Big Peat 12-year-old

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Mòine (peat)

Peat was once a vital lifeline for the rural Highland and Island communities of Scotland. Particularly in areas devoid of trees and wood, it was an essential fuel used for all kinds of daily activities. The distinctive reek of Islay whisky wasn’t a deliberate choice. It was a happy accident created by drying moist barley over a peat fire.

Cutting the peat was part of every day life but it was also a serious undertaking, often involving whole communities. Every family would have peat to cut and everyone helped. It wasn’t uncommon for children to be kept home from school in order to pitch in. The work would begin in the morning and last most of the day with the women of the village preparing a meal right there on the moss to feed the workers. A huge fire would be lit and all present would congregate to eat together and restore their strength. Sometimes people would take their pipes and fiddles and the music and laughter would carry for miles across the moor.

Sadly, however, the old ways are dying and there aren’t many left who know how to properly cut peat today. Oftentimes it is extracted by vast, ugly machines that tear up the landscape and leave it leaking carbon into the atmosphere. It’s another reminder that modernism isn’t always a good thing. Sure it’s great to have all our appliances and our central heating and our ten different subscription TV applications but I think more and more of us find ourselves yearning after a simpler life. There’s a part of us that would happily swap some of the luxuries of our comfortable, yet increasingly isolated lifestyles for a return to the days of community and togetherness. The days of gathering round the fire and swapping stories and songs and maybe even a dram or two. It sounds appealing doesn’t it?

The Whisky

Big Peat is Douglas Laing’s Islay blended malt. It combines different single malts from the island’s various distilleries, including Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and even Port Ellen. The brand was launched in 2009 by Fred Laing, who sought to showcase the traditional maritime character of Islay’s distinctive whiskies. Though traditionally a no-age-statement bottling, Douglas Laing have recently expanded the range by introducing a permanent age stated edition. As a result, Big Peat now has a 12-year-old expression, bottled at 46% and retailing around £55.

Smell: Malty. Cereals. Vanilla buttercream. Fresh sea breeze. Lemon juice. Fresh green apples. Pear. Touch of lime. Lemon-scented air freshener. Brine. Seashells. Seaweed. Peat smoke. Ash. Charcoal.

Taste: Orange. Peach. Citrus. Lemon. Honey and agave syrup. The smoke arrives midway and slowly builds in intensity. Caramel. Butterscotch. Sea salt and brine. Fresh oak. Dry ash and oak with pepper and smoke on the finish.

Thoughts: I often find Big Peat to be more coastal and salty than it is peaty. The Islay DNA is there but it’s not as bold as the name suggests. At 12-years-old, the peaty intensity has become a little more subdued. It makes its presence felt but it’s subtle and doesn’t overpower. Like any good blend, this is all about balance. The peppery peat does become more potent towards the end but it takes its time. I suppose Patient Peat doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though. Nevertheless, a dram of the usual quality we’ve come to expect from Douglas Laing.

Value for money: It’s full of character, it’s got a decent age statement and it’s bottled un-chill-filtered at 46%. Don’t be put off by the “B” word. This is a fine dram at a decent price.

If the whisky featured in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt


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For more on Douglas Laing and Big Peat visit the website


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