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Monday, 6 October 2014

Jim McEwan Whisky Tasting, & Port Charlotte 10yo Whisky Review!

Bruichladdich Master Distiller, Jim McEwan, is currently touring Australia, presenting whisky tasting events around the country, and I had the privilege of attending one of the events last weekend, at the United Services Club, in Spring Hill, Brisbane.

Our MC on the night, who I believe 'borrowed' his introduction from Andrew from the Australian SMWS, put it very well: "There are three people in the whisky industry you should move heaven & earth to see: Dr. Bill Lumsden, (Distiller for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg), Richard Patterson (Whyte & Mackay, master blender), and both of them would move heaven & earth to see this man: Jim McEwan!"

Having worked in the industry for over 50 years, in multiple roles with multiple distilleries, Jim is very well qualified to explain every facet of the whisky world, and being a native of Islay (the town of Bowmore, specifically), his incredible passion both for the island, and his distillery, Bruichladdich, is truly infectious. Islay itself is, in my opinion, the whisky Mecca of the world, with eight working distilleries on a relatively small island, all producing excellent whisky, to be shipped and sold around the world.

I had previously seen Bruichladdich's people-focused marketing strategy as just that, a marketing strategy, but after listening to Jim talk about his home, his people and his distillery, with such passion and reverence, this is definitely not the case. When they say their whisky is about people, they really mean it.

As the tour is still in progress as I write this, I won't go into minute detail, but I will say that Jim is a fantastic presenter, well-grounded and passionate, honest and relate-able. He had us in stitches throughout the evening, while also touching on subjects like chill filtration , artificial colouring, the production process (including whisky and gin), and the rebirth of Bruichladdich distillery, a fascinating story in itself. Both myself, and my less-whisky-obsessed friend, found the evening very enjoyable, educational, and inspiring. Jim, despite it being his life's work, does not take whisky too seriously, and has a typically Scottish approach to the marketing aspect of the whisky world. We also had the opportunity to buy a bottle of the whiskies we tasted, and have it signed by Jim himself. I also snuck in one of the tins from my whisky collection for him to sign, wasn't going to miss that opportunity!

I was not able to comprehensively analyse the whiskies we tasted, so again I won't go into minute detail, but the six whiskies we tasted on the night (and one gin!) were as follows:

-The Botanist gin, produced by Bruichladdich, was served with tonic on arrival, although we did not find this out until the presentation had begun. I have tried this before, neat, and it is the only gin I will drink (and only neat, or with soda). A very successful product, and Jim was very honest about it, explaining that it was done purely as a source of income, as it can be bottled and sold straight after distillation, rather than having to wait years for a whisky to mature, before seeing any return. In true McEwan / Bruichladdich style though, it is unique, and of fantastic quality. I recommend you try it if you haven't already, even if, like myself, you're not a fan of gin.

-Bruichladdich 'Laddie Classic', NAS, 46%. Explained by Jim to be bottled at around 7 years of age. Very light, honey sweet and tropical fruits, unpeated, but very easy-drinking, and great value for money.

-Bruichladdich 'Islay Barley', 2006, 50%. Again explained to be around 7 years of age, and distilled only from barley which was grown on Islay. More weight and complexity, an excellent mouth-feel, and with more cereal and fruit notes. Again, very easy drinking and enjoyable.

-Bruichladdich Black Art 3, 1989, 48.7% cask strength, which I have reviewed previously here . I was hoping to taste the fourth release of the Black Art range, but the third is still a very good whisky.

-Port Charlotte Scottish Barley, NAS, 46%, 40ppm. Used for the 'highland toast' at the end of the evening (while standing on top of the chairs and tables!), so no time for details, but nicely peaty with some cereal notes and nice texture. This replaced their 'The Peat Project' NAS bottling, which I was not particularly impressed with, reviewed here , and this is a massive improvement.

-Port Charlotte 10yo, 46%, 40ppm. Lovely complexity, warming and peaty, with some sherry sweetness and depth. Jim explained this 10yo bottling to be around 60% bourbon cask, and 40% oloroso sherry cask. Hadn't tried this one before, and was impressed, so had to buy one. See the review below! .

-Octomore 6.1, 5 years old, 'scottish barley', 57%, 167ppm. I'm still amazed by the complexity and balance of these very heavily peated Octomore bottlings, and this one was no exception. It is of course a very powerful spirit (especially when consumed in two gulps, and held in the mouth to feel the power, thanks to Jim's encouragement!), and there are some similar cereal flavours in both it and the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley. This Octomore was my other purchase on the night, to be reviewed at a later date.

So, if you ever have the opportunity to meet Jim, or attend one of his tasting events, definitely do it, don't hesitate! There are still some tickets available for the current tour in Australia, and I believe he is visiting Japan and Korea on this tour as well. To borrow Andrew's line again, you should move heaven & earth to attend! Thanks to Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich, and Southtrade for putting this tour together, we need more of these events in Australia, please keep 'em coming!

Now, let's review some whisky!
Port Charlotte 10yo, Bruichladdich distillery, 46%, Islay, Scotland.
10 years old, 60% ex-bourbon cask, 40% ex-oloroso sherry cask, 40ppm. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Light bronze

Texture: Oily yet clean, Rich let light. Lovely.

Nose: Salty, a little smoke, sweet cereals, sweet sherry and raisins, smoked malted barley. Well balanced.

Taste: Salty sea air, over lovely warming peat. Not medicinal peat, slightly herbaceous. Sweet smoke, cereals and raisin / sherry sweetness. Easily identified as Bruichladdich, with the sweet malt and slightly salted cereals standing out. Delicious.

Finish: Very long finish despite being 46%. Lovely warming peat, smoky malt and cereals. Very, very long.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Excellent mouth-feel and texture, fantastic long finish. Love the sherry influences. Having tried the 'peat project' and 'scottish barley' offerings, I do prefer my port charlotte with a little sherry cask. Good value for money too, and so light, relaxed and easy drinking. I sometimes find it challenging to find a decent trace of the malted barley in heavily peated whisky, but this is not the case here.

Certainly holds it's own amongst Laphroaig quarter cask and triple wood, probably it's closest competition in my book. Would also make a good introduction into heavily peated whisky for the uninitiated. It was a bit hard to open a bottle signed by the master distiller himself, but it was worth it!

This expression is not as easily found as the NAS 'scottish barley', but it is worth searching for, with the extra warmth, complexity and balance. There is also a cask-strength version, released as part of Bruichladdich's 'PC_' range, known simply as PC10. Would absolutely love to get my hands on some of that stuff! But it is very hard to find, and very expensive as well. Maybe one day...


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