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2019 marks the 10th anniversary of Douglas Laing’s blended malt ‘Big Peat’. Back in 2009 company chairman Fred Laing, with family links to the island himself, began to imagine a new brand of whisky that would showcase the traditional maritime character of Islay’s most distinctive malts.
That character comes from the island’s peat bogs, long used as a fuel source by the locals. Whether for heating, cooking or malting barley, peat has been cut, dried and burned for centuries. The scarcity of trees on the island makes for little trace of wood in the peat however, instead it consists largely of decaying moss and shrubs, giving it an uniquely medicinal aroma when set ablaze.
Envisioning a hardy fisherman returning home after a long voyage at sea, Fred Laing imagined the man’s satisfaction upon the first sip of a smoky Islay dram and used it as his inspiration to create a blend of malts sourced from across the island. The fisherman soon became Big Peat, a sour-faced Ileach who would feature on the label of the blend.
Such was the success of the Big Peat brand, the company was encouraged to follow it up with an exploration of Scotland’s other whisky regions. First came Scallywag, a blend of Speyside malts, then Timorous Beastie from the Highlands. Rock Oyster featured malts from the islands whilst The Epicurean and The Gauldrons came to represent the Lowlands and Campbeltown respectively.
The range has come to be known as the ‘Remarkable Regional Malts’ and whilst regional characteristics may be less relevant today than in years gone by (if indeed they ever were), the series still offers a convenient snapshot of ‘traditional’ flavour profiles. More importantly, they are drams of exceptionally high quality which are affordably priced and naturally presented without chill-filtering or colouring.
As for Big Peat, there have been various expressions over the years, with limited editions and an annual festive bottling, featuring the title character bedecked in the garb of Father Christmas. To celebrate 10 years of the brand, a new 10 year old expression has been unveiled. Bottled at 46%, it retails at around £65.
*I was given this sample by the fine folks at Douglas Laing. As always, I will strive to remain as impartial as possible in my review.
Smell: Peat, Liquorice, Lemon & Lime, Vanilla, Brine, Sea Salt & Pepper, worn Leather and Tar.
Taste: Cask influence seems fairly subtle, allowing the big spirit character to dominate. A little Toffee and Vanilla then lots of Brine, Liquorice, Medicinal Smoke and Sea Salt with Black Pepper.
Thoughts: Not cheap at £65, especially when compared with the excellent original which comes in around £40. Having said that, the quality is as high as one would expect from Douglas Laing.
An undoubtedly tasty dram but at least from memory alone, it isn’t a whole lot different from the original NAS version. It is only a small niggle, but it feels like the casks haven’t brought a great deal to the party, which makes one wonder if it was really worth selecting 10 year old malts in the first place? Having said that, this latest incarnation of Big Peat offers all the brine and smoke that one has come to expect from the brand and fans are unlikely to be disappointed with their purchase. I would love to see a little cask diversity in future bottlings perhaps but I cannot fault Douglas Laing on the level of consistency they have been able to bring to their Remarkable Regional Malts over the years and it is those high standards that make the range, and in particular Big Peat, worth celebrating.
Happy Birthday Peat, here’s to the next 10 years!
**Douglas Laing will be hosting an online tasting of four Big Peat drams from their Facebook page on Tuesday 28th May. I’ll be taking part and I have to say, I’m thoroughly looking forward to enjoying four varieties of this Islay malt. It will be interesting to see what differences are present in each expression. Will I change my mind about the 10th anniversary bottling being too similar to the original once I’ve tasted them side by side? Expect a follow up review in a few weeks time!
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