What is the smokiest peatiest scotch whisky?

 Credit: martinak15

Credit: martinak15

Smoke!

Peat!

Phenols!

Once you enjoy a peaty scotch in front of a roaring fire, there are fewer things better. There’s just something about staring at the flicker of the flames and enjoying a dram.

Chances are you’ve had some Ardbeg or Laphroaig or Lagavulin and you’re wondering if there’s more. Ardbeg is generally regarded as the peatiest and, in terms of the standard lineup, it’s definitely up there.

But… there are peatier and smokier scotches. Special editions where the distiller has gone all out.

How do you get smoke into a liquid?

Well, it’s not really smoke (or peat), it’s just what we associate with it. Peatyness is measurable, in phenols, a carbolic acid and aromatic organic compound that makes its way into the barley during the drying process.

It’s measured in parts per million (ppm) and the higher ppm means you have more of these aromatic compounds, which means smokier and peatier. Also remember that the measurement is taken of the barley, not of the resulting whisky.

What is the smokiest, peatiest scotch whisky?

Bruichladdich-Octomore-5-1Fortunately, unlike many things in life, this has a quantitative answer – it’s all in the ppm of phenols, which is measurable.

Who is king? Bruichladdich Octomore.

There are several versions of the Octomore but the latest, 5.1, boasts a whopping 169 ppm (6.2 is peated at 167 ppm) . In addition to smoke, it packs an alcoholic punch too, bottled at 59.5% and in one of the sexiest bottles I’ve ever seen. (something about an all black matte finish)

Bruichladdich is itself an Islay, which is home to some of the peatiest scotch in all the land, but it’s regular lineup is unpeated. It’s only the Port Charlotte and Octomore line that gets the peat.

Port Charlotte is “heavily peated” to 40 ppm, which puts it on par with some of their peaty island-mates.

Speaking of neighbors, how do some of the other peatiest Islays stack up? Octomore is waaaaay up there. Ardbeg told me, via email, that all expressions are peated to 55 ppm with two exceptions, Bladsa has a ppm of 8 and Supernova has a ppm of 100. I emailed Laphroaig and Lagavulin and will report back if they respond.

More to it than Phenols

Phenols aren’t everything though… Other characteristics matter too. Some whiskies will taste peatier and smokier because of how they’re matured.

For example, the tasting notes of the 5.1 talk of scents and flavors more often associated with Speysides – like cinnamon, grapefruit, tangerine, and honeyed lemon. It’s paired with more traditional peaty flavors like peat smoked barley, sea salt, light iodine.

If you sip some Laphroaig, on the other hand, you won’t get much, if any, citrus. It’ll have a hint of sweetness but you’ll mostly get medicinal, iodine, and smoke. It’ll seem peatier and smokier because that’s all you get, even if the phenol counts don’t say so.

A violinist doesn’t play any louder or softer in an orchestra, but he or she would sound louder when playing by themselves.

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
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37 Responses to What is the smokiest peatiest scotch whisky?

  1. K. Michael says:

    Laphroaig (cask strength) and Ardbeg Super Nova are the smokiest Islay’s I have tried.
    For a blended, “Peat Monster” is another peaty one.
    KMW

  2. Tom says:

    Lagavulin is the most peatiest I’ve had to date. it was almost at the limit with the iodine taste it seemed to have. So far I haven’t met a scotch I haven’t liked. Some more than others but none I wouldn’t drink again. I’ve found out I’m partial to the Islay’s vs. Highland brands.

  3. Nancy Gehring says:

    Johnny Walker Double Black. Only poured once out of a bottle I got over a year ago.

  4. Jim says:

    Had a couple of Port Charlotte 10s last night at Jack Rose in DC. Definitely delectable.

    And I’ll second the nomination for The Peat Monster- I’m still surprised by how balanced the taste is considering the forwardness of the peaty aroma.

  5. Alistair says:

    Nice article Jim. Im not a fan of peat, but the peatiest for me was Lagavulin 16. More than just peat though – it is a great scotch.

  6. gary says:

    Johnny walker black, and Macallon 12 are probably the most peaty so far. Prefer something without the smoke..

  7. Daryle says:

    I agree with Alistair, Lagavulin 16 is the peatiest I’ve had as well (received a bottle as a house warming gift…and does it ever warm!). Not the biggest peat fan out there, but I appreciate it when I have it. Depending on the mood I’m in I’ll reach for it without question.

