Port Charlotte (Brand)
Port Charlotte, the pretty white village on the Hebridean island of Islay, once housed several whisky distilleries:
- Sgioba Mill
- Lochindaal (a.k.a. Port Charlotte or Rhinns)
Today the Port Charlotte name lives on, but as a brand produced at nearby Bruichladdich.
Laird Walter Frederik Campbell of Shawfield once honoured his mother with the name. As was the fashion of Scotland’s feudal landowners at the time, he laid the site in 1828 to promote the crafts and fishing of the remote West Scottish region. In the row houses on the west bank of Loch Indaal lived the cooper, maltster, brewer and distiller from the distillery that his uncle Colin founded in 1829.
The Fleer Matties malted the barley on the threshing floor for five days. The green malt dried in the kiln with peat smoke and fire. After fermentation in eight wooden vats, Stillmen distilled the beer under the supervision of a brewer in three direct-fired classic pot stills. From them gushed 127,068 gallons of smoky barley distillate per year, as the Whisky Chronicler Alfred Barnard reported in 1885/6. After the closure in 1929, the Islay Creamery used parts of the company premises. Up until the turn of the millennium, the dairy used Islay cow’s milk to produce a “tasty light cheddar”, which the locals said had aphrodisiac properties.
Failed Rebirth of Port Charlotte
With the acquisition of the naming rights and some buildings, the new visionary operators of the Bruichladdich Distillery, which reopened in 2000 - Mark Reynier and Jim McEwan - fuelled the resurrection of the Port Charlotte Distillery. A foundation stone was laid in March 2007 with a media impact. Pot stills were ready. Distillery manager Duncan McGillivray and his team saved it from scrapping in 2005 in a night-and-fog operation. The pot stills made by Blairs in Glasgow came from the Inverleven distillery in Dumbarton which was closed in 1985. Below the former Port Charlotte warehouses, the two stills with their distinctive conical necks were supposed to fractionate 1.2 million litres of smoky single malt. That’s the vision. Instead, the wildfire bladder graced the driveway to the Bruichladdich distillery for many years. In the end, the ambitious plans of the whisky makers did not come true. Since December 2015 the Inverleven Pot-Stills have been working in a facility built by Mark Reynier in Waterford, Ireland.
Port Charlotte as a Brand
In October 2006, however, the symbolic resurrection of the Port Charlotte Distillery resulted in the release of 6,038 bottles of a Heavily Peated Single Malt under the Port Charlotte label. The five-year-old PC 5 Evolution, bottled at 63.5% vol, marked a milestone in the development of the self-confident “Progressive Hebridean Distillers”. Jim McEwan had distilled the smoky distillate in 2001 when, after a six-year hiatus, alcohol vapours slowly streamed through the slender necks of the Victorian stills from Bruichladdich for the first time. The spirit, made from a smoky, malted Scottish barley (40 ppm), was allowed to mature in sherry barrels, which were stored in the granite-walled, slate-roofed dunnage warehouses of the former “Queen of the Hebrides”. Since the Bruichladdich Distillery reopened, the Stillmen have been producing half smoky and half non-smoky spirits. Various successful editions of the smoky PC bottlings have appeared since 2006. The surprising sale of Bruichladdich to the French spirits group Remy Cointreau in 2012 marked a turning point, but fears about the monotony of the portfolio did not materialize. The innovation potential was retained. Today the company employs over 80 people, including severely disabled people, directly in the distillery. 60 are under 40 years old, 28 under 30 years and half of them are women. If you add the contract farmers, then “the second smallest whisky producer on the island with 3200 inhabitants has meanwhile become the largest employer on Islay.” 20 more employees work in the offices in Glasgow.
The changing of the guard
The generation change has taken place. In July 2015, Islay whisky culture grand seigneur Jim McEwan retired. He passed the baton on to his daughter Lynne. As Senior Brand Manager, she is responsible for Bruichladdich’s marketing activities worldwide. He still lives in the immediate vicinity of the Stillhouse and occasionally meets for tea with Adam Hannett, whom he introduced to the position of Master Blender in 2015. “I first have to acquire the title through years of practice,” says Adam and meanwhile is content with the name Head Distiller. After dropping out of his biology studies, he returned to the island at the age of twenty in 2004. To where he was born and raised like his colleague Allan Logan. Without any specific whisky knowledge, he began a picture book career at Bruichladdich as a tour guide and embarked on the strict but encouraging training of Jim and Duncan. Of course, he went through all stages of whisky production and finally took on a management role in 2012 as the assistant to the young distillery manager Logan. Like his tutors, Adam loves life in the Islay community and wants to make a personal contribution to maintaining it. The construction of his own home near the new Bruichladdich warehouse in Conisby, where he lives with his wife Amy and two young daughters, documents the family’s love of home.
Hannett is aware of the burden of following in the footsteps of the world-renowned McEwan: “Jim had his own style, but now I have been given this responsibility. I’ll have to bring the whisky out when I think it’s done. So there will be differences between mine and Jim’s whiskies. ”The young whisky maker can fall back on diversified stocks. For a while, the stills ran at full steam and distilled up to 1.4 million litres of spirit per year. “Contrary to other trends in the industry, we are in a good position to offer the new Port Charlotte with an age specification of ten years”, says the delighted International Brand Ambassador Ewald Stromer. The bottle shape, its dark green colour and the label developed by the distillery’s marketing team are new. The PC is filled with a strong 50% vol. “We work closely together in a young team. Allan directs the production and implements our ideas. We distil twice, three times or even four times. We work in silence on new projects.” The progressive Bruichladdich story continues.
