Big Peat (or, what you’d get if you mixed Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila & Port Ellen in a really smart way)

A vatting of Islay region whiskies – 46%ABV – $80 – $100 | £30 | €35

Continuing my week of vatted/blended whiskies, I move onto “Big Peat”.

Not sure about what it’s like where you are but, it’s getting colder around here (Connecticut, USA).  Especially at night.  I’m seeing temps at 40 – 55deg fahrenheit (about 4.5 – 13deg celsius).  To me, based on my patent pending Mood-And-Season-O-Meter™, this means peat season!

I love a good smokey Islay malt in the fall & winter time (heck, I’ll take a heavy/smokey Campbeltown or a peated Highland malt too).  Mood will affect what you reach for in a whisky and season will affect your mood.  It’s the triple “S” effect.  No, not Shit, Shower & Shave.  Stupid, simple science.  Light & fruity whiskies (and wines) for the warmer months, heavy (and/or peaty for whiskies) and big for the cooler months.  Stupid, simple science.

I’ve been hearing a whole heck of a lot about the cost of this whisky accompanied with complaints of: “why so much for a… blend?”  Many folks see that this is, and is labeled as, a blended whisky so they wont break out their wallets for it because of the higher cost (especially in America).

Statements such as these make me break out my soap box so I can scream to the world “MORE THAN 90% OF SINGLE MALTS ARE BLENDS PEOPLE!!!”

Yes, it’s true.  That Glenfiddich 12, Highland Park 18 or Caol Ila 18 you love so much is a blend of many different barrels which could (and do) contain whiskies that are, 12, 15, 18, 25 years, etc… to create a flavor profile that the distilleries are comfortable labeling as their 12, 15 or 18 year old product.  Single Malt simply means that the whiskies were malted at the same single distillery.  The age statement tells you what the youngest whisky is that blend, I mean, single malt.

Update: In years past, if you mixed different malt whiskies from different distilleries it was OK to call it a “vatted malt”; if you mixed malt whisky with grain whisky it was then called a “blend”. Even though this is a vatting of four different single malt whiskies, the SWA has deemed that a mixture of whiskies from two or more distilleries (be it malt or grain) is now to be called a “blend”.  While I’m not sure I agree with this move, thems the breaks when it comes to labeling Scotch whisky!

OK, off of my soap box.  Let me review this fluid to see if  it’s worth its weight in whisky:

On the nose Well, there is big peat in here for sure!   A nice peat blast upon initial whiff.

Very briny and a blast of lemon zest.

Do I detect a bit of sherry influence here (mere hints of dried fruits)?

Well used canvas sneakers (rubber, canvas and salty perspiration).

A little flinty (maybe the Port Ellen rearing it’s head).

The smoke is a dirty one.

On the mouth It’s all about the mouthfeel here folks.

Lush, chewy and coating.  Yum!

Stewed root veggies.  Salty, salty, salty.

Less of a smoke attack on the mouth here.

Teas galore: Chamomile, Sencha, Black Oolong and Rooibos – it’s all there and a bit over steeped.

Finish Sweet carrots and singed tea leaves, all in the back of the mouth.

In sum Tough to tell which whisky is strongest here.  The Ardbegian lemons are out there for sure but so is the flintiness of Port Ellen and the mouth feel of many Bowmores I’ve have.  I’d be happy to enjoy this on a hot summer’s day.  Seriously.  It’s bright and refreshing (even with all of that peat smoke) like a nice Caol Ila.  Kudos to the people who made this blend.  Well done.  Take a bow (more)!  Impressive.

8 thoughts on “Big Peat (or, what you’d get if you mixed Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila & Port Ellen in a really smart way)”

  1. Great post! As a big Caol Ila fan, it sounds like I need to try this!As for people expecting blends to cost less than single malts, I don’t know that pointing out the “blending” process often involved in making single malts (except for single cask releases) really cuts to the point. I think when people talk about “blends” with a negative connotation or lowered expectation, they’re referring to the fact that blended scotch whisky usually contains a high proportion of “other” grains distilled in column stills.There are a few pure “grain” scotch whiskies that get scored well, but it seems like they’re usually pretty mature whiskies (20-40 years old?). Younger grain whiskies just don’t seem to float as many people’s boats as single malts.Let’s face it, the idea of a “premium” blend is still a pretty fringe concept. Granted, Johnny Walker did a hell of a job marketing Blue Label. I’m not surprised expressions like Big Peat would have a little bit of an uphill battle with people that don’t read whisky blogs and buy whisky “bibles” and such. :-)Cheers,Jeff

  2. Cheers Jeff, thanks. Fantastic input! I think just the simple word “blend” can scare the single malt drinkers (from a pricing standpoint). And I think that negativity does originally stem from what you’ve suggested and the word “blend” itself is going to have an uphill battle against the mindset of many consumers. It’s like trying to convince people that GM actually can make good cars (despite the bailouts and crap cars from the 80’s & 90’s).

  3. OK. $100 can buy some good bottles. I like big flavors but for about $45 I can get Smokehead to satisfy my big tastebuds.

  4. “That Glenfiddich 12, Highland Park 18 or Caol Ila 18 you love so much is a blend of many different barrels which could (and do) contain whiskies that are, 12, 15, 18, 25 years, etc… to create a flavor profile that the distilleries are comfortable labeling as their 12, 15 or 18 year old product. ”

    It’s a bit unclear what you’re saying here, but in case you’re saying that an “18 year old” bottling contains some 12 year old whiskies, you’re dead wrong.  By law the age statement cannot be higher than the age of the youngest component whisky.

  5. Hello there, Lindsay!

    Sorry if I confused you.  Of course an 18y0 whisky would never have 12yo mixed it.  My point was that a 12yo could have 18yo juice (and older) in it and that your standard 12yo single malt is a blend of many different casks/barrels to create a flavor profile.  The youngest whisky always wins when it comes to age statements.

  6. Hi Joshua,

    I enjoyed reading your tasting notes on Big Peat – only discovered them now. 

    With regard to the SWA and their classification of Blends and Malts, they tried to clear up the mess a company created when changing one of their  Single Malt Whiskies into a Pure Malt (which at the time could be used both for Single Malts as well as Vatted Malts (Malt Whiskies from different distilleries)). 

    Now you can have 
    – Blended Whisky (mix of several Single Malts and Single Grains)
    – Single Malt (from one distillery, can be a mix of casks from that same distillery) 
    – Single Grain (Grain Whisky from one distillery – a bit confusing because actually, it is a mix of different cereals) 
    – “Blended Malt” (the Whisky formerly known as Vatted Malt) 
    – “Blended Grain” (if single grain is rare, blended grain would generally only been traded within the Whisky industry for blending purposes later on)

    But indeed, when you talk about Blended Malt, a lot of people already stop listening when they hear the word Blend.

    Regarding cost, it depends on the content. Some blends can be really expensive because they are made with old and rare Whiskies. There are some interesting Single Grain Whiskies, but they need time in the cask, ideally 30 to 40 years, and it is the wood that will give the (almost neutral) Grain spirit it’s character. We bottle them in our Clan Denny range, unfortunately we don’t have many of them in the USA… maybe in the future.

    Anyway, thanks for the review.

    Jan

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