Back in 2009, the team at Douglas Laing & Co. unleashed a concept that had a big objective and a big name to live up to, for that is the year that Big Peat was born. The blended malt whisky features “A Shovelful of Islay Single Malt Scotch Whiskies including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore & Port Ellen Distilleries” – the exact measures of which are unknown, but the components all bring their archetypal peaty profile to one overall bottle. Apparently there are a few other elements that feature in the blend – which can depend on what is available for each of the small batch releases. The regular expression comprises one of the key components of Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regional Malts series and is easily the most recognisable. Bottled at 46% ABV and presented with the distinctive features of a craggy Islay dweller, does Big Peat live up to his name? As he trudges towards his 10th anniversary at the end of May, let’s see…
Smoke. Smoke. And… Smoke. This is proper peat here. It is like sniffing a peat brick out in the Islay peat bogs. Its actually has more of a drying coal fire kind of smoky aroma to it too. Or maybe, like the smell of a bonfire – the next morning, when you get near those embers. It is not overpowering though. You do have to get your nose involved. It doesn’t exactly jump out of the glass and pull you by the nose hairs. Beneath the peat there’s also a good dose of dry hay and a sweet little malty note, just to remind you that there is actually malt whisky in the glass.
Such a soft texture. Silky and sweet on first taste, and then the smoke unfurls. But gently. It seems to be about the balance here. Taste-wise its more of the same as what featured on the nose. There’s nothing really masked or clouded by the smoke. It got a pure and simple taste of sweet, barley sugar, malt, grist and that grassy note, which are working all together to support the peat.
Now this is where the heat comes in. But that’s just the alcohol making itself known. The peat is still king here but with a measured ashy billow rather than blowing your head off and turning your neck into a chimney. It all fades out fairly quickly and really does invite another sip.
We don’t normally talk about the colour of a whisky on WU but this is noticeably very light in colour. Thee bottling does not express an age, but the variety must be quite broad – particularly because of the Port Ellen in there. (Though, surely that’s only a teaspoon full per bottle, right?) Still, as an Islay convert, it still feels good to be getting a bit of the Island’s history here. Having tried whiskies from the constituent distilleries I would hazard a guess that the Caol Ila must be making that sweeter notes here, but all of the elements are combining to make a really pure peated and malty experience. My first introduction to Big Peat was during an evening with Douglas Laing and since then the big man peeps his well-whiskered head out every now and then and is always a treat. Not that you could drink a lot of it mind. Though, I could drink more than I would usually of any other peated monster. We’re not talking Octomore here. It doesn’t need taming by water either, and makes for a really rounded peaty experience. Nice to see you again Peat.
Sample disclosure: This sample was received in anticipation of the 10 year celebration of Big Peat’s release, directly from Douglas Laing. Though received as part of a promotional event, the notes here are intended to be an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky.