Updated: Oct 31, 2021
What’s going on Pandas! Today we shall be trying a bottle from Bruichladdich Distillery – the Port Charlotte 9 Years OLC:01. If you are feeling slightly confused, let us explain: certain distilleries like to release different labels of whisky (corresponding with different flavour profiles of whisky) although the operation is all done under one roof.
For instance, Springbank Distillery is famous for its 3 labels: (1) the Hazelburn, (2) the Springbank and (3) the Longrow. They vary from completely unpeated to heavily peated.
Bruichladdich Distillery follows exactly the same pattern. Port Charlotte is one of the 3 labels of whisky released by them.
Today's bottle is one of the latest from Bruichladdich's innovative Cask Exploration Series. This one is special for its heavily sherried profile not often seen in the distillery's releases. The distillery also proudly touts that this bottle is finished using “genuine” sherry casks sourced from Fernando de Castilla, a renowned Spanish winery that makes real sherry in the Spanish city of Jerez.
Brand: Port Charlotte
Region: Islay, Scotland
Distributor: Original Bottling (OB)
Classification: Scotch Whisky
Style: Single Malt
Cask: American White Oak, Vin Doux Naturel, Syrah, Jerez Oloroso
Age: 9 Years Old
Behind the Label
Brief introduction to Bruichladdich Distillery
The famed distillery (Image Source: Whisky Foundation)
Pronounced “Brook-Laddie” and essentially meaning “shore bank” in the Gaelic language, the Bruichladdich Distillery was built in 1881 by a pair of brothers on the western shore of the Isle of Islay, making it one of the most westerly operational distilleries in Scotland.
The production methods at Bruichladdich are relatively traditional, using Victorian equipment and techniques that have changed little over the years. The distillery only uses 100% Scottish barley and are also Scotland’s major distillers of organic barley.
As one distillery, Bruichladdich produces different styles of single malt whiskies under three different labels to represent varying degrees of peat. (1) The Bruichladdich label is completely unpeated, light, fruity, delicate and elegant in flavour; (2) the Port Charlotte label is moderately peated at 40ppm, with flavours of elegant smoke; and (3) the Octomore label is very heavily peated to 160ppm, and certifiably Scotland’s most heavily peated whisky. For contrast, the level of peat in an Ardbeg is generally about 50 to 55ppm.
We’re tasting an expression from the moderately peated Port Charlotte, from the Cask Exploration Series.
Port Charlotte Cask Exploration Series
Bruichladdich is a distillery that constantly impresses us with its innovation and commitment to produce whiskies that are somewhat experimental and make us think – much like a good arthouse film would.
We have previously discussed the Bruichladdich Islay Barley series which is intended as an expression of the distillery’s play with provenance and terroir, and which was exclusively made with malt from family-owned farms on Islay.
Bruichladdich’s Cask Exploration Series is another great demonstration of the distillery’s experimentation with maturation in various different casks styles.
This series started a few years ago with the Port Charlotte CC:01 (Cognac Cask), followed by the Port Charlotte MC:01 (Marsala Cask), and then the Port Charlotte MRC:01 (Château Mouton Rothschild Cask).
The Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 that was fully matured in Cognac Casks (Image Source: Bruichladdich)
The Port Charlotte 2009 MC:01 that was matured in Marsala wine Casks (Image Source: Bruichladdich)
The Port Charlotte 2010 MRC:01 that was matured in Château Mouton Rothschild red wine casks (Image Source: Bruichladdich)
Fans of peated whiskies are quite fond of this series and have consistently review the whisky to be enjoyable, full of depth and complexity.
Our bottle today is one of the latest Cask Exploration Series bottling- the Port Charlotte 2010 9 Years Old, OLC:01.
This one has been distilled in 2010 from a 2009 crop of heavily peated barley. Many different cask styles were employed – 70% of the spirit was matured in American whiskey casks (presumably very similar to bourbon), 25% in Vin Doux Naturel casks (a type of French sweet white wine), 5% in Syrah casks (also known as Shiraz wine which are fuller bodied, comprising of tannins and some spice). Finally, the pièce de resistance involves transferring all of these into high-quality first-fill Oloroso casks for an 18-month long finishing period.
