Discovering the Finest Peated Whiskyes: A Guide to the Best Bottles to Buy
Peaty Scotch whisky is a distillate that divides and creates two distinct battlefields: the peat fanatics who have breakfast with Ardbeg and smoked salmon, and the aesthetes who consider peat an interlude, a nuisance to overcome to arrive at the fineness of the purest Scotch Single Malt whisky.
The topic is controversial. There are no rules, there is no better-peated whiskey, and it is not said that peat is always synonymous with quality. There is only what you like to drink regarding whisky preferences.
After all, there are five historic areas of Scotch whisky production, with very different terroirs and styles, so it would be ridiculous to limit yourself to drinking 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 ones, and some of the easiest to drink to start. The ranking is divided by distillery. We will begin on Islay, the paradise of peaty spirits, where you can find peat everywhere, dig a few inches, and find tons.
How is peated whisky produced?
It is straightforward. It is one of the first steps to take 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 that has a shallow calorific value, but the ability to indelibly “aromatize” the malt.
That’s all. There are no secrets or industrial techniques for making peaty whisky: the malt is spread over a floor, and a fire is lit on the floor below, making a lot of smoke. A method as old as the world that still manages to give excellent results. And now, let’s uncork some bottles to bite into some peat!
Ardbeg 10 years
Let’s start with one of the peatiest Scotch whiskeys ever, Ardbeg 10. It’s a stormy sea set on pungent tones: peat, iodine, mint, and 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. If the Ardbeg 10 is austere, this one is pure carnival. Peat level: Rising Sun Palm.
Excellent and balanced: a compromise that blends peat notes, spices, and enveloping fruit. The maturation in Sherry casks helps smooth the edges and makes this whisky smooth. There is always plenty of peat, but it is tamed. If you have never tasted peaty whisky, this is an excellent bottle to start with. Peat level: Potato Ninjago kick.
A rock, a whiskey famous for its sober elegance. The peated structure is robust, 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 outstanding producers, especially peaty whiskeys. The BenRiach Peated Quarter Cask is the most successful: medicinal, salty, with tangy and almost unripe fruit. And the BenRiach Solstice, aged 15 years in bourbon barrels with final passage in tawny port barrels, is instead 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, with 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, resulting in a bomb. Strong and overbearing, but with infinite thickness. Peat and sea mix in a stubborn, ethereal, with little softness and many flowers and herbs. Peat level: The king of the Peat Club.
More than any other, the distillery loves to play with peat, especially if we think it is based in Speyside, the velvet home. Starting from super-peated bottles such as the Benromach Peat Smoke, 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. More docile bottles have character, finesse, and personality, such as the 2007 Benromach Hermitage Wood Finish, where there is peat, but it is not overbearing. Benromach is undoubtedly the most eclectic of the distilleries producing peaty whiskeys: there are spirits for all budgets and tastes.
Single Malt Laphroaig Select
Laphroaig is the distillery that produces some of the peatiest whiskeys. It has a great style: intense and bold, but with a lot of depth. Let’s start with the essential 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 smooth 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 every budget and every taste. This whisky is splendid and intense. The peat hits hard, but there are lots of spices and pulp to balance it. The fleshy fruit is grafted onto a robust smoked skeleton. Peat level: 9 minutes of Bare Knuckle boxing with Chuck Norris. The review.
Big Peat Whiskey
A blended whiskey is made from a variety of Islay whiskeys to create a very strong, peaty, and masculine drink. Do not be fooled by the fact that it is blended. Indeed, it is produced in small batches (5000 bottles at a time), with a love for the haze and smoky perfumes. It’s salty in the mouth, as Islay orders, and packed with herbs. A good bottle overall. Peat level: There can be only one.
Compass Box Peat Monster
Another strong vatted with tons of peat is similar in intent and aromatic profile to the Big Peat. It is dry, sharp, salty, medicinal, and thorny, with little softness, herbaceous aromas, citrus fruits, and a rocky peaty character. Good.
Bowmore small-batch whisky
Entry-level whisky: simple, and clean, with soft fruit, lots of herbs, and peat. It is not particularly deep or suggestive, but it does its dirty work. Approaching the peated whiskey is a good start.
Single malt Scotch whiskey Bowmore 25 years
People who have never looked deeper think that the Bowmore distillery is the most touristy and an amusement park, but this is just a facade: high-end products are great. 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.
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. This is for you if you are looking for a distillate that is not too complex but full of salt, peat, and herbs. 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’s another great distillery that gets the amount of peat in its spirits just right. The Isle of Jura Prophecy is quite peaty and aggressive, while the Jura Seven Wood is delicate, full of salt, with a distant memory of smoke. Still, we’re always talking about hints and never about a life choice, as the Ardbeg may have. Turas Mara has little peat, while the 12-year Jura is splendid for the spicy balance between caramel, salt, candied fruit, and delicate smoky echoes. The Jura Destiny is more aggressive for those who want solid flavors and intense peat, with roaring peat, dried fruit, pepper, and a black tea finish. Destiny hits hard and has a super peppery charm, which is very different from the brothers. For people who love balance and elegance, the Jura distillery is the perfect mix of peat and elegance.
The Ileach whiskey
An indie single malt, shrouded in mystery, perhaps a Lagavulin, possibly produced by some Laphroaig rebels, does not matter. The cost is affordable, 25 euros, but commensurate with a simple, young, 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 suitable peat, and the bitterness in your mouth? Yeah, just like this disappointing Islay Mist. It’s 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 bitter walnut. Ok, it’s a blended whisky, 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 brains and heart of this distillery, the first in 125 years, which opened in 2004. It is one of the tiniest distilleries in the country. It has a capacity of 12,000 hectoliters of whisky. The style, on the other hand, is quite aggressive and pure. It focuses on the greatest ingredients to improve the terroir of Islay. Every process, beginning with barley cultivation, is done by hand. The bottles are one-of-a-kind, made of unusual woods such as Sauternes, Port, and Madeira barrels. Machir Bay was the first and most well-known. It was a blend that was aged in bourbon and sherry barrels and had a great balance. Caramel, sweet spices, and delicate fruit characterize this dark spirit with a bright face. It’s fun to talk about Kilchoman, but there’s some excellent stuff hidden beneath all the marketing hoopla of the good whiskey shepherd. Level up: The World is a Vampire…
Oban 14 years Single Malt whiskey
The Oban distillery has been producing whiskey for 200 years, but it is not on Islay. Never mind, take the ferry, and you will arrive in 30 minutes. The peculiarity of Oban whiskeys is once again the balance: peaty but graceful. The 14-year-old is soft, rocky, and smoky. Never boring. Peat level: don’t poke the panda!
Oban Distillers Edition
After 14 years in cask, it spends one year in sherry casks, and the result is spectacular. The natural spiciness of Oban is amplified by notes of winey and oxidized ripe fruit, which make the distillate seductive and much more interesting. 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 intense, 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, and 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 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 do. There are some particular peaty drams, but the most balanced (and easy to find) is the 12 years, 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, and brushstrokes of jam, define an inviting and rich aromatic profile. Easy to drink. Well done, even if too 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 blends 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. A superb bottle for those who have never tasted peaty whiskey.
Highland Park 12
Thanks to the sea and the particular type of peat found here, a great distillate produced in the Orkney Islands 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 between 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 usually 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. Therefore, we taste the only peated single malt in the house with pleasure. It is akin to the Glendronach style, so gracefulness dominates: malt is pure, flavors of cereals, biscuits, flowers, ripe fruit with dates and sultanas, dried fruit, honey, and 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. Despite being one of the historical distilleries of Islay, Bunnahabhain makes 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.