Curious to try the best peaty whiskies but don't know where to start? We've picked out seven of our favourites that are perfect introductions to smokier single malts.

When eating spiced Indian cuisine it’s often better for newcomers to build up their palate with a few softer dishes before plunging right in to eat the hottest dish they can find.

This rule applies to whisky too, though some people will immediately find peated whisky appealing, it’s more likely that it will take time for them to become accustomed to, and appreciate, this exciting category of whisky.

best peaty whiskies

Peat is cut on the fields and transported before drying. Picture: Shutterstock

The peated whisky spectrum, which sees whisky created using barley that has been peat dried during the malting process, dominated by Islay’s big three – Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg – there are subtler expressions on the market that will give you a taste of the wonderful flavours peated whiskies are noted for without overpowering you.

• READ MORE: 10 of the best sherry cask whiskies for beginners to try

Don’t let tasting notes like medicinal, tar, smokey bacon, burning rubber, bonfires or brine, put you off if you are unaccustomed to such things in your spirits – often these come from whisky writers like us waxing lyrical and giving you only a cursory idea of what you can expect.

best peaty whiskies

Peat is burned in a kiln below the malting floor to dry the malted barley adding serendipitous flavour notes. Picture: Shutterstock

In fact, these flavours will often roll around your tongue alongside others such as fruit, honey, citrus, toffee and vanilla vying for the attention of your taste buds, providing a rewarding drinking experience that will find you teasing out more flavours each time you sip one of these wonderful whiskies.

We feel it is best to pick out some of those whiskies that have a slightly lower PPM (phenol parts per million – kind of like a Scoville Scale for peat instead of heat) and are slightly more approachable for someone starting out on the road to smokiness.

Benromach Peat Smoke

(Distillery: Benromach, Region: Speyside, abv: 43%)

We are going to skip the islands and start with a whisky from the mainland.

The reason for this is simple, we want to offer drams that aren’t your usual peaty favourites – and as such, not all from Islay.

We are big fans of this particular distillery (as you’ll no doubt have seen) and for good reason, they tend to make consistently great whiskies.

The Peat Smoke has a subtly smokey flavour that is more earthy than the iodine notes of Islay whiskies.

Robust and flavoursome; barbecued meats and citrus fruits battle it out for dominance to the background of a deliciously smokey finish.

If you find the nose of this one a little too much then try the 10 year old, which offers only a kiss of peat before graduating on to its more punchy stablemate.

Balvenie Peat Week 14 

(Distillery: Balvenie, Region: Speyside, abv:  46%)

Picture: whisky exchange

Balvenie is better known for its luxuriously sherried single malts or its experimental cash finishing than it is for its peated whiskies so when the distillery team brought out their Peated 17 Year Old in 2010 it was a bit out of left field- but boy was it a cracker.

Thankfully they’ve since followed up with two more peated versions and the Peat Week is our choice over the The Balvenie Peated Triple Cask purely down to the fact that its a little easier to find.

The Speyside distillery now produces peated whisky for one week a year – the so-called ‘Peat Week’, and this little beauty is the result, mixing honey and smoke to great effect.

• READ MORE: 8 common mistakes people make when ordering whisky and how to rectify them

Longrow Peated

(Distillery: Springbank, Region: Campbeltown, abv:  46%)

Picture: Whisky Exchange

Springbank is a distillery that is rightly lauded for its wonderful traditional whisky, and Longrow, their peated expression, is a truly exceptional dram.

With notes of charred marshmallows and sweet fruits, it’s delightfully moreish.

Slightly meatier than the Benromach, this will give more of a hint at what you can expect from the smokier end of the spectrum.

And should you be lucky enough to find a bottle of Longrow Red, the annual cask release, then grab at with both hands as its an even more wonderful version of this already delightful dram.

Tomatin CuBocan

(Distillery: Tomatin, Region: Highlands, abv: 46%)

Picture: Whisky Exchange

Named after a mythical hellhound that has allegedly stalked the residents of the village of Tomatin for centuries, Cù Bòcan is a very different animal from the other whiskies on this list.

Lightly smokey and very creamy (imagine eating an ice cream cone at a bonfire) Tomatin’s peated expression is matured in a mixture of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and virgin oak casks to give it a subtle richness.

• READ MORE: The 8 biggest misconceptions about Scotch whisky

Tomintoul with a Peaty Tang 

(Distillery: Tomintoul, Region: Speyside, abv: 40%)

Picture: whisky exchange

This lesser known Speyside distillery is creating some exciting whiskies and this Tomintoul combines floral sweetness with a lighter smoke to great effect.

Great value, it sits at the lighter end of the peat spectrum and is one of the best whiskies to start you on your journey to becoming a fully fledged peat-head.

Ardmore Port Wood Finish 

(Distillery: Ardmore, Region: Highlands, abv: 46%)

A new addition to this underrated distillery’s range, the Ardmore Port Wood sees their peated spirit matured in American white oak bourbon barrels and European half port pipes, creating a wonderful balance of dry fruits and smokey charcoal notes.

Bowmore 15

(Distillery: Bowmore, Region: Islay, abv: 43%)

Picture: The Whisky Exchange

OK, so we had to include at least one Islay in this list and though we’d normally go for an expression from the Kilchoman, the Bowmore 15 is hard to ignore.

Matured in an combination of both bourbon and sherry casks, the final three years of this whisky’s cask life are spent in an Oloroso sherry wood giving it an intriguing mix of toffee, fruit and peat that will have you coming back to tease out different flavours each and every time.

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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