Have you guessed what “OLC” stands for now?
What makes the Port Charlotte OLC:01 one of the more unusual expressions released by Bruichladdich is the heavily sherried profile. Most bottles from Bruichladdich are not focused on sherry maturation.
To be clear, we should also learn what exactly “sherry” is. Under EU law, words like “Champagne”, “Proscuitto di Parma” and “Camembert” have a protected designation of origin status (“PDO”).
This means that products labelled as such must be made within a specific geographical region under the law. “Sherry” also has a PDO status; all fortified wines labelled as a “sherry” must legally come from white grapes grown in a specific region in Spain near the city of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. Any other similar fortified wines made with grapes grown in another Spanish region could taste very similar but simply are not genuine sherry.
Due to cost constraints, most “sherry casks” used by modern whisky distilleries are not seasoned with real sherry, but rather fortified wines from nearby regions like Huelva or Montilla-Moriles. Bruichladdich proudly touts that its OLC is finished using “genuine” sherry casks sourced from Fernando de Castilla, a renowned Spanish winery that makes realsherry in the Jerez city.
And with that, let’s dive into tasting this beast.
On the nose, the initial act is hefty sooty smoke with some notes of dried black tea. This continues for a few moments. As the smoky aroma dissipates slightly, the nose opens to earthiness, oakiness as you start to receive some dried hay and fresh ground coffee and dark chocolate. There is a Christmassy feel to this dram. 2 -3 minutes in, as the curtain of peat smoke lifts slightly, we get some brighter notes of fruits – with plums, dried apricots and candied orange on chocolate. Some spices appear. And while the smokiness is constantly present, more depth really appears the longer you allow this to sit. More ground coffee and dark chocolate comes through with a honeyed aroma.
On the palate, pretty intense leading notes on first sip with a tango of nuts, sherry flavours supported by intense smoke. A nice slightly salty roasted nut character similar to Chinese roasted sunflower seeds (the kind widely available in Asian supermarkets during Chinese New Year). There is a slight dryness from the Oloroso that is completely expected in a sherried whisky. There is certainly a good amount of heat at 55.1% ABV, which numbs the tip of the tongue momentarily.
While the leading notes are sherry and peat smoke, I highly recommend letting this sit for several minutes. This opens up to more (mild) fruity sweetness- cherry jam, candied orange, peaches and ripe bananas (or is it closer to nail varnish), complemented nicely also with a layer of aromatic earthy notes of ground coffee and dark chocolate once again. The heat and spice becomes so much milder, much more manageable and perhaps even enjoyable.
Roasted sunflower seeds (Image Source: Snackfirst)
The finish is fairly long with fading sweetness of cherries, sherry leatheriness and ashy smoke. There are some growing mineral notes, or is it brine? A touch of coffee and tobacco comes through.
This is one of the most complex expressions I’ve tried, and I think it would either make someone fall in love with peated whiskies or scare someone off (which would be a huge pity).
With substantial smoke and a 55.1% ABV, I would highly recommend this to someone who is familiar with smoky whiskies and has some patience to let this dram sit for 3-4 minutes – because that is when its layers of flavour really unfold. The Bruichladdich spirit is quite nicely complimented by the nutty Oloroso casks and ashy smoke in a- dare I say- holy trinity. The bright and sweet fruits from the initial blending (remember the VDN cask?) also works very well by ensuring that the Oloroso dryness is not overwhelming. Indeed, this is an excellent showcase of Bruichladdich Distillery's blending skills.
This isn’t just another “sherry bomb”. I appreciate the fact that the distillery did not overwhelm this expression with the Oloroso finishing. This allows for some balance between the distillery’s character (think the crisp flavours from the malt and ashy peatiness), and the sherried flavours.
We rate this one chili for its robustness. This is quite heavy on smoke but with some cultivation, you might fall in love with this.
The nutty and sweet Oloroso profile and aromatic peat smoke pairs sublimely with the oily meatiness of chargrilled steak. This needs to be on the menu of every Italian ristorante that serves Florentine steak.
The T-bone Fiorentina at Ristorante da Valentino (Image Source: Instagram @szeto_bento)