What is in a name? In today’s whisky, the name is seemingly everything and prized by the distilleries and corporations behind them. The name is the beginning of the brand and whisky is very much a brand business nowadays.
These 2 recent releases from the Thompson Bros. in a way demonstrate the different paths a brand, or distillery name, can take. The Port Charlotte is as you know a peated distillate from Bruichladdich. A distillery that prides itself on branding and its message and presentation. This entity doesn’t seem to mind – at the time of writing – that its name or various distillates are used by bottlers and releases outside of its own official range.
This, of course, may change as there is a growing trend of distilleries refusing that their names are utilised by the independent sector. There are exceptions of course with the well-established bottlers such as Gordon & MacPhail, Cadenhead’s etc. have received a certain degree of respect and trust. In doing so, they can bottle a Highland Park as such and a Glenrothes etc. Even so, there are limitations to their permissions with Cadenhead’s for instance only able to use the Glenfarclas name twice per year and Lagavulin remains off-limits.
On the other hand, we have a release from a distillery that has been redacted. I know over the years from speaking some independent bottlers, the frustrations of seeking permission when it comes to a release they’ve got planned. Imagine having gone to the lengths to gauge and acquire a cask knowing its history. Only then to politely ask the distillery if their name can be used. Sometimes you have to work your way up the chain of command in corporate HQ until you eventually receive a polite but firm no. Resulting in your plans having to be amended and in one example I do recall, a festival release, having to be quickly altered to feature the name of an island.
The redacted distillery is a major contributor to the luxurious spectrum of the whisky market and has gone so far as to rebuild itself in the form of several hills in homage to a classic television series. Independent releases from this behemoth are increasingly rare and sought after with the price being very prohibitive.
Good independents will look to have a little fun when they are unable to name a distillery. Taking inspiration from local landmarks, place names or even legends to give the smallest hint without physically spilling the beans. On this particular label we have a local landmark and what I guess is a deer-like animal. You could be forgiven for thinking maybe this is a Glenfiddich which means valley of the deer, but you’d be wrong as being a single – rather than teaspoon malt – rules out the Speyside giant.
Thompson Bros. Port Charlotte 2002 – review
On the nose: yes, a distinct farmyard vibe, a dirty autumnal character and a flat ale. A very salty brine and beyond this a calm simple nature. Coastal sandy aromas, lemon sherbet and pine sap bring a refreshing break. Driftwood, vanilla custard moving into custard creams that provide some cereal bite.
In the mouth: now more fresh earthy dug up peat, salad leaves and more brine. Driftwood, milk chocolate, coco beans and more wet wood.
Thompson Bros. Speyside 1995 – review
Colour: a golden hue.
On the nose: very fresh with a vibrant vanilla, lemon peel and some citrus notes with melon and grapefruit joining in. Oily, a heather honey, freshly baked meringues, used tea leaves and with time pink lady apples.
In the mouth: caramel, shortbread and grated lemon zest. A lovely mouthfeel that comes across as oily, buttery with a tangible viscosity. Bitter in places. Plenty of vanilla, but not dominating proceedings, almonds, Caramac, grapefruit and an alive zesty nature.
The Port Charlotte is a good whisky if a little simplistic. It has those core characteristics you’d hope to see and delivered with aplomb. A little bit on the pricey side, but this seems to be the way of things looking at other PC releases. Bruichladdich has created this air of expectation with the distillate, that means shoppers are willing to pay a bit extra: just don’t get me started on Octomore.
The mysterious distillery is normally associated with sherry casks. When it does bottle a fine bourbon cask expression, they are often anything but and come across as brief and flaccid. However here, we have a strong distillate combined with a very good ex-bourbon cask, to provide a refreshing and scintillating experience.
The price of this particular bottle is an interesting one to consider. If you know the distillery then you realise that this is very good value. The fact that the whisky is worth your time shouldn’t be a surprise given the form of the Thompson Bros. for picking casks. This, after all, is a premium cask and we’ve seen some reaching the auctioneers and going for sizeable sums. In my mind, it is priced to sell and more importantly to open and broaden your whisky experience.
If it had the distillery name on it then you can multiply the asking price. An official bottling from this children’s TV juggernaut at 25 years of age would set you back nearer £1500. Here you’re saving a huge sum and getting a more natural experience. If withdrawing the distillery name ensures this aspect and making such whiskies more accessible to us all then a grumble – or should I say a Po cootah – isn’t warranted.
Images kindly provided by Royal Mile Whiskies and my thanks to the Thompson Bros. for the samples.