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Taste Test: This Single Malt Delivers Smoky Goodness but Never Overwhelms

A review of Bruichladdich's latest Port Charlotte expression.

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte PAC:01 Photo: courtesy The Whisky Exchange

When people think of Bruichladdich, what comes to mind first is heavily peated whisky. This despite the fact the distillery’s flagship expression, The Classic Laddie, is actually light and unpeated. The reputation isn’t unearned though. Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte range is a series of intensely smoky whiskies named after a village on Islay, the rugged island off the western Scottish coast where Bruichladdich is located. In addition to the 10-year-old core Port Charlotte expression, there are a series of vintages that fall into what the distillery calls its “Cask Exploration” series. The most recent of these, PAC: 01, arrived last April and replaces the sherry cask-finished OLC: 01 2010 vintage in the range.

As usual, Bruichladdich is incredibly transparent about virtually every step that has gone into making this single malt scotch. The distillery’s focus on terroir, at times down to using barley from a single farm, has lead to a level of forthrightness that’s commendable in an industry not always known for this (although try getting the details about the limited-edition Black Art releases from head distiller Adam Hannett, and you’ll be sorely disappointed—guess some things are meant to be secret). 

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So here are the vital stats on PAC: 01. It’s a blend of two heavily peated whiskies, each distilled in 2011, with a final phenol PPM of 40. The first was aged for six years in first-fill bourbon barrels, then another two in first-fill red wine casks from the Pauillac region of France (“the Gironde left bank, north of Bordeaux,” per distillery notes). The second was matured for seven years in first-fill ex-bourbon, then “the remainder of its life” in second-fill Pauillac red wine casks. It’s bottled at 56.1 percent ABV and, like all Bruichladdich whisky, it’s non-chill filtered and no color is added.

Let’s go back to that PPM measurement. This is indeed a very smoky whisky, even though it doesn’t compare to some of the expressions in the Octomore series which can breeze past the 200 mark at times. Excessive peat can be like ultra-hopped beer, an exercise in proving how aggressive you can be with a flavor that tends to dominate anything else on the palate. But when distilling and aging are done thoughtfully, as is the case here, a heavily peated whisky can still allow an orchestra of flavors to shine through, even if the smoke is the conductor keeping the tempo. In this case, the French oak wine barrel aging has had a profound impact, bringing cherry candy, orange, nutmeg, caramel and even some bitter grapefruit to the mix, while a campfire of toasted vanilla and pecan smolders all the while from nose to finish.

In a world of endless options of cask-finished whisky to choose from, this is absolutely not just “another cask-finished whisky.” As per usual for Bruichladdich, the journey from grain to bottle was methodical and micro-managed, including this final wine cask maturation period, and the results speak for themselves. Port Charlotte PAC: 01 is indeed a smoky dram, but there are many other layers to uncover here as well.

Score: 90

Buy Now: $106


What Our Score Means

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for 
  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet 
  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram 
  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market 
  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable 
  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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