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Friday, April 23, 2021

Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2008 versus Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2011

(Port Charlotte cluster homepage)

I've always preferred Port Charlotte's Islay Barley over their Scottish Barley whiskies. While the Scottish Barley release was in a standard rotation and is now extinct, the Islays had limited outturns, specific vintages and are still around, with the newest release, the 2012, appearing last year.

Islay Barley 2008, the version I know the best, had a number bottlings, from 2014 to 2016. Because the bottle lists no age, I'm not sure if that means this expression was released at multiple ages, or if it was put in steel to allow for a consistent gradual rollout. It seems as if its contents, distilled from the barley of six Islay farms, were aged solely or mostly in bourbon casks.

Islay Barley 2011 was released only in 2019 and has a six-year age statement. Its barley (Oxbridge and Publican) was harvested from three Islay farms, and its maturation was 75% first-fill bourbon casks and 25% second-fill Syrah and Figero wine casks. That wine is possibly not from Islay, but I digress.

I opened my second bottle of the 2008 last week and knocked the whisky line down about one-third of the way in the days leading up to this Taste Off. The 2008 always smells like an Islay kiln to me. This tasting will allow me to dig deeper than that.

Instead of buying a bottle of the 2011 blindly, I purchased a sample to try first. As you can see by the pic below, I chose to examine half of the sample before this Taste Off, such was my anticipation.



Port Charlotte 2008 Islay Barley, bottled 22.09.2016, 50%abv
(my bottle, one-third of the way down)

Compared to the Scottish Barley this is almost a different peat, not just a different grain source. There's a commingling of the outdoors and the industrial in the nose; herbs and leaves and moss and factory smokestack. Beneath the peat are green grapes and anise. Beneath that, hints of blueberry jam and butterscotch. Once the whisky is reduced to 43%abv, the nose shifts to stones, golden raisins and peated cookie dough.

Plumes of kiln smoke lead the palate, followed by sweet citrus and metal spoons. Bitter herbs and pickled ginger nip at the edges. Reducing the whisky to 43%abv turns the palate fruitier and sweeter. Pears and white peaches meet hay and lightly sooty smoke

The palate's kiln smoke rolls through the finish, where those small notes of ginger and bitter herbs ascend, and the sweet citrus regresses. At 43% the whisky finishes sooty with little bits of caramel sauce and dried herbs.

Port Charlotte 2011 Islay Barley, 2018 European release, 50%abv
(from a purchase sample)

nose leads with sautéed dried herbs and lemon zest. Ginger juice, hot concrete and freshly cut grass. A befouled hay note starts at the rear (har har), and gradually moves forward with time. It remains grassy and farmy, once the whisky is diluted to 43%abv, while picking up a briny salty air note, a hint of watermelon Jolly Rancher in the background.

The palate's smoke carries a raspberry essence, then meets with bitter herbs and orange marmalade. It gets sootier with time. It's a nice mix, picking up a red wine-like tobacco note after a while. It actually gets tighter and harsher once the whisky is reduced to 43%abv. Fewer fruits, though there's a touch of grape jam. More bitter smoke.

Surprising activity in the finish: soot, cigarettes, sweet berries and cabernet sauvignon. Dilution to 43%abv doesn't help the finish, instead shining a spotlight on bitterness.


I like 'em both! The 2008 reads heavier, while the 2011 has a bit of a smile to it. That may be due to the lack, and presence, of the wine casks. Where the current 10 year old's spirit blasts through the wine casks, the 2011 Islay wears its wine a little louder, but not too much. The 2008 is a hardy winter pour that can also stand up to some water. A proper time and place for the 2011 is more flexible, but dilution did it no good, much like Wednesday's two whiskies. I almost gave the 2011's verve the nod, but the 2008 is so stout and vivid that I'm just going to call it a tie.


Port Charlotte 2008 Islay Barley - 87

Port Charlotte 2011 Islay Barley - 87 (neat only)

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