What is special about the Port Charlotte Brand?
“We only use Scottish barley and, increasingly, organically grown barley. Due to our consistently high demand, barley cultivation on Islay was revived and enabled us to distil the first pure Islay malt whisky of our time, ”said Jim McEwan proudly,“ we neither color our whiskies nor do we cool-filter them. ”The experienced master distiller had an impressive innovative strength. In 2011, Octomore’s anniversary edition 08.3, the world’s smokiest whisky was distilled. The green malt made from spring barley from a field at Octomore Farm reached a smoke concentration of 309.1 ppm after six days of peat smoke kiln. Jim’s extensive inventory allowed his successor to use 56 percent American Oak Bourbon Barrels and 44 percent Barriques de chêne from the red wine regions of Médoc-Pauillac, Ventoux, Rhône and Bourgogne for the 2020 anniversary vatting.
Allan and Adam consistently follow the basic guidelines: “We want to have the same distillery character, this elegance and lightness in spirit, and find out where and how the peat smoke harmonizes best.” Therefore, the separation points for the front, middle and The after-run is the same for non-smoky and smoky spirits, even the heating temperatures and gradients are always the same. The New Make - first cut 71% vol to the low cut 63% vol - reaches an average concentration of 69% vol. “20 farmers in Islay provide us with the barley varieties we want,” explains Production Director Allan Logan. “The barley is malted exclusively in Saladin basins. We have supply contracts with a total of 28 Scottish farmers. The malt has been coming from Bairds in Inverness since 2002, because the malters there understand the process of cold smoking of the peat.”
Logan and Hannett are currently pursuing a terroir concept. The same barley variety from four different growing regions - Black Isle, the east coast of Aberdeenshire, Lothian and Islay - is malted in the same way and, if the harvest is sufficient, processed separately up to distillation in order to bring out the regionally specific aromatic character of the spring barley Laureate, Sienna, Sassy and Planet. They used to experiment with peat from the nearby Octofad or sourced it from the Black Isle. It is currently being mined in Caithness, the northern Highlands. Coarse, salty peat from Islay has a significantly more aggressive medicinal smoke effect, while the relatively dark peat from the “land of the black cat” is milder. Adam: “The maltings are very happy with it, and I am happy with the flavor profile in the whisky.” According to Allan Logan’s specifications, Bairds mixed a cocktail from malt without smoke and malt with smoke, which had the precise typical concentration of cresols and phenols at 40 ppm. After distillation and maturation, 15 to 20 ppm remain in the glass. The conscious selection of barley and peat varieties as well as the processing methods form the basis of Port Charlotte Spirits. Adam is delighted: “Fifteen years ago we didn’t have any Islay barley in our whisky, today it makes up about 50 percent of our total production. We wanted to focus on the provenance. We have built this up continuously over the years. It was great to get the local farmers on board. They support our goals, deliver high quality goods and receive fair prices. This practice sustainably supports the local economy. In 2019 we bought around 1700 tons of barley from the Islays farmers. We are really proud of that”.
The first generation self-confidently described themselves as the “progressive master distillers of the Hebrides”. After the reopening, they were among the first to not only distil on the spot, but also to bottle the whiskies matured in the warehouses in their own bottling hall. Two tanks that Lorries of Islay Creamery used to fetch milk from the farms every day still supply the semi-automatic filling machines. To adjust the bottle strength, they consciously used the crystal clear and very soft water of the nearby Octomore spring and not distilled water as is otherwise usual. Plate filters with a pore size of 30 micrometers are used for gentle filtration without cooling, which means that sediments can form on the bottom of the bottle.
The differentiated experiments of this creative team naturally provoked critical reactions. Colleagues from the whisky industry smiled at innovations such as the cooperation with local grain farmers, the use of old types of barley such as the six-row Bere from Orkney, the fourfold distillation, the multiple methods of aging in wine barrels, the production of extremely peated whisky, the use of spent grains to generate electricity and the consistent implementation of the terroir approach. Other developments were less well received.
Adam Hannett notes: “In the industry, the concept of terroir is absolutely ridiculed by many industry representatives. If you ask a company about terroir, they say that the barley is first mashed, fermented, distilled twice and then aged in barrels. Their argument is that the properties of the soil do nothing after all these phases. Basically, they feel uncomfortable having to think about how different types of barley grown in different places would bring different flavours. It doesn’t fit into the way whisky is currently mass-produced”.
Port Charlotte (Brand) factsheet
|Name||Pronounced||AKA||Region||Country of Origin|
|Port Charlotte (Brand)||Bruichladdich||Islay|
|Status||Active||Whisky Type||Website||Tours Available|
|- Present||Malt||Port Charlotte (Brand)||Not Available|
|Manager||Distiller||Blender||Owned by||Parent Group|
Can I tour Port Charlotte (Brand)?
No, unfortunately Port Charlotte (Brand) distillery is not open to the public for tours