Few spirits have a cult following like peaty whisky with the signature smoky character you get from peat. So for the peathead in your life, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite bottles you can give this Christmas.
Considering peat is a dark, partially decayed organic matter formed in the wetlands, you’d be forgiven for thinking it wouldn’t create the most appetising of flavours. But you’d be wrong. It takes thousands of years for this flammable substance to form and over that time it acquires an array of flavour and complexity. And every time you dry barley with peat in a kiln during the whisky-making process, it infuses with the grain, bringing all that goodness to the eventual spirit.
Peat can be divisive, but like all good acquired tastes, once you get an appetite for it you’ll want it more and more. Remember, everyone likes peated whiskey. There are just some folks who haven’t tried the right one yet… With Christmas around the corner, you may well be looking to spoil a fan of peaty whisky. So what we have here is a wide range of smoky treats, from the mellow and aromatic to the full-bodied and fierce.
No messing about here. To kick things off we’re going straight for the spectacular with a single malt Scotch whisky bottled at cask strength, a hefty 56% ABV. Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire took the brakes of its flagship 10-year-old expression and the result is all those smoky, sherried and fruity notes are ramped up a notch. Think of it like Mario turning into Super Mario when he gets those mushrooms. Only better. Because it’s delicious whisky.
Ardbeg 10 Year Old is a firm favourite of peated whisky fans because it does a sublime job of showcasing the flavours Islay and the distillery itself are famous for. As well as all that smoke and sea, however, you’ll also taste an array of sweet, citrusy and fruity elements thanks to the depth of the spirit and the balance ex-bourbon casks bring.
Don’t be surprised to see more and more delicious smoky spirits coming out of Ireland in the future. The Emerald Isle is home to mountains of peat and distilleries like Sliabh Liag are taking advantage of it with expressions like Dark Silkie. A triple-distilled peated single malt matured in sherry casks, this bottling is then blended with a bourbon-matured single malt, as well as a grain whiskey that rested in virgin oak to make a dram full of subtle smoke, ripe fruit and sweet spices.
Highland Park makes full use of its Orkney home when making its signature whisky, from the mineral-rich springs that provide quality water to the coastline’s salty air which aids maturation. But the most significant contribution is Orkney’s peat. It’s made of heather and sphagnum moss that dates back as much as 9,000 years. Its aromatic, light and slightly sweet profile has a profound and welcome effect on the whisky’s character. Plus, Vikings are pretty cool.
We’re going further afield now to Sweden, which is no stranger to peaty delights. As well as Mackmyra’s Svensk Rök, you can get your smoky Scandie fill from the High Coast distillery and its Timmer bottlings, which are made up of 100% peated malt. The expression, which takes its name from the Swedish for ‘timber’, spends at least six years in first-fill bourbon barrels and pairs generous bursts of warming smoke with ripe fruit, aromatic spice and some classic bourbon-cask sweetness (think vanilla and caramel etc.).
A deep, dark and rich dram, Kilchoman Sanaig demonstrates how peated whisky can shine when matured in different cask types. This bottle combines the best of bourbon and sherry casks, adding dried fruit, chocolate and spice to its smoky core.
Yes, there is peated whisky in England too. And this tasty treat is one such example. The English – Smokey is from St. George’s distillery, which released the first legal English whisky in over a century in December 2009. The innovative brand has since embraced the smokier things in life. And you can bet this bottle is full of grassy peat, buttery cereal, autumnal spice and rich fruit.
Can’t decide on which peated whisky to pick up because they all sound so tasty? Then you can always help yourself to a tasting set. Drinks by the Dram scooped up the Character of Islay Whisky Company’s wonderful range of spirits and popped it in one handy location so you can go on a pleasantly peaty journey without having to break the bank.