Whisky Review: Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2013 Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

I’m a fan of heavily peated whisky, from Ardbeg to Lagavulin and everything in between. It’s not an everyday choice, but when the day is sufficiently rainy and dreary, it’s a perfect option to curl up near the fire and enjoy. Today we’re trying out an interesting choice from the Bruichladdich distillery designed to scratch that specific itch: a vintage spirit that is heavily peated and uses local barley as its source.



The Harvey family was a whiskey powerhouse in Scotland in the 1800’s. They had owned two Glasgow-based distilleries since 1770, and in 1881 the three Harvey brothers (William, John, and Robert) used some of their inheritance to open a third distillery on Islay that they named the Bruichladdich Distillery. At the time, it was the most updated and modern distillery on the island, with the other distilleries being significantly older.

The design of the distillery’s stills focused on tall, narrow still necks, which were a unique feature designed to produce highly rectified and lighter spirits compared to other facilities on the island.

From its founding until 1936, the distillery remained owned by the Harvey family; however, after William Harvey’s death in 1936, the facility bounced around between owners until it was shuttered in 1994.

Six years later, in December 2000, the distillery was purchased by a group of private investors led by Mark Reynier. The group hired Jim McEwan as the master distiller, and set to work lovingly fixing and re-assembling all of the original equipment and fixtures to put them back into working order.

Two years later, the distillery was purchased by the French company Remy Cointreau. To this day, the facility remains 100% manually operated using the original Victorian equipment designed by the Harvey brothers.


It’s a little interesting that we haven’t actually reviewed a “normal” whisky from Bruichladdich. Their name brand line is specifically crafted without peat, which is a departure from the norm when it comes to the typically heavily peated Islay scotch whiskies. This version, though, is more closely aligned with the island’s other facilities, leveraging that oily smoky peat flavor to create the desired profile.

As a single malt whisky, this spirit starts from a crop of 100% malted barley sourced from farms around the island, and the specific locations are even listed on the label for those who are curious. The barley is trucked in and allowed to partially germinate before a slight roasting puts a halt to that process, which is accomplished by using peat fired ovens. The smoke from the peat fires penetrates the barley, which provides the smoky characteristics that we see later.

Once malted, the barley is then cooked, fermented, and finally distilled in the original Victorian stills at the facility. From there, the newly distilled whiskey is placed into previously used American bourbon barrels of a period of eight years — with the exception of about 25% of the spirits being aged their final year in new French wine casks prior to being reunited and bottled with the rest of the group.


This is a more modern take on a Scottish whisky bottle, but one that still has some nods to its historical lineage.

Most obvious is that this is a bottle shaped more like a barrel than we usually see. The body of this bottle is a green-colored, straight-walled round cylinder with a flared lip at the top and bottom, giving it the vague appearance of a 55-gallon oil drum on first glance. (As an added side benefit, it also means that the bottle fits nicely into the protective sleeve that it ships in, all without scuffing the label. Smart design there.)

Protruding from the top of the bottle is a short neck which is capped off with a plastic stopper. I’ll note that even though this is a short and stubby neck, I didn’t have many of the same issues pouring out the contents as I’ve had with other similar designs, which is a plus.

On the front of the bottle is the label — a slate gray colored piece of paper which covers the entire face of the bottle. Given that the color of the glass is nearly impenetrable, I won’t take any points off for obscuring the liquid, and the label does manage to give a clean and modern look to such an ancient and storied type of product. All high marks in my book.



Despite the eight years in a cask, the spirit is still a light golden color in the glass. There’s no added coloring here, so what you see is exactly what came out of the cask (plus or minus a little bit of dilution).

The label might call this heavily peated, but it isn’t overwhelming in the aroma. I’m definitely smelling the peat, but there are also plenty of other components coming through — specifically, the sourdough bread from the malted barley and some vanilla from the oak barrels. I’m also getting some citrusy orange up front, some floral components like a light touch of honey, supporting sweetness from a bit of melon, as well as some richer and deeper slate or salinity.

While the aroma wasn’t overwhelmingly smoky, the actual flavor is thick and oily with peat. I get a flash of vanilla and brown sugar up front before the peat smoke rolls in like a fog across the water, obscuring most things for the rest of the experience. You see the shadow of some flavors peaking through — a bit of orange, some slight floral honey, a touch of black tea — but it all fades back into the fog bank of peat smoke as time goes on.

Despite how significant the peat smoke may be, though, it still isn’t overpowering. The other flavors provide just enough balance to make it interesting and keep things from toppling over into an unpleasant area, which is a real challenge to accomplish.

On Ice

The added ice here really helps to tone down the peaty smoke and let some of the other components shine through. Instead of just getting an impression of some of these flavors, now they have a chance to breathe and be known — specifically, the orange and some lemon citrus, brown sugar sweetness, some vanilla, and baking spices on the finish. Most of these are good bourbon barrel flavors rather than anything from distillation, but seeing them shine through is a nice change of pace.

That said, I think I like this better neat. The flavors are more apparent on the rocks, but I feel like it’s a more traditional (and boring) presentation. I preferred neat, when the various flavors surfaced and then disappeared again, like a constantly developing and evolving experience. It certainly isn’t bad on the rocks, it just isn’t as novel.


Overall Rating

I love when distilleries put the effort into making things the “right way”: local ingredients, long maturation periods, and interesting choices along the way. In this example, that extra effort resulted in a delicious and interesting spirit, one which is definitely going to find a place on my shelf for future enjoyment.

The question, though, is whether this is worth the $90 I paid for it. I think it clears the bar and is worthwhile… but compared to some of the competition at this price point, I think there are other options out there that you might want to investigate as well. Lagavulin and Ardbeg both make spirits in this price range and with a similar level of peaty smoke, but which have more complexity and interesting characteristics that shine through. While this bottle definitely deserves to be on the same shelf as those items, I don’t think I could recommend it above and over the other options.

Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2013 Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Production Location: Islay, Scotland
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 8 Years
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $94.53 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5
A peaty fog through which you glimpse interesting flavors.


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