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Friday, May 7, 2021

Port Charlotte Taste Off -- PC5, PC6, PC7

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

Back to the Port Charlotte cluster!

Port Charlotte kicked off their fierce cask-strength PC series in 2006 with a five-year-old full-powered whisky distilled in the malt's rookie year of 2001, and ended it with the 12-year-old PC12 in 2014. Some of the PCs were all bourbon cask, while others had a few fortified wine casks tossed in. 

My first Port Charlottes were a few SMWS releases that were nearly unpalatable at the 65-66%abv range. The "funny" SMWS names for those creatures should have been Pain Shartlotte, Who Needs an Esophagus Anyway, and I Can't Feel My Legs Keyser.

Thankfully PC7 and I met up just a few months later on a frigid 70ºF Costa Mesa winter evening, and I've been a fan of that series ever since. So it is my great pleasure to hold today's Taste Off, while hydrating appropriately.

As mentioned above, Port Charlotte PC5 Evolution was the first PC, distilled in 2001 and bottled 2006. Aged entirely in former bourbon casks, PC5 had a limited outturn of 6,038 bottles. It weighs in at 63.5%abv, so I'm stupidly letting it bat leadoff. My sample is from a bottle split.

Port Charlotte PC6 Cuairt-Beatha ("Walk of Life") enjoyed six years of maturation in a mix of bourbon and Madeira casks. Bruichladdich gave it a much bigger release, turning out 18,000 bottles in 2007. PC6 tiptoes in at 61.6%abv. This sample was also from a bottle split.

Port Charlote PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach ("Brothers in Arms"; Ha! Just kidding. "It's the Islay Way" is probably more accurate.) spent its seven years in bourbon and oloroso casks, and had a 24000 bottle release in 2008. This pour was saved from my own bottle that I reviewed more than five years ago.


Port Charlotte 5 year old PC5 Evolution, 63.5%abv

While there is indeed plenty of heat in the nose, there's also a good mix of seaweed and smoke stack. Then a combo of saline, bacon, walnuts and apples. Those walnuts slowly develop into roasted almonds. Metal notes sneak in over time, as does some more classic peat smoke. Reducing the whisky to 50%abv brings on more manure, hay and earth, but also some white fruits and honey. Some almond butter and moss drift through the background.

Regarding the palate, here are my first notes: "Startling in its violence" and "Ashes of the dead". I can offer more words, like "salt" and "burnt peat". "Stones and metal". It takes more than a half hour before the dried apricots, dried mango and tangy lemons show up. At 50%abv, the whisky reads smokier than Octomore, though it's not monolithic. It has some sweet citrus, raw walnuts, black pepper and plenty of salt.

It finishes with soil, dried fruits, dried grass, tangy lemons and loads of soot. Diluted to 50%abv, the whisky ends with pepper, salt, wood smoke and a touch of sweetness.

While certainly bracing, PC5 isn't debilitating like those aforementioned SMWS casks. This is the most naked of the PCs, showing itself to be a work in progress, though a very good one. PC5 came out more than a decade before the newest crop of distilleries started dropping their barely legal raw whiskies onto the market, so one can imagine the excitement and dreams about the future this stirred up in 2006. Though I'd love to drink this again someday, I think it's too brutal for more than 0.5-1.0 ounce at a time.


Port Charlotte 6 year old PC6 Cuairt-Beatha, 61.6%abv

The nose begins with more ocean and more(!) smoke than the PC5, but then gains walnuts, pears, nectarines and honey. It gets a little fusty and farmy with time. Oh, and a note of cuddly warm dog fur. Diluted to 50%abv, the whisky becomes comfier, though plenty strong with vivid ocean notes and a hint of manure. Cardamom, cloves and white peaches roll beneath.

The palate is gorgeously bitter and tart, with grapefruits and limes and herbs, covered by mineral- and moss-laced smoke. After 30 minutes it evolves into good green grapes and honey in a cigar lounge. That great herbal bitterness continues when the whisky is reduced to 50%abv. Lots of lemons and limes. Hints of mint candy and pink peppercorns. Hulking kiln smoke.

It finishes with a layer of dark smoke on top, sea salt and tart citrus in the middle, and a balance of sweet and bitter on the bottom. At 50%abv, it finishes with dried herbs, kiln, limes and mint candy.

What difference between years five and six! I'm not sure if the casks came from a different part of the warehouse or the Madeira casks helped pull the elements together, but this is no longer just a work in progress, it's a complete whisky. I'm not sure there was a single whisky (whether six years or fourteen) in the Kilchoman cluster that could match the PC6.


Port Charlotte 7 year old PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach, 61.0%abv

You're going to get lists for this nose. First there's ocean water, pears, pecans and molasses. Twenty minutes later: beach smoke, golden syrup and chalk dust. Thirty minutes in: pineapples, oranges and a hint of eau de vie. Down at 50%abv, it leads with grilled fruit and roasted nuts. Seaweed and miso. Bits of brown sugar and anise.

The palate leads with tart berries, dried currants, cigarette smoke, salty savory miso broth, dried herbs, zippy chiles. It balances sweet, tart, bitter, smoke, savory and salt. All things shining. Everything stays locked in when the whisky is reduced to 50%abv. A little less sugar, a little more salt. A sturdy savoriness. Herbal smoke, lime juice and a little bit of basement.

Dark chocolate appears in the finish, along with salt, stones, chiles, roasted nuts and a hint of dried herbs. It gets savorier at 50%abv, and gains limes, chiles and mint leaves.

To me, this can stand up with the best Laphroaig 10yo CS and Lagavulin 12yo CS batches. The balance, complexity and delivery are remarkable. The oloroso casks do their duty well because they stay back, highlighting and framing the great bourbon cask elements. Though I dearly hope this wasn't peak Port Charlotte, I'm not sure how it can be topped.


It was with this Taste Off in mind that I put together the Port Charlotte cluster, lining up whiskies I adore to see if perspective broadens my experience. Mark it a success! That was a lot of alcohol, but I’ve lived to tell another tale. If my body naively forgives me, I'll test it again with another PC lineup next week. Stay tuned!