Every day, we strive to bring you something new here at MALT, so it’s understandable that occasionally something slips through our net. I mean, we do have a comprehensive portfolio of Bruichladdich, Octomore and Port Charlotte reviews prosperously sized that is almost verging on definitive … but when Rose kindly gave me this sample of the Port Charlotte MRC:01 earlier this year, I immediately relegated it to the bottom of my whisky sample mountain. I mistakenly believed that we had already reviewed it because my co-editor, Mark, tends to tackle anything that comes from this distillery, including the branding bollocks of which they’re capable. He even boasted on the recent Port Charlotte 2018 release how many he’d reviewed—a whisky that I felt we over-scored. My bad, because we have a gap in our coverage, but one that I’m now about to plug.
It’s easy to be swayed by a brand and manipulated. We are all susceptible to the ‘brand marriage,’ as the hypotheses by Susan Fournier discussed over three decades ago. It’s a fascinating area wherein brands can go bad, soar and also tap into our life experiences, all to their own benefit. We feel comfort as being part of a group (or clan), a snug blanket that tells us that we’re not alone, and that there are others like us who feel the same sense of loyalty and devotion to a brand.
This, to me, somewhat explains the tunnel vision I unearth when talking to fans of Bruichladdich, Balvenie, Glenrothes, Macallan and so on. There’s an unshakeable belief that all is good and that such a brand is incapable of bad behaviour or slipping up—qualities that make us human. When something isn’t satisfying, we put it down to a one-off and show too much forgiveness. To me, branding is camouflage, often without much foundation. If businesses, or distilleries for that matter, put as much effort into the creation and maturation of their whiskies as branding, then the whisky world would indeed be a better place.
We all have relationships with brands, regardless of social status, gender and religion. These ‘marriages’ shouldn’t be knocked by outsiders or non-believers. They do, however, need to be understood and acknowledged. This gut instinct explains why many fall virtually in love with a brand and its ideals, portrayals and messages. In other words, we need more insight into modern-day consumerism and how we are being manipulated. Websites, writers and such are manipulated by PR companies, advertising revenues and the threat of missing out on the next free sample or paid for trip.
I say, screw all that.
I’ll give you an example of a bigger brand that doesn’t relate to a single corporation, but has a strong relationship and magnetism with those that believe in the concept. That brand, as such, is bourbon. My recent forays stateside have highlighted a strong belief in all things bourbon; that it is superior, purer, only capable of being produced in America, and that other brown spirits are inferior – yes – including Scotch, believe it or not. Hilarious, I know, but it shows the belief and dedication, or lack of outlook. Many of these individuals feel strongly and passionately about bourbon. It has not only a sense of national or regional pride, but a personal admiration that prompts gratification. You can apply the same logic to champagne, car manufacturers, various wines, whisky, or even a sense of belief that’s being propagated at the cathedral of barley in Waterford.
The danger is that the defective outlook arising from tunnel vision unleashes a zealot-like persona. You stop listening, avoid exploring and dismiss anything that doesn’t fit into your brand marriage as utter garbage, or at least hearsay. I question, or would like to, those that stubbornly adhere to beliefs that bourbon is superior—why, exactly, and how many scotches have you tried? The worst that you can do is slam the door and bolt it shut for an indefinite period.
For many years, I jokingly said bourbon is vanilla and little else. I’m not here to say Scotland’s national drink is superior or whatever. Let’s just accept it is different. All things are different and should be celebrated. As a society and planet, we’re too preoccupied with putting things into silos and then debating (often arguing) what’s better and why. There are too many arguments around whisky, and it’s been magnified by social media. I don’t care, and neither should you—if you take my advice.
Now, I may have gone slightly off track here, but there is logic to the above pathway. You see recently, I’ve had several conversations with supporters (or fans?) of what we do here. A couple have mentioned that Mark’s Bruichladdich/Octomore/Port Charlotte reviews suggest a blind spot, a sense of favouritism, and/or a brand loyalty. Imagine for a moment me having to defend him and also Islay’s most overrated distillery. You listen, reason and move on. Some might say, I have the same loyalties towards Tormore, but clearly, they haven’t seen how harsh I can be on it. The same goes for Daftmill – I’d gladly give the Berry Bros sherry cask a 3 or 4, as that is what it warrants in my book. Additionally, the whisky has been obliterated by the cask and should have been bottled years prior.
That all said and done, we all have differences and our upbringings; life experiences and interactions help shape who we are today. Right now, I’d like to think on the whole we tend to follow a straight and neutral line here. Assisted by our independence and attempts to bring you multiple thoughts on a review. My own thoughts on Bruichladdich and its array of distillates are well known. I don’t follow a brand, herd, or what the masses think. I do things my way and I respect those that adore this distillery and yet are capable of actually admitting release XYZ, or its recent form, is inconsistent.
Right now, for them and for you, we’ll plug that gap with the MRC: 01. If this is as half as good as the Port Charlotte 2006 valinch SHC:01, then we’re in for a real treat, let me tell you! Bottled at 59.2% and limited to an outturn of around 8000 bottles, this features 100% Scottish barley from the Inverness region, which has always been a fertile region for barley, growing some of the best in the world, and also playing host to many distilleries, including the legendary Ferintosh. For this Port Charlotte, the 40ppm peated whisky spent time maturing in first-fill ex-bourbon casks and second-fill French wine casks before coming together for a finish of a year in the ‘finest’ (who says it’s the finest? Debate these terms!) from the Bordeaux region. The bottle will cost you around £90.
Port Charlotte 2010 MRC:01 – review
Colour: gold leaf.
On the nose: a salty pasta water, brine, caramel and tinny aspect. Red liquorice, shoe wax polish and wet hemp. Some candied orange, wet foilage, bacon crisps and Royal icing. Time reveals a little washing up liquid dynamic and BBQ beef sausages. The addition of water reveals ginger, pineapple and apricot.
In the mouth: a spent bonfire followed by peanuts and driftwood. A little table salt and it must be said a shortlived, weak finish. A tinge of alcohol as well. A cloying aspect in the background from the wine cask gives substance but not flair. Cranberries and a cinder toffee round up a mixed bag. Adding water introduces more smoke and an earthy, bark dynamic with tannins also evident.
Firstly, this is overpriced at nearly £100 so a mark has been chopped off. A fair summary, is that this MRC is a solid whisky, but nothing more, nothing less. The bottle design is nice enough. Sadly, we want more than just a nice visual presentation. I’m left asking what is the real purpose of this Port Charlotte? Little more than a revenue stream for Bruichladdich and Remy Cointreau? Come on Bruichladdich – you can do better than this.
My thanks to @fromwhereidram for the sample and photograph.