The Port Charlotte An Turas Mor (ATM) is one whisky where the rule, “follow the tasting notes first, and the marks second” is important. If you follow the marks of the ATM given around the net, you may pass up on this gem—this extremely affordable gem. Too many of those who are lucky enough, wealthy enough, or are willing to sacrifice enough to get their hands on any of the PC5-PC8, have scoffed at the ATM for its multi-vintage, standard strength bottling. Too many folks have compared the ATM to its cask-strength siblings, and I think that is an unfair thing to do.
For my palate, the ATM is everything I love (except the cask-strength): oily, peaty, smoky, slightly sweet (with chocolate, not fruit) and spicy—not hot, Indian curry spicy. Before I get too gushy, I’ll get to the tasting notes.
Nose: Apparent at a distance. Coastal sea salt. Peat and lapsang souchong smoke. Indian masala spices: cardamom, coriander seed, cumin. Chocolate. Honey sweetness. If I nose while swirling the glass, I get Hickory BBQ Sauce! I would pay to have this whole bouquet in an incense stick.
Palate: Confirms the nose (Good thing too, as I wanted it to, so badly.) Reasonably oily. A sea-salty peat. Indian spices: cardamom, coriander, light on the cumin. Then BBQ smoke (hickory wood chips), ending in a nice, dry, high-cocoa dark chocolate.
Finish: Long, peat and smoke clinging to dark, dark chocolate.
***WARNING: On my first dram, I found that any more than a few drops of water turns the finish from long, to medium-short. Careful here.***
Bruichladdich has done something pretty special here. They have managed to marry my favourite things: mouth-coating oiliness, peat, smoke, a spicy masala, and insanely dark chocolate. I do chastise the ATM for two things: I would love it at cask-strength. That may improve its ability to handle water. While water isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, it is missing that extra layer that my top whiskies have. A great whisky (to me) evolves when you add water, either by showing the depth of the whisky to show more subtle notes in the nose and the palate, or, it transforms the experience entirely, so that you’re almost getting two whiskies in one. This is where the ATM falls short. The Nose is enhanced with some water, but the palate and finish die. Even the Auchie 18 at 43% ABV can handle a little water, and it’s often all the better for it (details in a future review).
Update: For those of you that have checked my rankings since this post was originally made, you may have noticed that the Port Charlotte took a tumble in the rankings. Perhaps I was a bit too over-zealous with my original tastings of this whisky. By the end of the bottle, the An Turas Mor is still all the things I’ve said it to be (at least to me), but it doesn’t do it so spectacularly as I had first thought. Since discovering the Bowmore Tempest III for $5 less (and 50cl more, and at cask strength…) I have found other peated Islays that are a better bang for your buck. That said, I will definitely give Bruichladdich’s new flagship peated malt, the Port Charlotte 10yo, it’s fair shake when it hits the LCBO. Perhaps the inconsistencies of the An Turas Mor will be sorted out by then.