One of my go-to books is the 5th Edition of Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion (2004). It is always within reach. I carried it with me throughout my whisky week in Scotland in the fall of 2009. On its inside cover I wrote the names of all the whiskies I tasted during the trip which began in Glasgow and ended in Glentrool. I drank Highlands and Lowlands, Campbeltowns and Islays. The book has notes from distillery visits and interactions with one local on Islay. The elderly Mr. Willie Powell lived in a small white house with peat bricks piled obsessively neat on either side of the house. He had a barrel stamped with the Kilchoman label in front. Kilchoman launched its first whisky the month we were there and the barrel, said Powell, was stationed to help visitors find the distillery. I was informed by the Kilchoman representative at the 2014 Sarasota Whisk(e)y Obsession Festival that Willie Powell was still living in his home on Machir Bay. Go Willie!
More than holding my rambling and scribbles the Malt Whisky Companion is a vessel of whisky knowledge. In his section on peat, Jackson speaks about the ppm (parts per million) of phenol that is measured in whisky. As an example, he refers to Bruichladdich as having whisky in the 2-5 ppm range. He notes that Bruichladdich was in the process of created two distinctly high ppm whiskies. I made note of both for future purchase: Port Charlotte 5 Y.O. (PC5) and Octomore 5 Y.O.
I watched and waited and kept in close contact with my whisky-guy, Joe at Federal Wine and Spirits, and upon their separate release, I purchased both and joined what I call the dark side of whisky. These are not for the faint of heart nor “I’ll have a white wine spritzer” type. They are for those who think rugged, deep pungent, and full power of smoke. Robusto cigars and blizzard conditions swirl around the aura emanating from these now hard to find single malts. The PC5 has a 40 ppm level and 63.5% alcohol , but the Octomore 1st release is at a remarkable 131 ppm and while at the same 63.5% alcohol. The peat pulls me in and hugs me in a bear-like grasp. The Octomore, and I hate to admit this, screams for a touch of water to save me from going over the edge.
The Port Charlotte and Octomore range of whiskies are detailed on the Bruichladdich website. I’m attached to the 1st releases. One bottle of the PC5 was finished and it was a challenge finding another 1st release. It’s safely in my arms now. I am all about sharing but the select and limited bottles in my collection are special occasion drams for a small, also select, few.
To Bruichladdich for always taking chances and not being deterred by anything, and to Mr. Willie Powell for being a welcoming gentleman to a car full of tourists, I raise a glass.