Peat has grown up to become the best version of himself that he can be. The mellow, sweet smoke makes all your cares drift away. It’s like walking on an Islay beach through seaweed stranded at the high-tide mark. Lemon lozenges, Sweethearts, flashes of citrus, stewed apple, and growing smoke. The gentle, glossy, mouth-coating finish generates an urge to expertly puff smoke rings out through pursed lips. (300 bottles) £175
Launched a few years ago with a Dr. Haddock-like cartoon figure on the label, Big Peat does just what it suggests it does…and then some. It's a mix of Islay peated malts and includes some Port Ellen, but don't get distracted by that. Instead, indulge yourself in the biggest, peatiest, oiliest, earthiest, grungiest, gunkiest slab of industrial malt this side of a leaky steam engine. This whisky just gets better and better.
Marginally less aggressive than in 2014, this Big Peat is more rounded and exhibits greater finesse. Overall, it’s a better whisky. The invasive smoke still infiltrates the skull and clasps your brain tightly. A sweet smoke of smoldering hillside wildfire extinguished by rubber beaters, balanced by meadow flowers, tree blossom, and honey. Sticky lemons smeared in thick honey, cracked black pepper, and a fabulous, almost gelatinous texture, it builds solidly in peaty intensity. Knockout! A hot, smoky finish like dragon’s breath.
The original Big Peat was a mix of smoky Islay malts and was already up there with the very best competition in the category, even though many of the others were bottled at cask strength. I scored it at 90. Now it’s back to play in the big boys' pool with a killer cask strength whisky of its own. This is to whisky what AC/DC is to heavy rock: old school, predictable, but great and exactly what fans want.
On Christmas morning, everyone races downstairs to see if Big Peat left whisky in their stocking. If you’ve been good this year, you’ll find this one, which is richly smoky and slightly oily, with a nose of unwaxed lemon, sweet clementine, antiseptic, petrichor, and cigar ash. Sweet citrus, vanilla, fudge, sparkling spices, and generous smoke on the palate, and it’s beautifully balanced, for a big fella.
A larger and mightier beast overall, with menthol, mint Life Savers, raisins, chocolate wafer bars, and thick gray smoke lifting off smoldering peat. The experience is mouth drawing and full bodied at this strength, with sweet orange, milk chocolate, clove, and nutmeg, the roof of the palate cloaked in a night sky of celestial peppery spices. Take it easy with water, but use it to unshackle the soaring citrus notes. (1,100 bottles for the U.S.)
This is a spicy prospect, with pepper, lemon bonbons, and dense peat smoke, though the toffee and sweet lemon are well-balanced against the smoke. Sweet lemon meringue pie, candied peel, and a twin assault of smoke and clove-led spices on the palate, though the sweetness mounts a fight back. Great crescendo of flavor as Big Peat tries to show he is the perfect house guest for the holidays. (900 bottles for U.S.)
Brace yourself. This takes peat to the extreme, conjuring up a moist, chocolate slab of peat being cut and lifted out of the bog. So smoky, you will feel like you’re breathing in the dense clouds rising above the smoldering kilns. A punchy thwack of peat at full strength, and even if you cut it with water, it only highlights salty fishboxes and some buttery caramels cowering from the backdraft. A deliberately singular character, but utterly brilliant nonetheless. £46
So which independent bottler comes out in the 'Big' battle of the Islay blended malts? Given this is bottled at a lower strength and it's at a lower price, I'm calling it a draw. The latest batch of this is the best yet, with Ardbeg, Caol Ila, and Bowmore the main components, although there is also some Port Ellen in the mix. So you know what to expect—and it doesn't disappoint. Big AND peaty.
This breezy, coastal dram revels in aromas of lemon, pine needle, ozone, clotted cream, lavender, rock pools, and light peat smoke, though there’s no smoking Tommy gun. A good-weight dram with bitter lemon, royal icing, vanilla, and toffee, plus assertive pepper, oak char, and burnt sugar that pummel away like a street fighter, finally calming to an olive oil finish. This is a proper Islay whisky, if you dare. (U.S. Exclusive; 2,000 bottles).
Big Peat looks incredibly pale in the glass this year, but his message is undiminished. Antiseptic, pine-scented floor cleaner, and an enveloping cloud of peat smoke with underlying peach and faint dabs of lemon. Sugary sweet, with lemon lozenges, light vanilla, caramel, and dark toffee, while a bowling, somersaulting smoky element gleefully turns cartwheels in the mouth. Hot, dry finish, like gargling with hot coals. Merry Peatmas everybody.
Well-balanced offering of sweet citrus, grapefruit peel, and beach bonfire smoke. Cream, lemon, and lime zest are overcome by smoke as the chili spice and pepper go off like a rocket. More disciplined, it settles down to sweet orange, lemon bonbon, cocoa, and driftwood smoke. An incredibly pale whisky, it’s punchy, but not overly complex, although it does include some fun stickers to let you customize your own bottle. (3,000 bottles)
Windswept and coastal: rock pools, the chalky sweetness of Edinburgh rock candy, and aromas of smoked fish on the quayside. The masochism of bonfire smoke and peat reek is utterly invigorating and restorative. Lemon creaminess, with an eruption of spice and citrus, the irascible spices pushing out in all directions. This is a big, cask strength bruiser, but Peat’s choleric temper can be readily soothed with a drop of water. (1,400 bottles for the U.S.)