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Bruichladdich Argues Terroir in Whisky Is Real—and Believes Its New Single Malt Proves It

Not everyone agrees with the distillery's assertion though.

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2014 Bruichladdich

Bruichladdich is located on the Scottish island of Islay, a region known for its incredibly smoky single malt whiskies. The distillery’s Port Charlotte lineup certainly fits into that category, so fans of heavily peated whisky take note because the details of the Islay Barley 2014 vintage have just been announced.

Port Charlotte is named after the small village on the east coast of Islay. The core lineup is anchored by a 10-year-old single malt with new vintages joining the ranks every so often. The 2014 vintage is the latest, meaning the whisky was distilled and barreled that year. The mashbill is made up of 100 percent Concertino and Propino barley, two varieties that were grown at eight different farms located within 15 miles of the distillery and harvested in 2013 (the exact names of the farms can be found on the Bruichladdich website). The reason for this, according to the brand, is “traceability and provenance”—in other words, highlighting the effect that the Islay terroir has on the whisky.

There are those who doubt that the concept of terroir in whisky even exists. One such person is writer Dr. Nick Morgan, formerly of Diageo marketing and author of the excellent book Everything You Need to Know About Whisky (but are too afraid to ask), a collaboration with website The Whisky Exchange. Morgan argues that any flavor derived specifically from barley is lost during the production process, from milling all the way up to maturation. “The idea that strains of barley can be equated to grape varieties,” he writes, “and the profound impact they have on the character of wines is badly flawed.” Or as he puts it more succinctly, “Terroir is less of a grand concept and more of a cash cow.”

Of course, Bruichladdich head distiller Adam Hannett and his team strongly disagree with this take, and continue to release whiskies like Bere Barley 2012, which is made entirely from that specific variety, to prove that it does affect the flavor of the whisky. This new Port Charlotte vintage furthers their take on the concept of terroir, and that’s despite having a significant peat level of 40 ppm (phenol parts per million). The whisky was aged for seven years, 84 percent in first fill bourbon barrels, eight percent in second fill virgin oak and eight percent in second fill Bordeaux wine casks. It was bottled at 100 proof (50 percent ABV). Tasting notes include ripe fruit and peat smoke on the palate followed by stone fruit, melon and charred heather.

“Our Port Charlotte Islay Barley expressions encapsulate everything an Islay whisky can and should be, and the latest 2014 vintage is no different,” said Hannett in a statement. “As well as adding complexity to the character of this single malt, using Islay-grown barley goes beyond just the pursuit of flavor. This is a whisky that evokes a true sense of place, helps support Islay’s agricultural economy, and celebrates our island community.”

The new Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2014 is available on the Bruichladdich website now, and should arrive at stores stateside in next month. Give the whisky a try and see for yourself where you stand on the whisky terroir debate.

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