Humans have a weird binary when it comes to drinking alcohol—some beverages are strictly for cold weather, others for scorching hot days. So we drink rich stouts in the ski lodge, and save the crisp pilsners for golfing when it’s 100 degrees. We pull out a full-bodied red wine for the Christmas party and chill the riesling and rosé for a summer picnic. The same thinking often holds true for whisky: Peated scotch, we are told, is best reserved for chilly drizzles or windy winter nights.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. For example, consider how camping, a favorite summer activity, and peaty whisky can make a perfect match. “When the evening cools down at the end of a hot, sunny day, and you’re huddled around a fire pit, a peated whisky’s campfire profile is a surprisingly perfect complement,” says Jessica Schultz, a senior brand manager at Bruichladdich.
In fact, peated whisky has many traits that make it perfect for warm weather imbibing. Think of the classic smells of summer: woody smoke wafting through the neighborhood in the early evening (“Hey, who’s barbecuing?”); the pleasant tobacco aromas from an old man lighting his pipe on a park bench; those earthy notes of the garden soil, freshly tilled and bursting with herbs and other growing green things. That’s exactly the profile of peated whisky!
There’s no rule that you have to drink your peaty dram at room temperature either. Just as you might enjoy a bourbon on the rocks, don’t be timid about cooling down an Islay single malt. Sean Hoard of Oregon’s The Suttle Lodge recommends trying less aged peaty whiskies over ice. “To me, younger, peated whisky over ice has a brightness to it that I find super refreshing,” he explains, citing Kilchoman Machir Bay as a favorite.
Likewise, the potent smoky notes of peated whisky actually make it perfect in chilled cocktails. An easy way to turn a high-proof dram into something more sessionable and thirst-quenching is by making a Highball, the simplest of whisky cocktails—just add ice and some soda water. Or try a Moscow Mule variation: Swap in a nice peated scotch for the usual vodka and you have a Glasgow Mule.
The Brooklyn bar Diamond Reef serves perhaps the most summery peated cocktail ever. The Penichillin is a play on the Penicillin, a modern classic originally created in 2005 by Sam Ross that’s topped with a float of Islay single malt. When he opened the tropical-themed Diamond Reef, Ross took the recipe of scotch, lemon, honey, and ginger and dumped it in a frozen slushy machine. Now whisky lovers have a summer cocktail to rival—and perhaps surpass—the Piña Coladas, Daiquiris, and frozen Margaritas of the world.
Feeling hot? Try these peaty whiskies on ice.
High West Campfire—$70, 91 points
Said to be the world’s only blend of bourbon, rye, and peated scotch, this so-called “tug-of-war” whiskey features the best of all worlds with caramel sweetness, a punch of spice, and a prominent smoky note. Its name all but tells you how to enjoy it: around the campfire, unwinding after a hot day in the great outdoors.
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley—$72, 87 points
The only peated whisky in Bruichladdich’s core range has an elegant and approachable profile, with sweet BBQ smoke. The palate is thick and fruity, with flavors of strawberry, lemon peel, and herbs like eucalyptus.
Ardbeg Kelpie—$119, 88 points
Arbeg’s whiskies can be a gut-punch of peat, but Kelpie is a tad more summery. With a proportion of the blend having aged in Russian Black Sea oak casks, a nose comes through that is briney and seaweed-like, while the taste has Ardbeg’s classic herbal and peaty notes.