It's been some time since I last reviewed a Port Charlotte, so let's re-cover the story behind the 'brand'. Port Charlotte is the heavily peated, but not super-heavily peated, range from one of my favourite Islay distilleries, Bruichladdich. The name pays homage to the Loch Indaal Distillery that permanently closed in 1929, which was located in the village of Port Charlotte, down the road from Bruichladdich. The first Port Charlotte bottling, the 5-year old cask strength PC5, was released in 2006, and the yearly cask strength releases have so far continued each year, up until the most recent PC12, although unfortunately both it and PC11 were 'travel-exclusive', meaning that they could only be officially purchased from duty-free stores. There have also been a few lower strength non-age statement (NAS) bottlings, including an Islay Barley expression, and two 10-year old releases, the first matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, with the recent second edition also adding some wine casks into the mix.
Port Charlotte is peated to 40 ppm, which puts it slightly above modern Lagavulin and Caol Ila, and slightly below Laphroaig and Ardbeg, and far below Bruichladdich's own super-heavily peated Octomore range. The numbers don't tell the whole story of course, and Bruichladdich's tall stills and intentionally slow & steady production methods mean that you generally don't get the massive peat explosion that those digits might imply, even when they're well into the hundreds. Having said that, the Port Charlotte bottlings still pack a nice peaty & smoky punch, particularly when they're bottled relatively young and at cask strength, such as the brilliant and now quite rare PC7 bottling reviewed here.
This particular Port Charlotte bottling I'm looking at today is a slightly different take on the make. For a start it carries a vintage rather than a simple age statement, but you'll also find an age statement of eight years in the fine print on the bottle and packaging. It was also fully-matured, not merely finished (or ACE'd - additional cask enhanced, in Bruichladdich speak), in French oak ex-cognac casks, which is quite a rare thing in the whisky world. This is where the rather obscure name becomes a little clearer: Port Charlotte Cognac Cask 01 (first release), 2007 vintage. Cognac is essentially a type of Brandy (aged grape spirit) that must be produced in the Cognac region of western France (much like sherry must be produced in Jerez, Spain), and must be aged for at least two years in French oak to legally carry the name cognac. Port Charlotte CC01 was bottled at a cask strength of 57.8%, and like all whiskies from our beloved Bruichladdich it's non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. So we have a vintage and an age statement, plus the full cask details and a totally natural presentation, at cask strength, and it's quite reasonably priced as well. Outstanding!
Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) CC01 2007, 57.8%. Islay, Scotland.
8 years old, distilled 2007. Fully-matured (not finished) in French oak ex-cognac casks. Cask strength, non-chill filtered, naturally coloured. Travel retail / duty-free exclusive.
Nose: Fresh, bright and zesty. A little soft earthy, herbal peat, dusty oranges, salted potato chips (crisps). Some oily filler putty and candied citrus peel. Brine and some musty stone fruit, and a little peppery oak.
Texture: Gorgeous. Medium weight, intense yet soft. No heat at all, despite the youth and high strength.
Taste: Much peatier than the nose suggested, but still quite well balanced. An earthy, dry peat with plenty of salt and thick, dry wood smoke alongside. Builds in intensity to a peaty crescendo, but still quite vibrant and herbal, with the candied citrus and some stone fruit (mostly apricot) jam, and a little ginger. More time in the glass brings out a thick creamy orange-y caramel, and some trademark Bruichladdich lactic 'funk'. Delicious.
Finish: Long and quite complex. Traces of that Laddie DNA with the sour lactic notes (definitely in a good way) intermingled with the coastal salt, stone fruit jam and subtle wood smoke. Then some fresh spicy, gingery, slightly bitter oak (again in a good way), then citrus zest with that earthy, dry, salty peat.
Score: 4 out of 5.
Notes: An absolutely beautiful dram! Very nearly gave it a 4.5 score actually. Very complex and engaging, particularly considering the youth, and there's still plenty of peat to be found, and plenty of 'funk' as well. Bruichladdich has never shied away from bottling relatively young whiskies, and being honest about it, and with bottlings like this I can certainly see why! The finish in particular is excellent, it alternates between Bruichladdich's lactic trademark funk, and oak & fruit, all with that lovely & soft earthy peat underneath. Markedly different to the usual bourbon and/or sherry cask Port Charlotte as well, in a really interesting way. What a winner! Bruichladdich are quickly gaining ground on my current favourite distillery, with such a massive variety of whisky coming from under the one roof, and with consistent quality and complexity. I just can't wait to finally visit them in September. Love your work ladies & gents!
This really is a (or possibly the) shining star in the current duty free / travel exclusive line-up if you ask me. It's also exceptional value for money; for a cask strength, heavily peated single malt that was fully-matured not finished or ACE'd) in first-fill exotic French oak casks, $136 AUD is an absolute steal. I had to do a double-take when I saw that price. Yes it's relatively young, and it's a 700ml bottle rather than the duty-free 1-litre bottles, but it really just does not matter. Another distillery may have deleted the age statement from the packaging and doubled the price, and it probably still would have sold, but not Bruichladdich. They've 'kept it real', and I and many others love them for it. My only complaint, and I'm nitpicking here, would be the name - '2007 CC01' is a little confusing for your average punter, so perhaps spelling it out as 'Cognac Cask 01' would've worked a little better. But for those who take a closer look and read the fine print, you'll be very well rewarded. So next time you're travelling or if you have a whisky mule coming soon, do yourself a favour and grab one of these!