...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Life of a Whisky Bottle: Port Charlotte PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach

Quick history
From approximately 1829 to 1929, the town of Port Charlotte (two miles south of Bruichladdich) was home to an active Lochindaal Distillery.  In honor of this late neighbor, Bruichladdich distillery named its new heavily peated (40ppm) malt whisky, Port Charlotte.  For eight years, 2006-2014, 'Laddie released large cask strength batches of Port Charlotte, naming them them 'PC'.  The number following the 'PC' was the age of the single malt.  Thus the series went from PC5 to PC12.  Around 2010, lower priced and lower ABV versions of Port Charlotte started to appear on the market with names like An Turas Mor and The Peat Project, along with an official 46%abv 10 year old.  Recently all of these have been replaced with the NAS Port Charlotte Scottish Barley bottling.

The once and not really future Port Charlotte Distillery
Though there was official discussion and a lot of rumors regarding the Bruichladdich ownership building an actual Port Charlotte distillery, most of that talk went silent once Remy Cointreau bought the company.  They may actually own the land to build the distillery, but according to the official website, "no decisions on the future of the old site have yet been taken."  I don't think anyone should keep his hopes up for this distillery being built this decade, if at all, because two stills which had been intended for use at the distillery to be were sold to Bruichladdich's former owner's new distillery in Ireland.  But because I don't want to leave you saddened, just know that a new small independent Islay distillery, Gartbreck, started production this year.

And now, my bottle
It's Autumn and I'm finally getting around to reviewing one of my winter whiskies, the PC7.  My other big winter whisky, a Ledaig 15yo bottled in 2001, received its review in August.  I bought my PC7 back in 2013 when some of the PCs could still be had for just under $100.  Now they can't be.  It was nice knowin' ye, PC.  Anyway, I'd tried this whisky previously and liked it enough to dump that chunk of credit card into a 7 year old whisky.  When I opened the bottle eight months ago, I kinda hoped I still liked it.
This sticker was on the bottom of the tin. I noticed
it was covering something up...
Hiding under the label, this is what was actually printed
on the tin bottom.
A nice proletariat glamour photo on the side of
the tin. But is The Worker really going to
spend £100 on a bottle of whisky?
Like with the Ledaig, I took samples from the top third, mid-third, and bottom third of the bottle, in January, early March, and April.  Like with the Ledaig, I'm tasting various points of the bottle at the same time in order to compare and see how much it changed in the bottle.  And just to clarify, I tried the uncut versions against each other, and then later compared the reduced versions.

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Brand: Port Charlotte
Ownership: Remy Cointreau
Region: Islay
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (as per Serge)
Age: 7 years
Distilled: 2001
Bottled: October 25, 2008 
PPM: 40
Alcohol by Volume: 61.0%
Limited release: bottle 23442 of 24000

This bottle's usage:
40% - Swaps and shares
0% - Whisky experiments
20% - Graded tastings
40% - Casual drinking

Nose - First it's peat cinders, toasted sesame seeds, raspberries, and hot tar.  Then it gets a little bready.  A hint of cheese.  Dark cherries.  It gets farmier with lots of time in the glass
Palate - The leavings of a forest fire.  Peated raspberries.  Talisker's pepper, but squared or cubed, like red pepper flakes.  Anise and hay.  A very keen sweetness that never goes overboard.
Finish - Very big and very salty. Charred meat crumbs and mushrooms.  Hay and anise.

REDUCED TO ~50%abv:
Nose - Farmier and cheesier.  Salted smoked meat.  Caramel and greenish peat notes.  There are some stinky socks in there but also berry shisha and molasses candy.
Palate - Big on pepper.  Slightly sugary peat without the berries but with a little more anise.
Finish - But now it gets more berried(!), think cherry gelato.  And in comes a rush of cinnamon candy.

MIDDLE THIRD OF BOTTLE, early March 2015
Nose - Less tar and sesame, more fruit, more grassiness.  A bit of melon and a fruity tea.  Tires, orange peel, and caramel sauce.  I think the peat sniffs a little mossier.
Palate - A very rich syrup of peat + cinnamon + brown sugar + pepper + salt.  Smaller notes of orange and vanilla.  Less of the berries.
Finish - Pepper first.  Then salt, dusty peat, and anise.  Maybe some prunes.  This is the hottest it reads during the tasting.

REDUCED TO ~50%abv:
Nose - Again fruitier and grassier than the top third.  Prettier too, with strawberries, cherries, and honeydew.  Also hella peat.
Palate - Pretty much perfect.  Crossing off that shitty tasting note.  Okay, the syrup has softened, balanced out by a slight bitterness.  Fruit punch without the sugar.  And there's even a hint of barley peeking through the covers.
Finish - Gets sweeter now.  The sugars ride the peat into a pink sunset. <---???

Nose - Salty sea.  Toasty nuts/seeds/grains.  Sage smudge, leather coat, a frappuccino-ish thing, and a hint of yeast.  The mossy peat remains strong throughout.
Palate - Basically the same as the middle third.  Maybe some more cherries and a hint of bitterness.
Finish - Peat first, cinders and ash.  Then tangerines, nuts, some sweetness, and a bitter nip.

REDUCED TO ~50%abv:
Nose - Similar pretty honeydew note from the mid-third.  Peat smoked almonds.  More vanilla bean and a bit of farm.
Palate - Similar to the middle third.  Perhaps more fruit and peat.  Dark chocolate.
Finish - Tobacco and bitter coffee, but the sweet berries remain.

Observation #1: With the pepper and berries and anise, and its massive and (esoterically) dark style, PC7 is the Petite Sirah of whisky.

Observation #2: A not inconsiderable amount of PC7 was consumed for this review, but it was stretched out over two hours.

Observation #3: While I would love to drop some hate on an expensive young product, I just can't here.  This is excellent whisky.  Though my notes make each pour appear to be very different, most of the time the differences were subtle.  And, I'm happy to say that I liked each iteration.  Great with water, great without.  Great at the bottle top, great at the base.

Observation #4: Not too long ago, there were a number of young but very good whisky brands -- Kilkerran, Kilchoman, and Port Charlotte -- about which so many people ended their reviews with "I can't wait to see how great this is when it's 12 years old!"  I may have been part of that group a couple of times, but then I realized that these were great whiskies right now.  While WIP #2 is my favorite of the Kilkerrans, that brand remains consistently excellent.  I do yearn to try older Kilchoman but it's out of my fascination about what happens to this malt whisky, purposely designed to be good young, when it gets older.  What if it doesn't necessarily get be better at 8+ years old?  And then there's Port Charlotte.  The older it got, the more expensive it became, until they gutted the age statement and watered it down.  I've had The Peat Project, An Turas Mor, the 10yo, and Scottish Barley.  None of them are in the same league as the PC7 (or the PC6 or PC8).  Again, this isn't to say that whisky in general is getting worse (that's for another post), but perhaps we should appreciate what we've got now because we have no idea what happens next.

Availability - Used to be the easiest PC to obtain, but now it's been mostly obtained
Pricing - was $90-$100 as recently as two years ago, is now $150-$200 in the US and much more expensive in Europe
Rating - 91