    For those who like “a little” peat, I recently had Bruichladdich ‘THE LADDIE TEN’ 10 Year Old. Was much more subtle with a hint of smoke. Even the girlfriend was impressed. Give it a shot if you’re up for it.

  8. Sean says:

    I do enjoy a lot of peat in my Scotch. I’ve had bottles of both the Bruichladdich PC10 and PC7, and I am kicking myself in the butt for not having bought two or three bottles of the PC7 while they were readily available. The PC10, while nice, is a bit too mellowed out imo, if you’re searching for that peat

  9. Gary says:

    Well I have to change my views of smokey/peat scotch whisky. Went from my safe Balvenie, Glenfiddich,Glenlivet etc and got some Ardbeg. WOW! Tastes like someone put the ashes from a fire right in my mouth, but followed by a sweetness, and other flavors. I still like my old favorites but I am looking to try more of the peat varieties. Maybe a port charlotte, or something with a bit less peat but not too much less. I think I have been converted.

  10. Daren Holliday says:

    I agree with Gary regarding Ardbeg. Currently, that is the ashiest tasting scotch I’ve had. Many years of Jamison, Bushmills etc but once I tried the Ardbeg…whoahhh that was something really good. It took me a few shots over the course of a week to get used to it but now I can really appreciate that different flavor versus the sweetness found in whiskey’s (i.e. Bushmills). I’ve worked on some Laphroaig bottles but so far, that Ardbeg is my preferred. I’m really interested in checking out that Bruichladdich Octomore.

  11. Cory Blankenship says:

    I might be a rookie, but I do like Talisker 10yr. That to me tastes very smokey but without being overbearing. Laphroaig and Lagavulin are fantastic, but my goto has been Talisker for a few years now. After reading this however, I’m off to the store for a bottle of Ardbeg. Thanks for posting this, though.

    • Jim says:

      I’m a fan of Talisker, especially Talisker Storm, and Ardbeg will be a lot more peaty (a LOT more). You haven’t had smokey yet. 🙂

      • Cory Blankenship says:

        I am heading to a bourbon/scotch bar in Cleveland here in an hour or two. If I find my way to a glass filled with campfire remnants, I will make sure to report back. Thanks for the recommendation! :]

    • Paige Collins says:

      Cory – if you like the peppery finish of Talisker, another one I’d recommend trying is Ledaig 10 yr. I like the vanilla creaminess but also enjoy the multitude of aromas the first hit your nose.

  12. Doug Oliver says:

    I stumbled onto Islay Scotch a few years back with a wee dram of Laphroaig 10 and I immediately became a land-owner there with my first bottle. The next was Lagavulin 16. A recent trip to Scotland took me to Islay for a tour and a stop at most of the southern distilleries including Bruichladdich. Now I do love peat and the PC expressions I tried in the tasting room were great. Then they suggested Octomore – it was 6.1 when I was there – I had never heard of it. It was love at first bite. Wow. I picked up a bottle for the collection back in the States and every now and then I treat myself to a trip back to the island with a dram. I love just about everything that comes out of Scotland – favs are Islay Scotchs (all of them), Talisker, Aberlour, Auchentoshan and Glenmorangie are at the top of the list. But for me, you can’t beat peat.

  13. Drew Davidson says:

    Having had every scotch listed in the article I would agree that Octomore($~150) and Lagavulin($~100) are both exelent choices for a great blend of complexity and smoothness. That said, if you are ever able to get your hands on a bottle of Ardbeg Supernova(~$150) buy them all. It’s complexity and richness of flavor go well beyond any other Scotch I have ever tried. If you are looking for a more affordable price point, I would second the shout out that “The Peat Monster” has received. It is a great value at under $50 a bottle.

  14. Jens Roger Kristoffersen says:

    Just back home after 4 days on Islay.
    Treated myself to a grand tour at my own favourite; Laphroaig, which ended with filling my own bottle straight from an 18y cask.
    Managed a quick visit to the rest of the destilleries as well.
    At Bruichladdich we were offered a taste from a single cask of Octomore placed by the reception, which was quoted to be at 250ppm of peat and 63% alc.

  15. Anand says:

    The Octomore is fantastic. The alcohol surprisingly balances the peat giving it a great flavor. I recently ordered a bottle the Octomore Islay Barley, can’t wait to try THAT one!

