...where distraction is the main attraction.

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! 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Heaven Hill Bottled-In-Bond Taste Off: 6 year old vs 7 year old

My WT101 naïveté did not extend to Heaven Hill 6yo BIB. I think we all knew it was going to be discontinued, especially in its $10-$15 price point. Then Heaven Hill Distillery fulfilled all cynical expectations by going Full Coke Dealer by adding one year to the expression and tripling the price on its customers. Retailers were only happy to pile on further.

One could certainly argue the 6yo whiskey was underpriced, and I would have been comfortable paying $25-$30 for the same whiskey, but now the 7yo averages $68 at retail stores (per Winesearcher). Yes, you read that correctly. You may indeed find yourself in an American liquor store that charges more for a 7 year old Heaven Hill product than a 12 year old single malt scotch. This why I don't indulge in American whiskey much beyond good cocktail ingredients.

Heaven Hill 6 year old Bottled-in-Bond was excellent in cocktails, and pretty decent on its own. Just before that expression vaporized, I bought four bottles (for $11.99 each!) from its home state of Kentucky. Now I'm down to two. Today's sample comes from about the halfway point of the bottle I finished a few months ago.

Despite my gripes about everyone connected to the 7 year old expression, I really do want to try the stuff. So I am thankful to have participated in a bottle split.

Heaven Hill 6 year old BIB, 50%abv, from my bottle

The nose balances dried berries, oak spice and barrel char up front, with vanilla bean, leather and cherry candy in the background. Hints of tangerines and pine sap gradually emerge.

Though less complex than the nose, the palate has a good tart citrus note to go with the sweet cherries and black pepper. A spot of savory tea floats in the background.

It finishes with cherries, bananas, caramel and black pepper.

It brightens up when served on one big ice cube, turning into honey and oranges with a dash of salt.

A relic from another time, Heaven Hill 6 year old BIB was one of life's little joys. I wish I'd known about it years earlier so I wouldn't have had to wince down a parliament of declining $25 scotch blends in the search for a tasty deal. Though this is my third review of this bourbon, it's the first time I've really appreciated how well it worked on ice. (Yes this is really me.) So I'm going to give it a couple more points this time.


Heaven Hill 7 year old BIB, 50%abv, from a bottle split

The nose begins with sherry-like dried fruits and chocolate. The wood is so much heavier here than in the 6yo, and comes close to overwhelming the rest of the elements. Hints of oranges, peach skin and armagnac boost it slightly.

Mostly woody, peppery and savory, the palate does allow in the occasional apricot and plum. Quite tannic, though.

Luckily those stone fruits stick around into the finish because the tannins and peppercorns are very aggressive.

It's dry and woody when served on one big ice cube, with occasional hints of bananas and black pepper.

Though it certainly has heft and age, the 7 year old does nothing for me. It smells good, as do a lot of oak juices, but the palate seems dimensionless next to the 6 year old. All that oak reads generic, as if this could be one of the many faceless bourbons on the market. Drinking the bourbon has changed my mind; I wouldn't spend $25-$30 on this, let alone the current asking price.


Though I don't like the 7's price, I understand it from a financial perspective since the market bears it. But I do not understand why Heaven Hill changed the bourbon's style. Did they do it so drinkers wouldn't complain about paying quintuple the price for the same bourbon? Because, IMO, people are paying quintuple the price for a lesser bourbon, a bourbon that doesn't even surpass Heaven Hill's cheaper products. For instance, it's of a similar quality to Elijah Craig Small Batch, but at twice the price. I'm sure Heaven Hill is weeping into their platinum tissues over my post, but it didn't have to be this way.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Wild Turkey 101 Rye Taste Off: 2011 bottling versus 2018 bottling

In 2012, Wild Turkey 101 Rye was great and it was $20. I remember one of Bacardi's distributors telling me that demand had exceeded supply, and that 101 Rye would soon disappear from shelves. In my 2012 naïveté I thought, "Huh, that sounds kinda concerning." The rye was gone that very month.

Three years later it returned with a 50%-100% price jump and a 33% larger bottle (750mL to 1000mL). It was another four years before I bought a bottle of the new stuff. And it took me another two years to do this comparison.

And only now am I appreciating how much more useful this review would have been SIX YEARS AGO. Nothing if not timely around here.

I could have taken a worse picture too,
but that would've just been showing off.

The sample of the old label 2011 bottling on the left was from the bottle I reviewed 105 moons ago. The sample on the right is from the 2018 bottling I bought and finished in 2019-2020. Both ryes performed very well in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, here's a look at the two served neatly:

Wild Turkey 101 Rye, 50.5%abv, bottled 2011

In the nose, apples and pears stew slowly with cinnamon and cloves. Smaller notes of thyme, blossoms and creamsicles float in and out. Gentle barrel char mixes with cherry bubblegum.

Fresh cherries and cherry lollipops meet in the palate, followed by ginger beer, sweet red plums, cassis and applesauce. The char moves from the rear to the fore with time, though the fruits always remain.

The cherries, plums and ginger remain in the finish, with a pinch of pepper in the background.

Wow, this was great! I'd even keep it away from the cocktails and just sip it neatly. Between this, the earlier Rittenhouse BIBs and Willett's LDI single barrels, we were spoiled ten years ago. I should have bought more etc., etc., etc. Damn.


Wild Turkey 101 Rye, 50.5%abv, bottled 2018

The nose begins simpler. Plenty of cherries, some split lumber, more citrus and cardamom. More pepper, more ethyl. Mint, flowers and something beefy in the background.

The palate feels rougher, slightly hotter. I find more char and peppercorns, reminding me of the 101 Bourbon. Moderate notes of soil, salt and savory roll through the midground. Cherry lollies and apricots highlight the background.

Barrel char leads the finish, with cherries and salt appearing later.

Compared to the 2011, this one has more aggressive oak and youthful jagged edges. It's fine and sturdy on its own but works much better when giving Manhattans more heft. And if you dare to pour it over one large ice cube, you may find it does its job as a summer sipper.


Though the 2011 wins outright with its fruits and gentler maturation, it's not like one can just choose between these two ryes in a store. The latter bottling is what's on the shelf, and the former is priced high on the secondary market. No, the current edition isn't $20, but at $34 for one liter, it's one of the better options in that price range in most states. (Though I'd give Old Forester Rye the edge.)