The Big Peat Christmas Edition 2013, 54.9%, £46
I’ve never hidden my love for big peaty whiskies. But this year releases that I thought would set my world on fire failed to deliver, and I found that most of the star performers were from the other end of the whisky spectrum. I was falling in love with gorgeous whiskies from bourbon barrels, laced with tropical fruits and vanilla, and reaching for quirky Aberfeldys and Glen Gariochs. Never was the case made more strongly than in the case of blended whisky, where a procession of peated but bland blends failed to turn the lights on.
Then at Whiskyfest New York we were presented with a 1973 Ardbeg and normal service was resumed. On reflection, I’ve decided that my nonchalance towards smoky whiskies this year has been because most of them were ordinary to poor, presented in over-priced and under-aged Travel Retail bottlings where the peat is used to hide rootsy, sappy, immature malt.
You’d need a mortgage to buy the 1973 Ardbeg were it ever to be released, but a few days later I was asked to try the Big Peat Christmas Edition 2013. I not only rediscovered my passion for peat, but realized that getting it doesn’t need to burn holes in my wallet.
The cask strength release of Big Peat for this Christmas is a battering ram of a blended malt whisky, but with plenty of subtlety in the mix, too. Think of a rap star strutting and snapping menacingly for most of his show, but still including a tender and sophisticated ballad in the set. This has honey and billowing smoke, some spice among the peat. Then at the end it reaches a crescendo of oily tar and smoke, a metaphorical finale with all the greatest hits wrapped up in one impressive crescendo. Ace. Big Peat’s well and truly back. —Dominic Roskrow
The next award presented will be the Speyside Single Malt of the Year.