One to make it’s stablemates look even tastier.
Hmm, I’m feeling a bit torn for the first time with the Cask Exploration series from Port Charlotte. Is it the locally grown barley or the Sauternes cask, or a bit of both?
I suppose I have to start with the most obvious influence. Ive always eyed Sauternes uneasily with suspicion when it comes to whisky finishes. Every glass of the stuff I’ve had (3 in total over the years) I’ve really disliked, its up there with Grappa (seriously - what is that even meant to be, had one made with tobacco of all things, vile) and Calvados (God’s reminder that cider is what he invented apples for). Maybe now it is time to pray to the whisky gods that Calvados and Grappa do not become the finishing bellé du jour of whisky world any time soon. Sauternes is just one of those flavours that doesn’t quite gel for me. To be fair, I’m not well traveled when it comes to this stuff, but, I think it’s safe to say we should trust our gut on matters of taste. Sauternes is just not my cup of meat.
Then there’s the barley. So, this is the first 100% locally grown barley to be used in the series. I’m not clever enough to be able to detect a strong difference and say one way or the other that this had made a difference, but whether its the experiment itself (a lot of casking and re-casking) there’s just that feeling that things are a little off kilter. Of course, if you love sauternes and heavily peated whisky it’s likely you’ll disagree and tell me to jump in a lake. Which is fine.
Sauterne-gate aside, it’s honestly good to see even more of what they do being done locally. More local skills, more local jobs, more investment in people and communities and whilst it is flavourless and odourless, it’s one of the best ingredients around. Also, the bottle and tin remain the same which is something I truly love down to my boots, kind of makes you wonder how long they will maintain this glorious packaging as pressure to package things ‘responsibly’ gains traction. IMO I cant see what real difference a few extra grams of glass and some tin really make to the world but maybe the WEF are right and soon we’ll be renting everything and owning nothing and eating bugs - we can have our whisky delivered in plain reusable metal canisters (like LOOP do for other things) and then when we have finished out allotted monthly ration of whisky we can send it back. No more silly packaging, no more complicated and beautiful design, no more wasteful technology - just beautiful, soulless utilitarian orthodoxy. I may pass.
So, it’s up the nose it goes. Colour-wise it is a lovely sparkling liquid honeysuckle and greasy looking. Quite a departure from its sherried brethren. As soon as it’s poured you know what is in the glass. It’s on my desk, 2 foot away in a cool room and it’s already up and out. Up close and there mountains of PC peat and nice soot but tempered with a candied sweetness, yellow melons collide with meaty ash and there’s a noticeably saltiness, too. The bourbon parts of the experiment are far more obvious too, bright and woody, peppery vanilla but it never gets all its own way, there’s a little cool chlorine-like note hiding behind the wood and a hot drying oaky gingery heat and some cigar boxes. A little smoked lemon zest? If I was guessing I would have never said Sauternes, more bourbon but a strange one. There is a strange smell to the proceedings. Compared to the OLC, OC and PAC it feels more fiery and feisty. (After a sip there’s more of a dairy toffee note on the nose, creamier).
Let’s drink it. Initially, for a split second there’s nothing, then it unfolds dramtically. To begin with there's an abrupt sweetness, the melons and honey and some salt and the recognisable PC peat and sootiness try and say hello but they get elbowed square in the ribs by oak, bourbon, woody astringency and salty ash. And that’s how the palate stays. It’s far more austere than others in the range, hotter, drier, more minerality and the salt comes back in more at the end. It’s not got the biggest finish either (which surprises me), some liquorice arrives at the death which is really nice but it’s subtle.
So. What can I say? It’s a great addition to the range but it’s not a successful experiment, IMO. The things I loved about the marriage of the PC juice with the other endeavours I just don’t find here. It feels less harmonious, less sympathetic and just less enjoyable overall. The £15 price increase doesn’t really make it go down any easier, either. PC needs to get back on track, make me happy - a balls to the wall PX/fino mashup might be just the ticket or if we’re good maybe a really good vintage port in some proper old wood (pleeeeease), and I think we can all agree Sauternes is best left to people who love drinking horrible wine. (Ducks for cover and runs away). Cheers.