What is the best peaty Scotch whiskey? Here are the best bottles to buy
Peaty Scotch whiskey is a distillate that divides, creates two distinct battlefields: the peat fanatics who have breakfast with Ardbeg and smoked salmon and the aesthetes who consider peat an interlude, indeed a nuisance to overcome to arrive at the fineness of the purest Scotch Single Malt whiskey.
The topic is controversial, there are no rules, there is no better peaty whiskey and it is not said that peat is always synonymous with quality. There is only what you like to drink when it comes to whiskey preferences.
After all, there are 5 historic areas of Scotch whiskey production, with very different terroirs and styles, so it would be ridiculous to limit yourself to drink only soft or sooty whiskeys.
But today we want to draw up a list of the best-peated Scotch whiskies, the unforgettable ones, the most successful and also some of the easiest to drink to start. The ranking is divided by distillery, we will start from Islay, the paradise of peaty spirits, where you can find peat everywhere, just dig a few inches and you’ll find tons.
How is peated whiskey produced?
Very simple, it is one of the first steps to do before distillation. After the barley has been transformed into malt it is smoked with peat, thanks to the typical Scottish ovens, called kilns, with a peat-fed fire, which has a very low calorific value, but the ability to indelibly “aromatize” the malt. That’s all, there are no secrets or industrial techniques for making peaty whiskey: the malt is spread over a floor and a fire is lit on the floor below that makes a lot of smoke. A method as old as the world, but which still manages to give great results. And now let’s uncork some bottles to bite some peat!
Ardbeg 10 years
Let’s start with one of the peatiest Scotch whiskeys ever, Ardbeg 10. A stormy sea, it’s all set on pungent tones: peat, iodine, mint, dry and sharp fruit. It is elegant and penetrating. Peat level: Flaming Dragon punch.
Always peaty and scratchy, but with more mature and suggestive fruit. It is sumptuous, broad and slightly decadent: the symphony of chocolate, caramel, and tar is incredible. A carnival respect to the austere 10. Peat level: Rising Sun Palm.
Good and balanced: a compromise that blends notes of peat, spices and enveloping fruit. The maturation in Sherry casks helps to smooth the edges and make this whiskey smooth. There is always plenty of peat, but it is tamed. If you have never tasted a peaty whiskey this is a good bottle to start with. Peat level: Potato Ninjago kick.
A rock, a whiskey famous for its sober elegance. The peated structure is powerful, but there are spices, iodine, herbaceous traces, and delicious decadent fruit. Overall it’s well balanced, full and deep. Never soft. Peat level: Spinning Bird Kick in the face. The review.
BenRiach: Solstice and Peated Quarter Cask
The BenRiach distillery is a war machine: think about a flavor, an idea, a ray of light and they make a themed whiskey about it. They covered all the knowledge of single malt styles. But apart from jokes, they are really good producers, especially with peaty whiskeys. The two most successful are the BenRiach Peated Quarter Cask, which is dry, medicinal, salty, with pungent and almost unripe fruit. And the BenRiach Solstice, aged for 15 years in bourbon barrels with final passage in tawny port barrels, which instead is rich, sumptuous, full of candied fruit, oxidized nutty recall, jam, and ripe peat. Peat level: Hadokeeeeen!
An ethereal whiskey that is less affected by the influence of wood. The aromas are less spicy: peat, sea and alpine herbs. Purer than Lagavulin 16, less makeup and lots of salt. Pungent and spectacular. Peat level: a walk in a burned forest.
Lagavulin 12 Years Old Special Release
An amazing Lagavulin: bottled as it comes out of the barrels and the result is a bomb. Strong and overbearing, but with infinite thickness. Peat and sea mix in an intransigent, ethereal, with little softness and lots of flowers and herbs. Peat level: The king of the Peat Club.
The distillery that more than any other loves to play with peat, especially if we think that it is based in Speyside, the home of velvet. In any case, starting from super-peated bottles such as the Benromach Peat Smoke, which is similar to the Ardbeg 10 in terms of intensity, we move on to intermediate bottles such as the 10-year-old Benromach, which is among the best bottles in the distillery for value for money and balance. There are also more docile bottles, but which have character, finesse and personality, such as the 2007 Benromach Hermitage Wood Finish, where there is peat, but it is not overbearing. Benromach is certainly the most eclectic of the distilleries that produce peaty whiskeys: there are spirits for all budgets and all tastes.
Single Malt Laphroaig Select
Laphroaig is the distillery that produces some of the peatiest whiskeys. It has a great style: intense and brash, but with a lot of depth. Let’s start with the basic bottle: a compromise for those who want to approach the world of peated whiskeys. Without praise or infamy. It is well done, but it is not surprising, it is a tamed and stylized product. Pungent and discreet. Peat level: just scratching the surface.
Laphroaig quarter cask
The selection of Laphroaig whiskeys is excellent, there are bottles for all budgets and all kinds. This whiskey is splendid, intense and goes on its way without looking at anyone in the face. The peat hits hard, but there are lots of spices and pulp to balance. The fruit is fleshy and grafted into a powerful smoked skeleton. Peat level: 9 minutes of Bare Knuckle boxing with Chuck Norris. The review.
