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The Rhythm and Booze with Felipe Schrieberg

10 Superb Smoky Whiskies You Should Try

Editor: This article was first published on Forbes on 31/03/2018. Find the original article here
 

 

Felipe Schrieberg

Felipe is an award-winning London-based whisky writer, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He is also a musician and co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo that fuses live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events and multimedia.

Follow Felipe on Twitter, Linkedin or his website.


 

In the whisky world, peated Scotch whiskies are the bad boys. They are big, meaty, and kick your throat all over with smoky strength. The taste will stay in your mouth for a while afterwards.

Their strong flavors have become quite popular. The de-facto world capital of peated whiskies, the Scottish island of Islay, is in the process of scaling up production, with a new wave of distilleries currently in construction. Many other distilleries that previously haven’t produced peated whisky are now releasing new bottles to keep up with market demands.

So in the middle of this new peat craze, let’s start with a quick geeky primer on peat in whisky before moving on to some recommendations.

Peated aromas (created by a group of compounds called phenols) come from the malted barley used for whisky when it is dried using peat smoke. Peat is plant matter (mostly mosses) that has decomposed for thousands of years in an environment with no oxygen.  When peat is burned in a kiln for making whisky, it releases smoke loaded with phenolic compounds that end up in the barley, which eventually becomes the liquid in your glass.

Phenols in whisky are measured by PPM (Phenolic Parts per Million), and it’s the first number any whisky geek wants to know when they drink a smoky whisky, under the assumption that the higher the number means a peatier malt. It’s far from a perfect measurement, however. 99% of the time, this number measures the ‘peat’ level of the barley before it is processed, and many of these smoky phenols are subsequently lost to varying degrees in all stages of whiskymaking and maturation.

So in order for you to learn about these drams, I present the list below not to tell you about the best peated whiskies out there (though all of these are lovely), but because many of these are iconic whiskies that serve as excellent representations of different peated whisky styles. Creating this list is heartbreaking in that I left a few out that arguably should be included, so I also include some ‘honorable mentions’ at the end. From here, it’s up to you to continue the journey into peated whiskies. It’s one of the best you’ll ever take.

 

One of my favorite places and whiskies in the world. PAUL JOSEPH (FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS)

 

Let’s get started, in alphabetical order:

Ardbeg Uigeadail - An Islay whisky that has become a classic. The ‘oogie’, as it’s often called, is a superb mix of ripe fruits and thuggish smoke that is quite unique.

Arran Machrie MoorA whisky from one of the few independent distilleries out there, Arran’s Machrie Moor is a great example of how a very light peating level can complement the rest of the whisky. It’s incredibly malty and doughy, perfect with that light smoky nudge at the end. There’s also a cask strength version of this which is phenomenal, but start with the standard release first.

Bruichladdich Octomore 8.3 - Bruichladdich’s Octomore series consist of some of the peatiest whiskies in the world, and this particular bottle is possibly the peatiest whisky ever released. It’s phenomenally overwhelming in every way. Meat and smoke beat you up, though there’s a gentle citrus element that can be found amidst the chaos. I love it, but it’s not for everyone.

Bunnahabhain Moine OlorosoA limited edition from an Islay distillery that doesn’t normally do smoky whiskies, Bunnahabhain sometimes releases peated experiments, and this is one of them. The Moine (pronounced moi-gne, like lasagne) is 100% matured in sherry casks. Smoky sherry matured whiskies are not too easy to find and it’s why I include it in this list.  I find it to be a gentler version of the Uigeadail, toffee and chocolate cake shine through with a smoke that doesn’t interfere with the sweetness.

Caol Ila 12 The understated refined gentleman of this bunch. Caol Ila’s ‘standard’ whisky is wonderfully balanced on all fronts. Light and springy, with a delightful oily balance. Citrus and smoked sausage. What a classy drink.

GlenDronach PeatedThere’s been a couple distilleries in Speyside (an area with many distilleries not known for smoky whiskies) that have released a few peated releases. This is one of the easier ones to find, and worth trying. It’s honeyed with a hint of raisins and caramel. The smoke is fairly gentle too.

Laphroaig 10Islay distillery Laphroaig is known for absurdly smoky whiskies, and this is possibly the best known drink on this list (Donald Glover orders one in the Atlanta TV series). Laphroaig 10 is medicinal, salty, and heavily peated with a long graceful smoky finish that doesn’t go away for a long time. That’s a good thing.

Lagavulin 16Lagavulin is a rough bully. Meaty, leathery, fruity, rich, and very smoky indeed. There’s nothing like it out there. This is one of my favourite whiskies.

Paul John Peated Select CaskA whisky from India, Paul John is one of my favorite whisky distilleries outside of Scotland. This cask strength whisky is packed full of flavors. Rich tropical fruits, a soft dose of vanilla from bourbon cask maturation, and a delightful punchy smoke reminiscent of beef jerky are all present here.

Honorable mentions: Ardbeg 10, BenRiach 10 Curiositas, Bowmore 15 Darkest, Compass Box Peat Monster, Old Ballantruan, Talisker 10.

 


By Felipe Schrieberg

Felipe is a London-based whisky writer, musician, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He writes for internationally renowned publications such as Forbes, Whisky Magazine and The Whiskey Wash. He has been awarded the Icons of Whisky Communicator of the Year award at Whisky Magazine's 2022 World Whiskies Awards.

He is the co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo fusing live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events, and multimedia. His past projects encompass performances at the Edinburgh Fringe of the band's own show Two Guys, Three Drams which combined live blues with whisky tasting, and building the world's first bass drum made from an entire Scotch whisky cask with a barrel of Lagavulin.

He is also a judge for the World Whiskies Awards and The Independent Bottlers Challenge. Through his online tastings hosted at The Virtual Whisky Masterclass, he has welcomed over 3,000 guests across 250+ tasting events.

His first book, London Cocktails, is now available worldwide. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram @schriebergfr, or at www.felipeschrieberg.com