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 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 whisky-making 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.
Paul John Peated Select Cask
A 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.
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