Thursday, 1 July 2010

The best peats?

The better half has just finished taking two dozen German gardening journalists and peat enthusiasts (!) around various topical attractions in Scotland. This included a whisky tasting where the peat enthusiasts, but whisky beginners, got the opportunity to taste the difference peat smoke makes to a whisky.

Let's hope they persist in their whisky adventure. Should they in time develop a liking for peaty whisky then perhaps they might want to try the following. The list of course is far from exhaustive and choosing a numero uno is nigh impossible. But as Gaelic lexicographer Edward Dwelly said at the beginning of his 1911 dictionary, "Se obair là toiseachadh, se obair beatha criochnachadh" - Beginning is a day's work, finishing takes a lifetime.

Here we go...
  • Laphroaig 10 - the standard Laphroaig and one to be found in almost all supermarkets. Despite its rather Presbyterian 40% abv, there's no doubting the quality of this dram.
  • Ardbeg 10 - this lip smacker at 46% used to be found in the supermarkets but its owner, a certain Mr Louis Vuitton , is playing funny buggers with its availability and price - more on this another day. Should you see it at around the £30 mark, go for it.
  • Bunnahabhain Toiteach - tasted this at the Whisky Fringe and was bowled over. Not the usual for this distillery but this one has a fat and full peaty palate, oily texture and a finish longer than a Hibs FC losing streak in the Scottish Cup. 46% abv.
  • Laphroaig 18 - One of the best activities in the world must be to get the Post Bus to Ardbeg and walk back to Port Ellen, visiting the 3 southern Islay distilleries at roughly one per mile. This I did last year and upon entering Laphroaig was asked in a native Ileach accent, 'What'll you have?'. I was recommended the 18yo which had only come out the previous week. I bought it at the low price of £42 - not sure why but its now £60+ in the shops. 48% of peaty warmth with chocolate and toffee and yon hint of Laphroaig medicine.
  • Laphroaig Càirdeas 2010 - limited edition at a reasonable £45 from Friends of Laphroaig. Spicy and dry with a creel full of peat.
  • Ardmore SMWS 66.21 - "I can't believe its not Islay". Great title. It kicks up a whirlwind of molasses and smoke on the tongue. 21 yo and cask strength. Sadly, its all gone...
  • Caol Ila SMWS 53.131 - "Turbuso humo". Coming in at a whopping 67.9% you might expect this to be made by Belgian monks. Coal, chilli and barbecued haloumi. More peat than Barvas moor. Fantastic stuff.
  • Ardbeg SMWS 33.83 - "Oh, for the joys of a long winter night". A low alcohol CS compared to the above. Murray mints rolled in coal dust and given a good sucking while wandering around the peat-infused air of an Uig township - say Bhaltos or Cnip.
  • The Ileach Cask Strength - a Leipziger whisky connoisseur first mentioned this to my partner some years ago. I bought my second bottle in Pitlochry, see previous post, for around £30. Its 58% and reputed to be a Lagavulin. Need I say more?
Others to try or buy if you've still got a job in this banker's midden of a recession...
  • Ardbeg - Airigh nam Beist, Uigedail, Renaissance
  • Caol Ila - Distiller's Edition
  • Talisker 57 North - the best Talisker I've tried
  • Springbank 10
  • Bladnoch 8yo Lightly Peated
  • Benriach Curiositas
  • Bruichlaiddich - Infinity, Port Sgioba
  • Lagavulin - 16yo, Distiller's Edition, 12yo CS - a house without one of these is sad hoose indeed
There's also the gimmicky Ardbeg Supernova and Bruichladdich Octomore marketed at those 'peat extremists' with more money than myself.

Some to avoid buying or at least blag a dram of...
  • Ardbeg SMWS - "A dirty dram for Mary Poppins", the label states that its like 'licking an ashtray' and its not wrong. Not pleasant either.
  • Benromach Peat Smoke - not unpleasant but it just doesn't have the depth or finish.
  • Smokehead - not bad but lacking in something... body, depth and finish perhaps?
  • Port Ellen - hmmmm.... its obviously the closed distillery status that creates the interest here but on the occasions I've tried a PE, I've been underwhelmed. I certainly wouldn't be inspired to part with £130+ for a bottle.
Suggested omissions from the above lists are very welcome!