Some people try a peated scotch for the first time and fall in love with it. For most of us, myself included, peat is an acquired taste… or just not liked at all.
About a year and a half ago, I did a comparison between Laphroaig vs Ardbeg which was some of the first heavily peated Islay scotch I ever drank. I didn’t like either of them at all, and the Islay fanboys let me have it in the comments. It was all together too much smoke and brine and peat for someone who’d never really experienced peaty scotch.
At the time, I wanted to like peated scotch. I wanted someone to give me a recommendation that had peat but wasn’t too aggressive. Well, today, I’m here to recommend Talisker 10 Year for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation.
- Spirit: Peated Single Malt Scotch
- Owned By: Diageo
- Distilled By: Talisker Distillery
- Aged: 10 Years, ex-bourbon casks
- ABV: 45.8%, 91.6 Proof
- Mashbill: 100% peated malted barley
- Price: $70
I’ve gone over the basics of Scotch whisky numerous times, so if you want to learn more check out my article on the Different Types of Whiskey.
Today, we’re going to focus more on peat.
What is Peat?
The definition of peat is “an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter”. It’s typically found in waterlogged areas of the earth such as bogs.
It’s essentially the earth and soil in wetlands.
Significance of Peat
I can’t tell you much about the science behind peat, or what separates a bog from a marsh or swamp. So let’s just talk about how peat is used in regards to whisky.
Peat is directly related to the process of malting barley. In order to make malted barley, you allow raw barley to germinate. Once it reaches a certain point of germination, you stop the process by heating the barley up.
Well, instead of heating up the barley in an oven or over a fire, the barley is heated up by lighting fire to peat. The smoke from the peat soaks into the barley adding smoky, mossy, peaty flavors.
Scotland gets cold, windy, harsh weather, so back in the day wood was hard to come by, especially by the coast. They had an abundance of peat bogs, so Scots used peat as a source of heat. While peat isn’t needed today to heat up Scotland, it was a primary source for them and became a staple in the whisky making process.
How Much Peat is in Talisker (PPM)
Peat is measured by phenol parts per million, or PPM.
- Bruichladdich Octomore 8.3: 309.1 PPM
- Ardbeg Hypernova: 170 PPM
- Ardbeg 10: 55 PPM
- Laphroaig 10: 40 PPM
- Coal Ila 12: 35 PPM
- Lagavulin 16: 35 PPM
- Bowmore 15: 25-30 PPM
- Talisker 10: 18-22 PPM
- Highland Park 12: ~20 PPM
- Balvenie: 7 PPM
- Glenlivet: <2PPM
It’s important to note that two whiskeys may have similar levels of peat, yet display different peat characters. For example, Highland Park 12 and Talisker 10 have similar PPM levels of peat, yet Talisker tends to be a bit smokier and saltier than Highland Park 12.
It’s also important to note the location of a distillery. A large portion of peated scotch comes from Islay, which is a coastal region. Highland Park comes from the Speyside region of the Highlands, so it’s quite inland. Talisker is from the Isle of Skye, an island on the coast west coast of the Highland region.
Coastal distilleries are much more likely to have a brine/salty component to the peat due to aging the whiskey right by the sea.
Alright, we’ve covered most of the basics. Let’s talk about what makes this peated scotch whisky so good.
Nose: The smoke, brine, and peat is all there, but it’s not the only thing and it’s not overpowering. There’s bright fruits and smoked peppers, salt water/banana taffy.
Palate: There’s more smoke on the palate and less of the brine than anticipated. Banana, honey, and a slight sizzling pepper. More of the fruits show up at the back end of the palate – pear and cooked pineapple.
Finish: As the smoke dissipates, more brine and ocean water show up with banana and fruits. The smoke manages to stick around the longest as it lingers very lightly.
This, to me, is how peated scotch is supposed to be. Of course there is no way a whiskey is “supposed to be”, but in my mind this is the base starting point of a fantastic peated single malt. You have the smoke from the peat, you have the saltiness from being aged 10+ years on the coast, but there’s so much more to it.
Rich fruits like pear, pineapple, and banana show up with pepper and honey. In my experience with Laphroaig and Ardbeg – at least their standard 10 year offerings – smoke and brine were aggressively dominating the profile.
If you’re just starting your peat journey or if you’ve tried peated scotch like Ardbeg or Laphroaig and didn’t like it, I can’t recommend trying Talisker 10 enough.
You can get some light peat and smoke from Johnnie Walker or Highland Park, but if you want something just a little more, Talisker 10 is the way to go!
Talisker 10 Review Summary
Talisker may not hail from Islay, but it has every bit of the peat smoke and brine that’s associated with Islay scotch – it just doesn’t overdue the peat and brine.
I may not have the most experience with peated scotch, but Talisker – as of right now – is my favorite, and it will be my first and loudest recommendation for those looking for a good peated scotch!
I know it comes in at a steep $70, but anyone looking to truly explore the world of Scotch better come ready to spend some money.