The original Scallywag, DLaing’s Big Peat is a high quality blend of Islay single malts (Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen according to the labels - presumably not too much of the latter but you can really taste the Ardbeg!).
Like other high quality blends the producer buys casks from distilleries of a specific age and type but the contents can be variable. In a large blend individual casks don’t make much difference, but in a relatively small batched whisky such as this, its feasible that the contents will change depending on the batch (the vatting) so Big Peat ordinaire might be different depending on the month.
As well as Big Peat “classic”, they also have a “special edition” which is higher strength, a bit more robust and a bit sweeter (and only available through their website), and a yearly christmas edition, which is simply another vatting that I guess they allow themselves a bit of change with (and its cask strength). I’ve secured a few for a quick vertical:
Big Peat, batch 50, 46% A
Nose – Ripe, peaty petrol, underneath there’s pear, plastic book protectors, a hint of cherry and the Ardbeg coal tar.
Body – Smooth but spicy, big wack of peat, loads of floral smoke.
Finish – medium/long finish, bitter structure, well balanced but robust. At the very end the balance falls apart a bit with nothing left to counter the bitter wood.
What's not good about it: Bitter wood at the end.
What’s good about it: Robust, structured, nose and palate both work well.
Big Peat, special edition, 50% A+
Nose – Much sweeter, a waxed tropical note hits immediately, followed by the more woody, ashy smoke. More orchard fruit; green apple and pear, and a little wet cardboard. A sweeter, more elegant nose.
Body – Sweet, fresh arrival. Then colossal spice and peat.
Finish – Long, spicy finish with refreshers fizzing at the side of the tongue for some time.
What's not good about it: Lack of finesse (given the other attributes – its more elegant than the others)
What’s good about it: Sweet and balanced, bitterness is better integrated. Robust, structured.
Big Peat Christmas Edition 2011, 57.8% B
Thanks to Steve Prentice for the sample here, although as he will admit the bottle and the liquid are old and long opened so this might not be the best representation.
Nose – Light, fresh, delicately floral, sweet, not much peat. A little swimming pool.
Body – Massively spicy arrival, sweet fruit, raw wood bitterness approaches…
Finish – Everything but the bitter wood washes away.
Big Peat Christmas Edition 2013, 54.9% A
Nose – Immediately more winey, coastal – a sourer edge and less peat. Underneath some tropical fruit is lurking, and some sweet, plastic peat.
Body – Richness, expensive peat, balanced sweetness, then the explosion of spice and wooded peat.
Finish – Medium, spicy, that bitterness and lingering medicinal numbness.
What's not good about it: Nose isn’t quite so good, but interesting and the peat is very lovely
What’s good about it: More richness, great mouthfeel, high quality peat action.
To compare them – on the nose, the ordinary has more chimney, the SE is ashier, sweeter with more wax. The 2011 is much subtler, more swimming pool (but that could just be the condition of the whisky), and the 2013 is much riper, more expensive wood, bit classier.
On the palate, the ordinary is fruity, good peat levels and good integration, with the SE sweeter, less bitterness but the same spice. The 2011 is more angular, less balanced, and the 2013 is saltier, fruitier and a bit smoother.
The special edition’s my favourite.