Blended from whisky distilled at Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen, this Scotch earned a score of 96 points from the Whisky Bible.
The southernmost of the Inner Hebridean Scottish Isles, the island of Islay (pronounced EYE-lah) is just 240 square miles and home to barely more than 3,400 people. Still, the island is one of just five distilling regions in Scotland whose identity is protected by law.
Islay's unique climate and geography impart signature characteristics to Scotch distilled and matured on the island. Despite its small size, the island boasts 130 miles of coastline, and the warm Gulf Stream from the Atlantic Ocean provides for cool winters and mild summers. In addition, the island is largely composed of peat, a phenolic compound that emits smoky aromas when burned. The salty winds and peat bogs of Islay result in Scotch that has a signature salinity and is balanced by a touch of smoke.
The Big Peat Small Batch Islay Scotch Whisky is a vatting (or blending) of single malt whiskies that hail exclusively from the island of Islay. Produced by Douglas Laing — one of the most prominent independent bottlers in Scotland — each small-batch of The Big Peat is a blend of whiskies distilled at Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen Distilleries (together with a couple of whiskies from other distilleries that remain classified).
, which is situated on the southern coast of Islay, was founded in 1815 by the MacDougall family. By 1886, nearly one-third of the population of Islay worked at the distillery. Today, Ardberg sources its peated malt from Port Ellen and distills one of the peatiest whiskies in the world.
Founded in 1779 by John Simpson, Bowmore Distillery
has stood on the shores of Loch Indaal — a sea loch that opens out into the Atlantic Ocean — for over two centuries. The distillery remains one of a handful of distilleries in Scotland that continues to malt and peat its own barley. Bowmore Distillery draws its water from Laggan River, which flows through peat bogs on its way to the distillery and provides a unique, mineral flavor to the whisky. In addition, the distillery's location on Loch Indaal contributes not only to the whisky's salinity, but also to its smoothness and complexity.
Caol Ila Distillery (which is Gaelic for "Sound of Islay") is situated overlooking the strait between Islay and Jura, another island situated in the Inner Hebrides archipelago. Founded in 1846 by Hector Henderson, the distillery produces whiskies that are noted for their pale colors and signature, peaty yet floral aromas.
Just a few miles west of Ardbeg Distillery, Port Ellen Distillery was founded in 1825 by Alexander Ker Mackay. The distillery is believed to have been the first to incorporate Septimus Fox's spirit safe design into its distillation process, and was one of the first distilleries to trade directly with the United States. Following World War I and the introduction of Prohibition in the United States, however, the distillery was forced to close its doors. In 1966, the distillery was rebuilt and began operating with four new stills heated by a mechanical coal stoker system. In the slump of 1983, the distillery was closed again, and remains closed to this day. The whisky made in the 17 years between its reopening and final closure, however, has acquired a reputation as some of the finest to have been made on Islay at the time.
As a result of the blend of these whiskies, The Big Peat has an array of flavors that are unique to Islay. It has a salty aroma with a touch of smoke, and notes of oily peat on the tongue. The flavors give way to hints of caramel and vanilla, and the finish is smooth, with notes of spices and cinnamon.
The Big Peat earned a score of 96 points from Jim Murray's Whisky Bible
and was recommended in Ian Buxton's 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die
. In addition, it earned a score of 96 points from the Ultimate Spirits Challenge in 2014, which named it the "Best Blended Malt Scotch Whisky" in the world.
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92 (46% ABV)
Douglas Laing & Co. Bottler
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Salty aroma with a touch of smoke. Initial notes of oily peat give way to flavors of caramel and vanilla. Finish is smooth and complex, with hints of spices and cinnamon.