Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 5

5 12 2014

I sort of thought so. I sort of suspected that, after 4 days of relatively innocuous and conservative whiskies, Andrew Ferguson of Kensington Wine Market might pack a punch on day 5 of Whisky Advent.  I sort of expected that it was Islay’s time to shine.  And I was right, in a big way.  Islay (pronounced “eye-lah”) is a small island on the southwestern coast of Scotland that is known in the scotch world for peated whiskies, a distinctive style where drying the barley grain over a peat-fuelled fire leads to an eye- (and nose-) popping whirlwind of smoky, savoury, briny flavours.  I would say that peat has such a powerful and irrevocable influence over a whisky that you either love it or hate it, but I actually stand right in the middle:  I like both peated and unpeated whiskies and can certainly appreciate what peat brings to the table, but I don’t necessarily miss it if it’s not there.  As with wine, it’s all about balance.

Funny label.  Serious scotch.  Big peat!

Funny label. Serious scotch. Big peat!

You have probably suspected given all this talk about peat that peat plays a big role in tonight’s scotch.  You may not have suspected that it makes up most of its name.  Day 5’s whisky is the Douglas Laing blended bottling of Islay Malt Whiskies simply called Big Peat.

Both the name and the label may make you think that this is a gag scotch, but not so fast:  Douglas Laing is a very highly regarded bottler, and Big Peat sources its malts from some of the top distilleries on the island, from Ardbeg and Bowmore to personal go-to Caol Ila and, unbelievably, Port Ellen.  VERY briefly:  Port Ellen is my favourite distillery of all time.  It was closed and bulldozed…in 1983.  You can’t find a bottle of it anywhere for less than $1,500 nowadays, since any PE whisky out there is (1) at least 31 years old and (2) a completely non-renewable resource.  So the fact that any of it is in a malt bottling that costs $76 is mind-boggling.

The picture above doesn’t fully do this justice, but this scotch is so pale it’s almost water-white.  Unsurprisingly, there is peat on the nose — leather, smoke, moss, funk, tennis balls, wet earth, salt, iodine — but happily it’s nowhere close to overpowering.  There’s actually a flash of pure s’mores-style sweetness when you first take a sip that lingers for half a second before being devoured by ash and campfire and kerosene, only to return softly after you swallow.  This stuff rocks, almost certainly my favourite Advent whisky to date.  I’ll never look at a funny label the same way.

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