Big Peat Whiskey
A blended whiskey that comes from a selection of Islay whiskeys to offer a very pungent, peaty and virile product. Do not be fooled by the fact that it is blended, indeed it is produced in small batches (5000 bottles at a time), with love for the haze and smoky perfumes. In the mouth, it’s salty as Islay commands and with many herbs. A good bottle overall. Peat level: There can be only one.
Compass Box Peat Monster
Another strong vatted with tons of peat: quite similar to the Big Peat both for its intent and for its aromatic profile. It is dry, sharp, salty, medicinal, thorny, with little softness, many herbaceous aromas, citrus fruits, and a rocky peaty character. Good.
Bowmore small-batch whiskey
Entry-level whiskey: simple, clean with soft fruit, lots of herbs and peat. It is not particularly deep or suggestive, but it does its dirty work. To approach the peated whiskey is a good start.
Single malt Scotch whiskey Bowmore 25 years
The Bowmore distillery is trivially considered the most touristic, an amusement park, but this is only the façade for those who have never gone deeper: high-end products are fabulous. And this Bowmore 25 is a stunning bottle: after a sleep of 25 years the whiskey still comes out powerful, but mottled, with a thousand facets: tar, dried flowers, nutty scents, cordage and salt mix with very subtle ethereal perfumes. A masterpiece. If someone tells you that peated whiskeys are rude, let them taste this bottle. Peat level: Master.
Caol Ila 12
Caol Ila 12 is the most balanced Islay whiskey, a pendulum that makes perfect swings between sea and peat. Not by chance is the basis of the majority of blended Scotch whiskeys. The 12 is a rocky distillate, it bites, with a clear herbaceous note that lightens the smokiness of the bouquet and makes the tasting more engaging and less obscure and predictable. Structured, but gracefully. Peat level: Ivan Drago punches you in the face.
The distillery that more than any other loves to play with peat, especially if we think that it is based in Speyside, the home of velvety Scotch. In any case, starting from super-peated bottles such as the Benromach Peat Smoke, which is similar to the Ardbeg 10 in terms of intensity, we move on to intermediate bottles such as the 10-year-old Benromach, which is among the best bottles in the distillery for value for money and balance. There are also more docile drams with plenty of finesse and personality, such as the 2007 Benromach Hermitage Wood Finish, where there is peat, but it is not overbearing. Benromach is the most eclectic of the distilleries that produce peaty whiskeys: there are spirits for all budgets and all palates.
This Campbeltown distillery is a real family business, where everything is made at home, with utmost care. Single Malt 10 and 12 years have a delicate touch of smoke. They are spirits that seek finesse and balance, never a head-on collision or an explosion of peat.
Since we talked about Springbank, it is necessary to present the single malt Longrow Peated, owned by Springbank. If you are looking for a distillate that is not too complex, but full of salt, peat, and herbs, this is for you. It does not have a thousand shades, on the contrary, it aims straight to the point without many frills, but the taste is clean.
Isle of Jura Prophecy
Here is another great distillery that manages to impeccably dose the peat in its distillates. The Isle of Jura Prophecy is quite peaty, aggressive, while the Jura Seven Wood is delicate, full of salt with a distant memory of smoke, but we are always talking about hints and never about a choice of life as it can be for the Ardbeg. Turas Mara has little, very little peat, while the 12 year Jura is splendid for the spicy balance between caramel, salt, candied fruit, and delicate smoky echoes. For those who want strong flavors and intense peat, the Jura Destiny is more aggressive, with roaring peat, dried fruit, pepper and black tea finish. Very different from the brothers, Destiny hits hard and has a super peppery charm. For those who love balance and elegance, the Jura distillery represents the perfect compromise between peat and elegance.
The Ileach whiskey
An indie single malt, shrouded in mystery, perhaps a Lagavulin, perhaps produced by some Laphroaig rebels, does not matter. The cost is affordable, 25 euros, but commensurate with a very simple, young and unpretentious peated whiskey. Well packaged but without brio. Peat level: Peppa Pig goes to the dentist.
Islay Mist Peated Reserve
Are you aware of those peaty whiskeys that seduce you with an aromatic nose, a medicinal splurge, the right peat and then leave the bitter in your mouth? Yeah, just like this disappointing Islay Mist. Not a bad whiskey, but it does not even go beyond sufficiency. It starts well with intriguing aromas, a fruity, caramelized, salty attack on the palate, all right, but then it is nailed to a tannic finish of rude walnut. Ok, it’s a blended, costs 30-33 euros and wants to be tough, but overall it doesn’t leave a mark. Peat level: Peppa Pig is staring into the void.
Antony Wills is the mind and heart of this distillery founded in 2004, the first after 125 years. It is one of the smallest distilleries, let’s say it has a production of 12000 hectoliters of whiskey. However the style is very aggressive and pure, it focuses on the best ingredients to enhance the Islay terroir. Every operation, starting from the cultivation of barley, is homemade. The bottles are 10, all very special, customized by the use of atypical woods including barrels of Sauternes, Porto, and Madeira. The Machir Bay whiskey was the first and still the most famous: a blend of great balance, rounded by aging in ex-bourbon and sherry barrels. Dark soul, but with a very sunny face, caramel, sweet spices, and soft fruit. It’s very cool to talk about Kilchoman, but under all the marketing hype of the good whiskey shepherd, there is good stuff. Peat level: The Word is a Vampire na na na na…
Oban 14 years Single Malt whiskey
The Oban distillery has been producing whiskey for 200 years, but it is not on Islay: never mind, just take the ferry and you will arrive in 30 minutes. The peculiarity of Oban whiskeys is once again the measure, the balance: peaty, but gracefully. The 14 years is soft, rocky, smoky. Never boring. Peat level: don’t poke the panda!
Oban Distillers Edition
After 14 years in cask, it makes a 1-year passage in sherry casks and the result is splendid. The natural sapidity of the Oban is extended by decadent notes of vinous and oxidized ripe fruit, making the distillate seductive and much more varied. There is peat, but it is dosed, it whispers in the background. Peat level: the forest whispers my name.
The Talisker distillery is the only one on the Isle of Skye, a paradise of unique colors and flavors. One of the most evocative places in Scotland. The whiskeys produced here are tough, virile and pungent, with plenty of citrus notes, salt, and peat. The Skye is a super easygoing bottle, it hits hard, but the price is ok. Peat level: rise and rise again until lambs become lions.
Whiskey Talisker Distillers Edition Double Matured Amoroso Cask
A beautiful special edition matured in Sherry barrels: smooth, decadent, mature, but peat and salt are always at the forefront to set the pace. Peat level: what immortal hand or eye,
dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Splendid distillate of rare elegance: citrusy, sapid, caramelized without ever being soggy and with neat peat in the background. If you are looking for a peaty but elegant whiskey, the Talisker 18 is worth every penny.
Ardmore 12 Years Old Port Wood Finish
The Ardmore distillery is a colossus producing 5 million bottles, but they know what they are doing. There are some particular peaty drams, but the most balanced (and easy to find) is the 12 year, which ages in American barrels and then Port pipes. Classic, a super creamy whiskey where peat and warm fruit in syrup mix with sweet spices, cinnamon, with brushstrokes of jam that define an inviting and rich aromatic profile. Easy to drink. Well done even if too much stylized-rigid.
Johnnie Walker Green Label Blended Scotch Whiskey
A blended? Yeah, don’t be a snob! The Gree is a fine whiskey. Although some blend of malt whiskeys are predictable and constructed, they are not bad, they know how to sing a titillating symphony. Johnnie’s green label is a discreet, tasty bottle, made with a greedy dose of Caol Ila 12 and other softer drams. The value for money is excellent. Peat level: Bite me. An excellent bottle for those who have never tasted peaty whiskey.
Highland Park 12
A great distillate produced in the Orkney Islands, which thanks to the sea and the particular type of peat found here, becomes pure magic. The smoke aggression is medium, never overpowering and is mottled and softened by sweet, oxidized traces, others salted like the waves of the sea and sumptuous herbaceous suggestions. A masterpiece with a unique flavor. Peat Level: Old pirate with a wooden leg.
Arran Machrie Moor, Arran Distillery
The Arran distillery takes its name from the island on which it stands, a stamp of land enclosed between the long strip of land that is the Kintyre peninsula and the Scottish coast. The whiskeys of this distillery are very soft and salty, full of floral nuances, honey, dried fruit, and great elegance. Peat is not normally present in these splendid spirits, apart from one: the single malt Arran Machrie Moor, which knows how to combine roasted notes of coffee, chocolate, smoke, salt, flowers, and candied citrus peels with caramel. It hits hard, but it’s sumptuous: they made only one peated whiskey, but it’s gorgeous and the peat is masterfully dosed.
The Highlands Glendronach distillery is renowned for the finesse and delicacy of its spirits and therefore it is with pleasure that we taste the only peated single malt in the house. Obviously, it is akin to the Glendronach style, so it is gracefulness that dominates: malt is pure, flavors of cereals, biscuits, flowers, ripe fruit with dates and sultanas, dried fruit, honey and obviously heather, the trademark of Glendronach. And the peat? It’s there, but it’s in the background, it’s gregarious, it whispers sweet words, but it never raises its voice. Overall it is a splendid distillate for precision and is sold at a great price: just over 50 euros.
Bunnahabhain 12 Years
We close the ranking with the least peaty whiskey. Bunnahabhain, despite being one of the historical distilleries of Islay, make strictly peat-free whiskeys. Although in recent years, they have added two bottles that are barely peated, but very elegant. The 12-year-old, a fruity, caramelized and marine bomb with a wisp of smoke and the Toiteach A Dhà just peated, but we are far from the intensity of the other sacred monsters of Islay. Anyway, they are both great bottles! Peat level: try to catch me.