Port Charlotte – The Peat Project

The Port Charlotte brand is part of the Bruichladdich distillery’s family of single malts. I’m not yet overly familiar with the Bruichladdich lineup, but I do know they are Islay whiskies and I assume they’re a bit different from their brethren, since they’ve chosen to use a completely different branding for their more peated expressions… my curiosity was peaked by the canister statement, Port Charlotte: The Heavily Peated Bruichladdich? To that point, I had thought that all Islays were big, snarling peat monsters!

I don’t usually consider presentation all that much but I have to admit I was also partially drawn to this particular whisky by the cool factor of Port Charlotte’s distinct packaging – its bold, modern looking tin definitely sets it apart from most other scotch presentations. The Peat Project is available in my market for about $55 and is bottled at 46% abv.

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To the Eye
The first thing that strikes me about The Peat Project is how unusually pale it is. I’m not sure if this is evidence of a young whisky that’s spent very little time in the cask, or if it speaks to the degree of artificial colouring used in other brands. This malt is a very pale straw colour and a swirl of the glass reveals very skinny legs. As with the packaging, this leaves me thinking that this dram will at least be different, if not special.

In the Nose
Okay, now I’m suspecting different but not special. The Peat Project has a very straightforward nose – I get a grassy peat aroma along with a little bit of ripe pears. As the glass decants, I can also sense a little bit of smoke and some sweet maltiness along with a hint of iodine. It’s balanced but, for me, a little subdued and lacking complexity.

On the Tongue
Again, pretty simple… one-dimensional, actually. I can taste oak, which is a little surprising again considering how pale the colouring is. There’s definitely peat as well, but less than I expected from a whisky that proclaims to be “heavily peated”. At first, I taste a pleasant spiciness but it rapidly turns into a bitter astringency. This bitterness catches me a little off guard because I didn’t pick it up in the aroma. The finish is very short, leaving me only with that bitterness lingering.

Final Thoughts
The first few times I sampled this whisky, I thought that I really liked it. Even now, there are moments when I think it’s actually pretty good. There are elements to The Peat Project that appeal to me – I like that it seems to be completely naturally coloured and I do appreciate how its peatiness does not overwhelm the whisky. Unfortunately that bitter exit is just too dominant for my taste, especially considering that there aren’t a great deal of other flavours to balance it out. I do wonder if this malt might be something more impressive if the edges were knocked off by a longer maturation but, as it is, I think I’ll take a pass on buying another bottle.

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Ardbeg Uigeadail

By way of introduction, I need to tell you that their are two kinds of friend that every whisky drinker should have:
One is the kind of good buddy who does not have the same good sense as most of us, who just might surprise you with a bottle of whisky that you’d never buy for yourself. (Such as the friend who bought me the bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label that inspired my very first review blog!)
The other is the kindred-spirit sort of friend whose love for whisky at least rivals your own – the person you get together with to enjoy a dram or two. This is the guy (or gal, of course) who you call to sample a new-to-you malt and with whom your spouse will most often notice you transforming into a full-blown whisky nerd.

I have a great friend, Rick, who definitely falls into the latter category. After being college acquaintances, years went by without much contact but circumstances – kids of similar-ages, employment, etc. – created the perfect storm for us to reconnect and become the best of friends… and this friendship has developed, at least in part, because of whisky.

I remember an early visit where Rick’s curiosity towards my drink of choice was obvious and soon enough, on subsequent get-togethers, he was suggesting, “Let’s try a scotch.” Initially, I struggled to watch my precious malts get bastardized with ice and too much water but soon enough, just ice and, eventually, straight up… before either of us knew it, we were in aficionado territory and our discussions about work or our kids’ latest sports exploits had to make some room so we could also talk about the complexities of the dram we were sharing.

This friendship has absolutely critical to my own growth as a drammer as well but the student officially surpassed the teacher last summer, when I enviously wished Rick farewell as he left for a two-week trip with his father to their ancestral homeland – Scotland. Objective number one: sample as many whiskies as possible right at their source! Fortunately for me, Rick’s good fortune was to my advantage as well, as he returned with gifts – my first Glencairn glass, and several new whiskies for me to sample. Among them, was a malt I couldn’t pronounce or spell – Ardbeg Uigeadail!

Up to the point of sampling that, my first Ardbeg, my palate had been developing to where I was adventuring away from the safeness of my preferred Speyside malts and occasionally into the more robust flavours of the Islay distilleries. I was in no way prepared for the Uigeadail’s attack on my senses but, wow, I was smitten from the get-go!

That first straight-from-Scotland dram of the Uigeadail made an immediate impression. So I was more than a little excited a couple of months later when I saw it had arrived in a local liquor store, for a little under $80. The Ardbeg Uigeadail is bottled at a nearly cask-strength 54.2% abv.

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To the Eye
Apparently this whisky is named after Loch Uigeadail, which supplies the Ardbeg distillery with its water. Uigeadail (pronounced Oog-a-dal) is Gaelic for dark and mysterious. I wouldn’t say that it looks all that dark or mysterious in my glass but its rich golden colour and thick viscosity certainly suggest that it is something more than some of the other malts in my cabinet.

In the Nose
Right!… So this is one beast of a whisky! The aromas above my glass are incredibly rich and complex. Of course, as an Islay malt, there’s an assertive dose of smoke and peat but there’s so much more as well. There’s a fresh, maritime character and I also smell a biscuity, malty sweetness. As the glass breaths, There is a pine-like aroma, kind of like a fresh-cut Christmas tree, and I also get a nutty, chocolately, coffee-like smell along with an occasional whiff of something like diesel fuel. I’m sure there are far more eloquent ways to describe what I’m smelling but all I know is that it’s amazing – I could sit and nose this glass for a long time!

On the Tongue
Once again, the richness of this whiskey blows me away! The full 54.2% delivers an absolute barrage of flavour that is smooth and incredibly balanced. Sweet, bitter, spicy, and even a little bit salty all at once… I taste smoke, like an excellent cigar but also a little like the charred crust on a creme brûlée, as well as peat and a strong malty character that is accompanied by a subtle honey sweetness. Everything is very balanced and integrated. Am I gushing a little bit? I love this whisky!

The finish is incredibly long. Immediately after a sip, I can almost imagine exhaling that nice cigar but the smoke subsides to leave me with that mocha-like flavour that I picked up in the nose, as well as some dried fruits that just go on lingering.

Final Thoughts
Wow! This is a monster of a whisky, but in the best way imaginable. I know that I have still only hit the tip of the iceberg as far as the whiskies I’ve sampled, and my palate is far from an expert’s, but I’m not sure I can imagine a dram getting much better! I don’t really know how to sum it up other than to say its complex, sophisticated and just brilliant! That said, this may not be the dram for you if you are a beginning scotch drinker – the flavours are very rich and intense. But, if you are starting to explore more robust flavours, stop waiting and grab a bottle of Ardbeg Uigeadail!