Whisky Wind-down, 19: Depths

A bottle of Bruichladdich Port Charlotte whisky and a filled Glencairn glass sit alongside a small tentacled box, on a table in front of a painting in which a long black line dangles over a dark blue background.

Today’s dram: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte

Today’s brief preamble to the tasting notes: Here’s the last of the Bruichladdich tasting pack. After setting itself apart as the lone Islay distillery to make unpeated whisky, Bruichladdich decided to show it can make ’em with peat, too.

Named after the village that lies two miles from the distillery, Port Charlotte is Bruichladdich’s first (but not only) entry into the classic Islay whisky profile.

Today’s tasting notes: It smells like sea wind blowing over a bog. It tastes like water drawn from said bog, first poured over a dead campfire. This is dirty, rough whisky, and I would not advise it for anyone not already into peaty Scotch whisky.

Today’s thoughts: I rather enjoy the sea. Not as seen from a beach. Not with people about. Not in summer. Give me the rough, rocky Atlantic in winter, a sea into which I can stare and imagine the great squid god lying below, waiting to rise.

Today’s wish list notation: As I mentioned, this is the third of three whisky varieties in a Bruichladdich tasting pack. The distillery makes a fourth, “super heavily peated” variety, named Octomore. As a fan of cephalopods and peaty whisky, I need a bottle.

Today’s toast: To the sea, and every wonder within.

Whisky Wind-down, 21: Are We There Yet?

A small bottle of Bruichladdich Laddie whisky sits next to a filled Glencairn glass and tabletop clock.

Today’s dram: Bruichladdich, The Classic Laddie

Today’s rambling preamble to the tasting notes: Yesterday I mentioned the Hebrides. I’m not going to give you a complete Scotland geography lesson — not least because my knowledge of this subject is almost entirely whisky-related — but I will note that these islands are collectively home to several distilleries.

The whiskies made on the Hebrides — with one exception — are considered part of the Highlands, but that region is vast and it’s probably just a matter of time before the Scotch Whisky Association elevates The Islands to region status, which is what happened with the former sub-region Speyside. (Despite this recognition, a few Speyside distilleries still describe themselves as makers of Highlands whisky, but that’s marketing inertia for you.)

Anyway, the exception: Islay.

It’s part of the Hebrides, but it’s not part of The Islands for whisky purposes. Oh no; this island is a region unto itself, as well it should be.

Unless you’ve just stumbled upon this series — in which case, welcome! — you may recall me mentioning Islay frequently. A couple of my favorite distilleries (Laphroaig and Ardbeg) are located there, as well as Bowmore (of which I have enjoyed one and want to try more) and Bunnahabhain (new to me, and also fascinating). Still on my list are Caol Ila, Kilchoman, and Lagavulin.

All of these are known, to one degree or another, for the heavily smoky, often briny flavors in their whiskies.

Now, the exception within the exception: Bruichladdich.

Founded in 1881, but dormant for a good part of the 20th century, this distillery is now run by folks who are, well, let’s call them a tad eccentric. My bottle of The Classic Laddie was part of a three-bottle set that came with a 20-something page booklet almost entirely comprised of anecdotes about the history of the distillery, the people who work there, the local farmers who supply the barely, the antique Victorian-era coal-fired machinery they use to dry the barley …

I’ll stop on that last point, as it has some bearing on the whisky at hand. By using coal, (rather the traditional peat) as a fuel source for malting the barely used to make its whisky, Bruichladdich makes Islay’s only* unpeated whisky.

Today’s tasting notes: It’s briny, innit? You get it first on the aroma, which is sea air with a hit of alcohol burn mixed in. As for flavor, it bears a hint of earth about it, despite the absence of peat in its making. Then the brine comes in again; there’s not overmuch at first, but it lingers in an otherwise smooth finish. There is some burn on the back of it, too, probably attributable to the highish 100 proof.

