesn’t have
to occur on Islay. The whisky doesn’t need to age on Islay. The water source doesn’t
have to be from Islay. And, finally, it doesn’t have to even be bottled in
Islay. In fact, most Islay whisky fits the minimum requirement of being distilled on the island.
Islay is an unforgiving
place to cultivate barley. Until very recently, barley hadn't been grown on the island since World War II! Most distilleries get all of their
barley from the mainland. The two that don’t are Kilchoman and Bruichladdich. The Port Charlotte brand uses 42% of
its barley grown locally. In fact, Port Charlotte is the only heavily-peated brand to claim 100% Scottish barley content. While the barley isn’t currently malted on Islay,
that will change in 2023. Once barreled, Port Charlotte spends its entire life
aging on Islay. Again, that’s not something most other distilleries do. Instead,
they spend a short time on Islay and then are sent to the mainland for the
duration of the aging process. The water used is sourced from Islay natural
springs. Finally, the whisky is all bottled on Islay.
All of the above contributes to Port Charlotte's very unique barbeque flavor. Not traditional peat smokiness. Not ash. What
helps enhance that special flavor comes from its very narrow-necked stills and
its heavily-charred ex-Bourbon casks the whisky is aged in.
Port Charlotte expressions are peated at 40ppm, the same as Ardnahoe and Laphroaig. That's higher than most, falling short only of Ardbeg, Laphroaig, and, of course, Bruichladdich's super-peated Octomore.
Bruichladdich's vision across its entire product line is to distill for flavor and not for consistency. Things change from batch to batch, and that's how they like doing things. The distillery maintains an inventory of over 200 different types of cooperage to add whatever variety is desired. Everything they produce is non-chill filtered and retains its natural color.
The final thing I want to tell you about Port Charlotte before I get to the reviews is Bruichladdich's B-Corp Certification. It is something they're very proud to be a part of. To be considered, a business must use itself as "a force for good." A business is required to maintain the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and must remain accountable. There are currently 3327 companies in 78 nations that hold B-Corp status.
That Barbeque Thing...
Taste is king and is how the whole barbeque experience comes into play. As I stated earlier, what never changes, sponsored or not, are my reviews and tasting notes.
The first review is for Port Charlotte 10. This Single Malt spent a decade in oak. The largest portion, 65%, was in first-fill ex-Bourbon, 10% in second-fill ex-Bourbon, and the remaining 25% in French wine casks. It is bottled at 50% ABV (or 100°) and you can expect to shell out about $70.00 for 750ml. The 10-year is the flagship release and is widely available.
Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, PC-10 presented as the color of dull gold, almost like a pale ale. While it created a thinner rim, it released thick, fat, watery legs that fell like a curtain back to the pool of whisky.
Nose: The first thing I smelled was smoky and the aroma was sweet and briny with grapefruit, ginger root, peach, and milk chocolate. It also offered floral notes. When I breathed the vapor through my lips, vanilla and toasted oak danced across my tongue.
Palate: The texture was medium-bodied, and the whole smoky/sweet combination got things moving. At the front, I tasted smoked oak, toasted coconut, vanilla, and merengue. As it moved to the middle, pear, dark chocolate, ancho chiles, honey barbeque, and sweet tobacco leaf took over. Think of it almost as molé sauce. Then, on the back, a marriage of orange, lemon, and crème brûlée.
Finish: It stuck around in my mouth and the back of my throat for several minutes, providing me flavors of smoked oak, brine, clove, orange peel, and honey. Before everything fell off, a brush of stewed peaches made itself known.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: There was no astringent quality, there was no earthiness to the peat. Sip to sip, it made my mouth water for more. I love traditional peated whiskies and this one was so different I was wowed. Port Charlotte 10 earns a Bottle rating.
The second review is of Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2012 Vintage. This Single Malt is aged a mere six years in 75% first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels and 25% second-fill wine casks. Eight Islay farms came together in 2011 to harvest four varieties of barley: Oxbridge, Publican, Propino, and Concerto. The 2011 harvest was particularly rough due to adverse weather conditions. Like the PC-10, Islay Barley is packaged at 50% ABV. This expression is more limited, and you should expect to pay about $90.00 for a 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Islay Barley proffered a pale gold color that was reminiscent of Chardonnay. Fat, sticky droplets turned into long, slow legs that dropped from a medium-thick rim on the wall.
Nose: Smoky peat began the experience, which led to pear, citrus, peach, and brine. Beneath those, I found honeysuckle, vanilla, and golden raisin. When I inhaled the vapor through my lips, I tasted coconut, vanilla, and barbeque smoke.
Palate: I found Islay Barley to be surprisingly light-bodied and sweet. Honey, vanilla, and mocha were on the front. Flavors of apricot, peach, and pineapple were at the middle, and chocolate, clove, honey-molasses barbeque, and smoky oak fell on the back.
Finish: Long and sweet, the finish was fruity with apricot, pineapple, and spicy with ginger and smoke. There was also a briny quality to it. This was a sweeter finish than the PC-10.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: For $90.00, I expect much more out of a whisky, and Islay Barley didn't disappoint. I loved how flavorful this was, how it reminded me of a few types of barbeque sauce blended together. The peat is subtle and offers a near-perfect balance of smoke, spice, and sweetness. This easily takes a Bottle rating from me.
Bottom Line: While both were stunning, it wasn't much of a contest for me as to the better bottle, and that was the Islay Barley. While I'm not the grillmaster, Mrs. Whiskeyfellow knows what she's doing, and these paired fantastically with ribeye steaks and grilled asparagus. With food, they added a touch of caramel and molasses. If you want to taste something that will appeal to the barbeque fan, Port Charlotte is the Scotch that's going to make that happen. Finally, don't let heavily-peated scare you away. Even a newbie to peat can enjoy and appreciate these expressions.
If you're interested in getting a bottle of either for yourself and you don't want to leave the comfort of your home, follow this link (note: I do not receive any sort of compensation for the click or purchase). Cheers!
My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It