Port Charlotte Distillery (Lochindaal Distillery) was built at the same time as the village of Port Charlotte, around 1829, and was originally named after the village. It would have provided much valuable employment for the local Gaelic speaking population, who must have been totally unused to the concept of industrial processes on the scale of Islay’s new distilleries. We can only guess at the turmoil of the times as they made the transition from their traditional village life of subsistence farming and crofting, to waged labour.
By the time Alfred Barnard visited Port Charlotte in around 1885-1886 he described the, now re-named, Lochindaal as ‘old-fashioned’, but as ever, he supplies some useful information in his great book ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’ including the fact that ‘Peat only is used in drying the malt, fired in open chauffeurs’. It is difficult for us to be sure what ‘open chauffeurs’ were exactly, but there are one or two old photographs of the distillery in The Museum of Islay Life which show the huge peat stacks required to keep the fires burning and dry sufficient malt to produce around 125,000 gallons of spirit every year.
So we can be confident that the old Lochindaal whisky would have been producing a heavily peated spirit, one to which our own Port Charlotte expressions, distilled at Bruichladdich, are a fitting tribute.
I am not sure whether anyone now working at Bruichladdich has ever had the opportunity to try the old Lochindaal – although our late stillman Ruaraidh McLeod always claimed he had. Ruaraidh would tell a tale of an old bottle unearthed around 1965, a heavily peated spirit that was immediately cracked open and enjoyed by the boys at the distillery. “Tis der trrooote”, he would tell us, eyes twinkling.
Lochindaal was to have many owners following the original grant of a license to Colin Campbell. It was eventually acquired by the Distillers Company Limited, which was to prove its death-knell. A combination of reasons were given for its closure in 1929, exactly 100 years after it was built, including over-production in the industry, the effects of prohibition in the USA, and the stock market crash of that year.
Bruichladdich acquired most of the old distillery buildings and ground back in 2007. The global banking and financial crisis that unfolded shortly thereafter put paid to the independent company’s immediate ambition to re-build Lochindaal while returning it to the name with which it was originally endowed. The acquisition of Bruichladdich (including the Port Charlotte site) by Remy Cointreau in 2012 has the potential to change things again going forward, but no decisions on the future of the old site have yet been taken.