  16. Euan Dean says:

    I’ve just discovered Caol Ila this weekend…a revelation. Just slightly less peaty than Lagavulen. My new favourite

    • the other Jim says:

      At $111 per 750 ml in the lovely Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I’ll have to rely on your experience! 🙁

    • Hank Freeman says:

      We did a whisky tasting at Old Course hotel last weekend, and Archie (the guy in charge of the tasting and someone with access to every scotch on earth) cited Caol Ila as his absolute favorite. The peat is prominent but under control. I picked up the 12 year for $67 here in Greenwich CT.

    • Tyler H says:

      I second this! Caol Ila has been my fave for many years now.

  17. Nikolai says:

    Just found out there is an even more peaty octomore edition than the ones mentioned above. It has a ppm of 258 🙂

    http://www.vinkyperen.dk/shop/koeb-laekker-islay-whisky-her/bruichladdich-octomore-islay-barley-edition-063-258-ppm-64-70-cl-single-islay-malt/

  18. Allan says:

    Looks like I’m late to the peat party, but, thought I would throw in my two cents, just the same. I prefer Ardbeg, when it comes to peaty malts, the Uigeadail, in particular. To me, the tastiest, however is the Ardbeg 17. Unfortunately they do not make that one anymore. Lucky for me, however, a few months ago, my brother, who works for a major spirit and wine distributor, found three bottles of the 17 lost in his wine cellar for ten years.

    The best bargain peaty scotch, in my opinion, is Black Grouse. It is a blend, but, try it. I believe I taste Ardbeg in that one.

    The next one I try will be The Peat Monster. Incidentally, I don’t believe anyone mentioned this, but, I find a peaty scotch to be the best malt to sip with a fine cigar. On the best of spring evenings, I will be in the spa in my man cave with a scotch in one hand, a cigar in the other and watching a baseball game. I call it hedonism.

  19. Kevin says:

    Ppm refers to the phenolic content of the malted barley, NOT the whisky itself.
    With Bruichladdich having very tall stills and a more conical long wash and spirit still shape octomore does not taste any more peaty than Laphroig Quarter Cask or Cask Strength nor some of the Ardbegs. The distillation process at Bruichladdich reduces the phenols in the spirit. As mentioned above the ABV counterbalances the peat in nose and taste.
    High phenolic taste is best retained in a bowl shaped still with a short neck as in Ardbeg and Laphroig.

  20. Kevin says:

    Your welcome. I find the whisky process from start to finish fascinating. Master Distillers and Master Blenders are worth their weight in gold and the is reflected in the variety of aromas, tastes and finishes in single malts.

    Interesting little aside. Apparently master blenders and master disitillers never travel on the same transport vehicle as their apprentices, so in case of, God forbid, an accident one remains to carry on the tradition and practice.

  21. Tim Cooper says:

    I have been enjoying a bottle of Ardbeg Corryvreckan lately. It’s a peat behemoth and at 57.1% ABV! I highly recommend it.

  22. Geoff Beemer says:

    There has been no discussion of the effect of the source of the peat, not just the amount addded to the barley , on the taste of the whisky. In this regard, I prefer The Isle of Mull to Islay. The Isle of Mull peat, as used in Ledaig 10 year old, seems to impart a much more smoky character, with less of the so called fish-box character associated with Islay peat. Also the peat from Isle of Skye – Talisker and Orkney – Highland Park impart distinctive and different flavour profiles to the whisky compared to Islay.

  23. Char says:

    I’ve done my homework on Peatier Scotches for my husband. I love surprising him with a great Scotch here and there. He loves the harshness of a good smoky peat Scotch – Laphroaig (Quarter Cask) being his go to favorite to date. He’s not a fan of sweet notes, though hints of Vanilla are fine. Heavily smoky, seaweed-led, and salty with a peppery smoke finish are all descriptors he enjoys.

    He actually really enjoyed Peat Smoke a Benromach Speyside scotch whisky, maybe even more then Laphroaig, but they make such small batches I seldom find it in stock.

    The other pleasant surprise I found for him the other day, is Finlaggan (Old Reserve), great price point and he said it tasted quite similar to Laphroaig. It’s mystery Islay single malt from an unnamed distillery, purported by many to be Lagavulin. Just wondering if you have heard anything about it’s origin, or have tried it?

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