The Port Charlotte that exists today is a homage to a lost Islay distillery known as Lochindaal. Originally it started life named after the village on the shores of Lochindaal when it was founded in 1829. A series of owners came and went as the distillery produced a heavily peated style of whisky, fuelled by local peat to dry the malt.
Eventually the distillery ended up in the hands of the Distillers Company Limited in 1929 who had little appetite for it and mothballed the site shortly after its acquisition. The internal production equipment was eventually dismantled and removed, but the buildings themselves mainly remain to this day. These were used by local businesses for a variety of uses, the traditional dunnage style warehouses were utilised as a resource for Islay distilleries in need of extra maturation space.
Lochindaal slowly drifted into the history books despite its sizeable output and style of whisky. After a century of production, it was killed off by the economic conditions of the 1920’s that ravaged the whisky industry. However, whisky is always delivers the unexpected and its nearest neighbour has always been the Bruichladdich distillery. In 2000, this distillery itself was brought back to life by a consortium led by Murray McDavid. The revival was a cause of celebration on the island, but seemed of no relevance to what remained of Lochindaal.
The team then announced in 2001 that it would be producing different styles of malt. The main staple would be the Bruichladdich style of spirit that is lightly peated, but this would be joined by a heavily peated style of malt called Port Charlotte. This was a tribute to the lost distillery and neighbour, its style of whisky at a robust level of 40ppm ensures a distinctive arrival and heavyweight body. On average annually Bruichladdich devotes about 20% of its annual capacity of 1.6 million litres to producing this heavily peated style. Since its debut, Port Charlotte has proved very popular with Islay enthusiasts in general, as it’s a comfortable fit with the general Islay coastal style of whisky.
In 2007, Bruichladdich went so far as to acquire most of what remained of the Lochindaal site with the ambitious plan of reviving this lost distillery. This was halted by the resulting financial crisis of the period and the acquisition of Bruichladdich by Remy Cointreau. What plans they have for the historical site are unknown but it’s likely that with the focus on new warehousing and investment at Bruichladdich since the takeover, Lochindaal is far down on their to do list. Perhaps with the announcement of a handful of new Islay distilleries, the potential and history associated with Lochindaal may prompt a new ambitious plan.
In the meantime, the Port Charlotte range remains heavily supported by Bruichladdich and extremely popular. Recent additions include the PC11 and PC12 that were revealed for the travel retail market. The PC11 is a combination of sherry and bourbon matured casks bottled at 59.5% whereas PC12 features a 12-year age statement. A very limited bottling to celebrate the Feis Ile debuted in 2017 dubbed Transparency and featured barley grown on Islay that had matured in 7 different types of casks before being brought together. Only time will tell if the original site is revived but the Port Charlotte style of whisky is thankfully here to remain.