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Amber Lights: Discovering a whole host of new and peaty Scottish whiskies

Master blender for Benriach distillery, Rachel Barrie, says the new Smoke Season is their smokiest whisky yet.
Master blender for Benriach distillery, Rachel Barrie, says the new Smoke Season is their smokiest whisky yet.

Whisky columnist Brian Townsend takes a look at some of the peatiest expressions to hit the shelves.

The whisky industry’s growing fascination for peat seems to be heading only one way -up. What for decades was seen as the sole domain of Islay and some other island whiskies is now increasingly mainstream. Ever more distilleries are producing peaty variants of their single malts and marketing them either as a separate line or, occasionally, as a mix with their non-peated malts.

The fact is whisky drinkers in certain countries, Germany for one, are great fans of peated malts – Islays sell like hot cakes – which has helped to spur the re-discovery of peat throughout the industry. In Victorian times, countless Scots distilleries peat-dried their malt as the only fuel available.

Benriach Smoke Season.

Yet peated malts remain a closed book in other countries. One French whisky stockist told me a customer returned his first bottle of Bowmore after one sip to complain it was “corked” or otherwise tainted. The whisky was perfectly OK, but the customer couldn’t thole the flavour.

Amber Lights recently covered two new peated expressions from Benriach Distillery near Elgin, bottled at 10 and 12 years. Benriach has now brought out yet another, called Smoke Season, which head blender Rachel Barrie claims to be its most smokey and peaty malt to date.

It is a no-age statement, small-batch, double-cask matured malt, bottled at 52.8% abv and with an RRP of £53. Matured in ex-bourbon and first-fill American virgin oak casks, the peatiness has developed with no wine or sherry flavours, producing an intensity to kittle palates that venerate peaty malts as the nectar of the gods.

I found it intensely drinkable, with its peaty finish lingering for ages – a great successor to their Smokey 10-Year and Smokey 12-Year malts. Bring on the next Benriach…

Glen Moray Sauternes.

I recently praised the Glen Moray matured in casks from Chateau d’Yquem, the most famous of Sauternes. As an encore, Glen Moray has launched 1,244 bottles of 2005 malt matured in five ex-casks of Tokai (or Tokaji), Hungary’s historic dessert wine.

The result is an astounding, almost liqueur-like malt with hints of everything from toffee to marzipan. Cask strength (56.3%), un-chillfiltered and natural colour, its RRP is £75.


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