I hesitate to admit this, considering I generally mock the practice, but after finishing two-thirds of the dram, I contemplated adding a few drops of water, just to see whether that might “open” it up. But then I realized that would require a trip downstairs, so I just finished it as poured.

Today’s thoughts: One of the first single malt Scotch whiskies I ever had, a gift courtesy of the Empress of Whisky, was a bottle from the first run of The Laddie 10. And while I do not recall exactly enough to relate the nuanced differences between that bottling and this lesser-aged version, I can report that sipping this dram brought back fond memories of that long-gone bottle.

Today’s aside: Laugh now, but when Scotland Geography shows up on Jeopardy!, I’ll be smiling. Also? I will crush in Potent Potables.

Today’s toast: To trivial knowledge, which I do not take trivially.


* — Yes, there are exceptions even to this exception-within-an-exception. But Bruichladdich is the only Islay distillery regularly producing unpeated** whiskies as part of its standard range, rather than as special one-off offerings.

** — While I’m foot-noting, anyway, I’ll take the time to point out that a lot of whiskies produced with barley dried without the benefit of peat-fueled fires nonetheless still bear the subtle combination of smoke and earthiness attributed as “peatiness” in tasting notes. Why? Blame the water. When you live surrounded by peat bogs, apparently it permeates your groundwater. And while that may or may not be detectable out of the tap, it shows up when you toss in barley and boil it for whisky.

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 19: On Distant Shores

Today’s dram: Pusser’s Rum, Original Admiralty Blend

Today’s tasting notes: This is not whisky. Cry foul if you want, but I’ll defend the inclusion here. As far as process goes, this shares much with whisky, from small batch wooden stills to aging three years minimum on charred oak. The key deviation that makes this rum, not whisky, is the mash: sugar cane.

The taste profile isn’t like your typical rum at all. It drinks more like a sweet bourbon, say a wheated version with a corn-heavy mash.

It’s sweet, but not cloying. It has rough edges, but not serious bite. I could sip this all day.

Point of fact, I have.

Honestly, though, I love this stuff as much for its history as its flavor. From the mid-1600s through July 31, 1970, the British Navy issued a daily rum ration (a “tot” of rum) to its sailors. This was all very regulated and full of pomp and tradition, down to the exact rum to be used.

This stuff? It’s made to the British Admiralty’s specifications.

For the duration of the rum ration, that recipe was not shared. The rum was never made available to the public until Pusser’s Rum Ltd. purchased the rights to make and sell the blend (and use British Navy iconography). About a decade after the rum ration went away (they called it Black Tot Day) the rum became available to the public for the first time, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Royal Navy Sailors’ Fund.

Today’s thoughts: A friend of mine is currently serving as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

It may be somewhat odd that an ancient British Navy rum recipe makes me think of an American Marine, but, well, that’s how my mind works sometimes.

Though I have not seen him since his appointment some 16 years ago, we have kept in touch, sporadically, over that time. Our lives are pretty different, but we are bound by a deep friendship started long ago.

And whisky.

Last time I saw him, we drank cognac and I wished him well on his journey. Next time, maybe we’ll have a tumbler of Pusser’s Rum. The 15-year-old, if I can lay hands on it.

Today’s thoughts on toasts and traditions: I like toasts. I don’t like starting a round of drinking without at least a polite “cheers.” Maybe it’s my Irish heritage (or the relatives who drilled that into me, anyway). Whatever, you may rely upon me at your wedding.

The tradition-minded British Navy has lots of toasts. Aside from the daily loyalty toast (“The Queen!”) and others for special occasions, there is one for each day of the week:

Monday: Our ships at sea
Tuesday: Our sailors
Wednesday: Ourselves
Thursday: A bloody war or a sickly season
Friday: A willing foe and sea room
Saturday: Our families
Sunday: Absent friends

Today’s toast: To my friend the Marine, away across the sea: Be well until we drink together again.