People, I have literally reviewed over 40 Bruichladdich whiskies on Malt – what else do you want me to say about the place?
Actually, at least there’s something a bit different about this release and that’s nothing to do with the whisky itself. It’s about the container that the whisky arrived in. The bottle. A new bottle design, in fact! For Port Charlotte has been given a bit of a facelift, a gentle rebrand, a bit of TLC.
At first, I didn’t think much of the new design, if I’m honest – though that was looking at the press release imagery. It looked a bit too military at best, like some fuel can. Worse, it looked closer to a bottle of Hendrick’s Gin. But it’s grown on me a lot and when the bottle arrived, I actually quite liked it. I heard tell of the focus group that Bruichladdich – or rather, their branding agency, as all of this stuff is dealt with externally these days – put on with existing fans of the brand, most of whom didn’t like the new direction.
But I suppose this isn’t aimed at existing fans. New designs are about capturing a new market. The word millennial – a lazy descriptor, which we only use here to tease the younger Malt writers – is thrown around design meetings. Creative folk get animated; old dogs of the whisky industry scratch their heads and shrug. And to be honest, most whisky labels and packaging are a bit shit, with a few exceptions; most borrow details from each other; most are uninspiring.
Anyway, the new Port Charlotte bottle. It’s nice to hold, nice to pour. Chunky. It’s nice to open. The cork is nice. The bottle is nice to pour. Lots of nice, pleasing details, if not massively exciting. How much of this matters? I suppose it’s all part of the ritual, isn’t it? For me it says, if a company pays this much attention to detail about the packaging, they’re perhaps more likely than not to have used good production methods, but that doesn’t always hold true. I like the Haig Club bottles, but the contents aren’t all that. I like the contents of GlenDronach, but their labels are tripe. I find Kilkerran bottles disappointing, but the whisky astonishingly good.
Yet these pre-drinking details do matter. Long have I been frustrated at, say, Signatory’s terrible corks, which crumble into dust on a regular basis, and such shitty packaging actively makes me avoid buying their whiskies. It shouldn’t matter – and yet it does, completely. (A wine cork falling apart, is a bit of a disappointment, but the whole thing is usually over in an evening anyway; you have to live with poor whisky packaging for months, even years.)
So what about these contents? The new Port Charlotte bottle has new whisky. According to the folks at Bruichladdich, it’s heavily peated to 40ppm and is a vatting of first-fill “American whiskey” (not ex-bourbon?) casks (65%), second-fill American whiskey casks (10%) and second-fill French wine casks (25%). [Edit: the American whiskey is Jack Daniel’s, which is not bourbon. A nicely pedantic alteration.]
Port Charlotte 10 Years Old (2018) – Review
Colour: deep gold. It’s a lovely shade.
On the nose: lovely sweet peat with just a slightly medicinal tinge to it. Old rope, hemp. A smidge of charred meats. Citrus, vanilla, walnut oil. Let that fade and there are some lovely syrupy notes, with dried apricots, orange marmalade. A hint of sun-dried tomatoes.
In the mouth: beautifully viscous texture, oily as fuck. Again, a sweet peat, more tea-like now. Smoked salmon drizzled with lemon juice. Olive oil, a juicy maltiness. Towards the end, herbal notes come to the fore, sage perhaps, oregano, but then a bunch of tropical fruits slip in: pineapple, mango. Let us speak of the balance, though, which is outstanding; the contrast between savoury elements, and a slight umami-ness and the sweet vanilla and the plummy dried fruits… well. It’s rather good, is what I’m saying.
£50? That’s ace. If this was, say, a tenner less then you’d be hard-pushed to find a better-value peated whisky on the planet, but it’s certainly up there with the Ardbeg 10 and Lagavulin 16 – and way beyond anything that the eminently forgettable Laphroaig is putting out at the entry-level range. Either way, there’s just no excuse for not having this in your cupboard as your go-to peated whisky.
The bottle’s all right to look at too.
Note: full disclosure, I was sent a whole goddam bottle of this whisky. But to be fair, I’ve probably dropped a cool grand on Bruichladdich whiskies over the past few years, so it’s about time I got something back for my investment.