The clocks have turned back, the nights are fast approaching and the leaves are falling. It is the season of the great daring flavors of smoked whiskey. They are the perfect accompaniment to your Bonfire celebrations and cold nights beyond. Whether it’s a traditional Scotch or something a little more quirky, here are 10 smoked whiskeys that will help you during the cold months to come.
Ailsa Bay is a Scotch whiskey, but with a difference. It is produced in the Lowlands, which are traditionally known for their light, delicate, smokeless whiskeys. This single malt is just the opposite and offers a style of pepper, flint and charcoal smoke along with the sweetness of toffee and vanilla. It also undergoes a single micro-maturation in super small barrels during its first nine months, before being transferred to bourbon barrels. Intriguing and unorthodox.
Ardbeg ‘Wee Beastie’
The Scottish Isle of Islay is the traditional home of smoked whiskey and as a result has nine distilleries. Of these, most use malted barley with peat smoke to make their spirit and Ardbeg has created a bit of a cult among Scottish peat drinkers.
Wee Beastie is a recent addition to the range and is shameless, young, cheeky and a fighter. The hot, ashy peat smoke comes to the fore with this wonderfully expressive whiskey. Not for the faint of heart.
All smoked whiskey must be from Scotland, right? And do you use peat to create smoky flavors? Mal. This offer of American artisanal distiller Balcones throws the regulation and breaks it at the same time. Brimstone is made from corn and sees the spirit smoked after distillation, rather than the initial cereal.
The process is a kept secret from the distillery and local Texas oak is used to create barbecue-like smoke. Definitely one for adventurers.
Benriach “The Twelve Smoky”
There are not many smoked whiskeys in the Speyside region in Scotland. However, the innovative Benriach distillery has been producing it for a short period each year since the early 1970s. This was long before the current trend that many similar distilleries follow.
The Smoky Twelve features a perfect pairing of ex-bourbon, sherry and Marsala wine barrels. The imparted flavors excellently complement the soft, sweet notes of Highland peat.
‘Island Smoke’ black bottle
There are a number of blended smoked Scotch whiskeys included famous whiskey producers such as Johnnie Walker Black Label and White Horse, but the classic old Black Bottle mix seems to always go under the radar. This new expression, which is part of the brand’s Alchemy series, explores the aromas and flavors of Scotland’s coasts and islands.
By extracting whiskeys from these places, they have created a wonderful marriage of sea spray, seaweed and notes of earthy peat. Excellent and underrated.
There are very few smoked and peat Irish whiskeys, which is surprising given the popularity of Irish whiskey and the abundance of peat on Emerald Isle. A number of artisanal products are beginning to appear, but Connemara, made at the Cooley distillery near the border with Northern Ireland, has long been working a lone groove in the category. Expect notes of moist moss, campfire smoke and kippers along with bittersweet cereal, honey and vanilla. Delicious.
Lagavulin 16 years
This is one of the classic smoked single malts in the world and considered by many to be the benchmark for an Islay whiskey. Lagavulin has a long history of offering the power of peat smoke in popular Scottish blends, but distillery whiskeys are highly esteemed in their own right. They are not much better than this fabulous 16 year old expression. A multi-layered malt that exudes class and is full of earthy, spicy and ashy flavors that take you straight to Islay.
Simply put, it doesn’t get more turbid and smoky than Octomore. Often labeled “the most peaty whiskey in the world,” it raises peat levels like never before. Produced in Islay at the Bruichladdich distillery and named after a local farm, it will certainly leave an impression. Always bottled young and with great strength to give the maximum impact smoked, this whiskey is powerful and expressive. A must for peat fans and collectors.
The latest edition is the 12.3 that explores for the first time in history the barley grown in Islay and the land of the cultivated grain of the distiller combined with the ripening of sherry. While previous editions, the 12.1 acts as the basis or control of the experimental range and the 12.2 offers an alternative maturation to its 12.1 counterpart, this time in a sublimely balanced ex-Sauternes barrel profile. Is the choice yours, or buy all three?
Paul John ‘Peated Select Cask’
Now, the real curved ball on our list: a smoked whiskey from India. This single malt is produced by John Distillery in the southern region of Goa, but where do they get the peat to smoke barley? After all, there is no peat in India. The simple answer is that they import it from Scotland. The result is a delicious juxtaposition of the sweetness and richness of the tropical climate with the medicinal, herbaceous and earthy notes of a Scottish peat. Fabulous and exotic.
Smokehead ‘Rum Rebel’
The name reveals it: Smokehead is a smoky experience that offers a blow of peat and pepper. Hailing from an unnamed Islay distillery, this unique malt brand is pushing the boundaries of the smoked category with some innovative products and the use of less traditional barrel types. One such example is the exquisite Rum Rebel, which has seen a period of finishing in Caribbean rum barrels. A funky brand with fun and amazing graphics and packaging. One to look at.