The weather is turning colder; there is a slight chill in the morning air. Winter is coming. While that may be upsetting to some, to a well-rounded whiskey drinker, it means it’s time to shift to the more hearty styles of whiskey. We may disagree on what the perfect winter whiskey is, but for many, this is the time of year to reach for a smoky, salty, earthy dram; and that means a peated scotch. While Islay certainly features here, it’s not the only place that produces the Top 10 Peated Whiskeys as rated by the Abov community.
Do you reach for a peated whiskey when winter rolls around, or do you have another go-to cold weather dram? What’s your personal favorite peat monster? Drop a whiskey that you are seeking out for this coming winter season in the comments below and be sure to leave your full tasting review in the Abov App!
Kicking off the list is one of the ‘names’ in peated whiskey, Laphroaig, and their no age statement Lore. This one features a lot of the medicinal and iodine smoke prevalent in the Quarter Cask and many other Laphroaig expressions that we’ll see on this list and elsewhere.
The Lore is also sherry aged, rounding it out with dark fruit flavors, elevating this whiskey to another sweet and smoky blend.
Ardbeg, another peaty mainstay, makes its appearance on the list for the first time (but not the last!) for its beloved Corryvreckan. Named for the swirling whirlpool in the Gulf of Corryvreckan, this whiskey perfectly befits its name.
Strong, both in alcohol content and flavor, there is a lot going on in this one. Very complex smoke, European Oak spice, and herbaceous fruits combine together into pure Ardbeg gold.
For being a regularly accessible bottle, this is one that even more seasoned peatheads enjoy and recommend.
8. Port Askaig 15 Year Old Sherry Cask
Our first, but not last, sherry aged entry on this list of the best peated whiskeys is from Port Askaig. Well matured, at 15 years of aging, this gives a lot of time to extract the sherry flavors into the whiskey.
Although highly rated, then consensus flavor notes from the Abov App is relatively straight forward: Sherry, citrus, and smoke.
Simple, yet well executed to perfection.
7. Talisker Dark Storm
Leaving Islay for the Islands region of Scotland, Talisker brings more of that sea salty, maritime character to it’s peated scotches, and Dark Storm is no exception. Another unique example of the wide range of flavors that can resulted even within a peated scotch.
What’s notable about this expression is the added notes of cinnamon spice and pepper, due in part from the use of European Oak in the aging process.
6. Bruichladdich Octomore Edition 12.2
For some fans of peated single malts, balance is not what you are looking for. Bruichladdich distillery understands this better than most, and has constantly been pushing the envelope of what is an acceptable amount of peated flavor with it’s Octomore line.
Peat is measured in phenol ppm, or parts per million. While most peated scotches land somewhere in the 20-60 ppm range, the Octomore 12.2 lands at a blistering 129.7 ppm. And yet, because of the Sauternes wine cask finish, this dram is expertly crafted to not taste just like an ash tray!
5. Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10 Year Old
A list of the Top 10 Best Peated Whiskeys would certainly feel incomplete without a few drams from Islay’s Bruichladdich Distillery. This one, from their Port Charlotte line, exemplifies the sweet and smoky style that many peat afficionados have come to love.
Described by users as more of a creamy, smooth, campfire coal type of smoke, this lends itself well to the deep stone fruit sweetness coming from the complementary red wine finish.
Despite many of these distilleries having mastered their peating craft over hundreds of years, there is always room for experimentation and trying something a little different. Substituting the larger, ex-bourbon barrels for a smaller “quarter cask”, the thought is more contact with the wood can speed up the aging and enhance the oak flavors.
Laphroaig must be doing something right with this bottling, as according to Abov users, this is the perfect blend of bbq meaty char, medicinal/iodine smoke, and brown sugary oak tannins.
3. Caol Ila 25 Year Old
Caol Ila is one of the more pervasive distilleries (we have over 1,300 unique bottles categorized in the Abov App) from Islay, as their casks are very popular with many independent bottlers.
The oldest whiskey on the list, the extra aging mellows out the flavor, rounding off the harshness of the alcohol and the peat. Another well balanced bottle, it is much less peat forward than many on this list, and presents another unique perspective on the use of smoke.
When it comes to peated scotch, you almost can’t go wrong with any bottle from Ardbeg. A staple from the Islay distillery, the Uigeadail expression hits on more of the tarry, ashy notes of the smoke flavor, but rounds that out with more fruity and caramel flavors.
Ardbeg Uigeadail is a no age statement scotch, so unclear on exactly how long it has been aged in sherry and bourbon barrels before getting bottled, but that does not diminish the quality of this dram by any means.
While peatheads may argue which distillery produces the best peated whiskeys all day long, there is no denying that Lagavulin is consistently up there with the greats. Lagavulin 16 Year Old is the well aged yet accessible standard of the Lagavulin line.
The key word that comes to mind with this one is “balanced”. Strong peat and smoke flavors, but tempered with rich floral, malty, and oak flavors.
Peat is one of the more polarizing aspects in whiskey, debated almost as much as the spelling of the word itself. Some of you love it, and others probably avoid it like the plague… (too soon?) Either way, it is certainly a unique set of flavor profiles that makes the broader whiskey world more interesting.
Will you be cracking one of these bottles open by a roaring fire in freezing weather? Are there other peated drams that you think should be on this list? Leave a comment!