In line with Port Charlotte’s ethos of total honesty, the brand releases tasting kits of their ‘work-in-progress’. Last month, I was able to join a tasting session of the MP8, the newest tasting kit. It was a night of experimental whiskies, great stories, and delightful cheeses. Here are my notes. I hope they make sense. Man, that night was fun!
Before I reveal my thoughts, let me add a bit of context. I was invited by Nick Baeyens, the Belgian brand ambassador for Port Charlotte and Octomore, to attend an evening of whisky & cheese. We watched the live stream of the MP8 tasting, while sampling the three expressions and sharing experiences. For those interested, I will link the Live Tasting session at the end of the article.
The expressions we tasted are part of the ongoing idea of the brands focus on ‘terroir‘, which is a concept now coined by more and more distilleries. In essence, it is the idea that the environment has an influence on the barley that is being grown, and in turn that barley has influence on the whisky that is produced. This would mean that if you planted the same barley in a variety of micro–climates, and then distilled and matured the product in exactly the same way, you would get expressions that still differ from each other.
And guess what. It’s a thing. Obviously it’s a thing. How could it not be a thing!?
And if you’re not convinced, check out the following article: “Terroir in whisk[…]y ‘does exist’, distillery study finds’. (https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2019/01/terroir-in-whiskey-does-exist-distillery-study-finds/)
The people at Bruichladdich, who like to introduce themselves as ‘Progressive Hebridean Distillers‘, have been experimenting heavily with cask types, different types of barley, and even mictro-climates on the Islay island itself. Bruichladdich takes pride in the ‘terroir’. Their products are made on Islay, with a small excursion to Bairds in Invernesse for malting. In the near future, however, their products will be 100% produced on Islay, as plans are laid out to build their own malt house on the island. Get ready for some details, folks!
Port Charlotte #1860
The three single cask expressions in the Micro-Provenance tasting kit were distilled from Islay grown barley, and peated to 40 ppm. Heavily-peated, though the tasting notes might surprise you.
The first in the Trinity is “#1860“, which refers to the cask number. Distilled from Oxbridge & Publican barley, this expression was bottled in 2011, and aged 6 years on a 1st fill bourbon cask. And it’s 61.4% ABV. Yikes! Talk about cask strength!
Interestingly enough, the expression is rather delicate, even floral. The peat is a supporting factor rather than being heavily present. It is fruity, light-weight, sometimes even cloud-like in the way the different flavours drift over your palate. There’s a hint of brine. I liked it as an experimental expression.
Port Charlotte #3403
Next up was “#3403”, an expression distilled from Optic barley, aged for 9 years on a first-fill bourbon cask. 61.4% ABV again, though now I know that doesn’t mean it will knock me down.
This expression tasted the closest to my idea of a first-fill bourbon cask whisky. Delicious vanilla, with a citrus touch to it. The peat is more ‘classic‘ in the sense that it is more present, more up-front. It’s one of the main actors, but not the lead-role. There’s a hint of ginger somewhere. I would like to taste more of it.
Port Charlotte #3582
Finally, I tasted “#3582”, perhaps the most ‘experimental’ expression, naturally saved for last. Distilled from Oxbridge barley in 2008, and aged 9 years on a 2nd fill Rivesaltes cask, a naturally sweet fortified wine. Reading the label got me excited.
Plenty of fruits (berries) in the nose, as expected from the influence of the fortified wine cask. I got a blend of smokey goodness, dusty woodwork, and a little spice. It’s interesting how this ‘marriage’ of the cask and the peat serves up an expression that works, but is still rough around the edges.
I would be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy myself. It was fun tasting these expressions, especially because Nick opened up his bottle library, and we could compare these ‘work-in-progress’ whiskies to the core range products and limited editions. Next time there’s a Micro-Provenance tasting kit available, I’ll be there, trying to snatch it from the person holding it, running away in the night.
The ‘terroir’ focus works, and if you like experimentals like me, you’ll have to try out Bruichladdich’s products. Try and taste a variety of them, perhaps at a masterclass.
Oh, and if you feel like taking it just a little step further, go to a local cheese shop and get a nice cheese platter. Whisky and Cheese is divine.
As mentioned, here is the link to the Live Tasting Session with head distiller Adam Hannett:
Photographs are © Bruichladdich and © Mickaël Van Nieuwenhove.