The end of the year is rapidly approaching, which means it’s almost Christmas. I’m not a very Christmas-y person, by which I mean that I value a random evening with friends and family in August just as much. All in all, Christmas doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. Then again, spending it in lockdown (I live in the Netherlands) is taking it to the extreme. But that will be the reality so I figured I’d explore a festive whisky as sort of a consolation: the Big Peat Christmas Edition 2020.
Big Peat has been a fixture of the whisky world for over a decade now. It was the first of Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regional Malts when it was released in 2009. Since then the company has added blended malts for each of the official Scotch whisky regions, as well as an additional brand aimed at the Scottish islands. Together, these whiskies have really put a spotlight on blended malts as a category to be reckoned with.
Of all the Remarkable Regional Malts, Big Peat is dearest to Fred Laing, Chairman and pater familias of Douglas Laing & Co. I spoke to him last year about the 10th anniversary of his beloved Ileach. He commented on the inclusion of Port Ellen in the recipe, which is this whisky’s claim to faim and certainly grabbed people’s attention when Big Peat was launched.
“Obviously we had more stock of Port Ellen ten years ago”, he told me. “But nowadays I can put Port Ellen in with a little more confidence than I used to. As our casks get up to 35 and 36 years of age, I notice that they’ve lost some of the big phenolic, iodine and maritime influences. In all fairness to our single cask category, I can’t release these with any confidence. But it’s still a very attractive name to have on any whisky bottle. I will not tell you what the percentage of Port Ellen is in Big Peat.”
According to Fred, there’s not a lot of Port Ellen in Big Peat, but he assured me it was included. Being as Port Ellen has become somewhat of a holy grail, Big Peat gives younger whisky drinkers (in experience not age) the chance to at least have a taste of Port Ellen — sort of. Because unless you were already drinking quality whisky over 10 years ago, you would have to be very lucky to have tried Port Ellen.
Okay, enough about Port Ellen already. Why is this particular Big Peat a Christmas Edition? Beats me, to be honest. Bottled at a higher percentage, it’s not really clear what makes this different from other batches of Big Peat. The packaging is certainly festive, so it will look good when you grab this out of your whisky cabinet. Will it taste good though?
Big Peat Christmas Edition 2020 (53.1%, Douglas Laing, Batch 101)
Nose: Vibrant, peaty and somewhat minty with an impressive coastal backdrop. Kippers, seaweed and a touch of iodine, but also vanilla custard, charred lemon peel and a whisper of green apple parts and sauerkraut. Just a tinge of soot and rubber soles. Taste: Mouth-coating. A lovely sweet arrival with some stone fruits, quickly followed by salty chips, pickled lemon and a big hit of peat smoke. Some gentle pepper-y spices in the background. It also has a slight earthy quality. Finish: Lingering notes of soot and tar with a pinch of black pepper. Long.
Excellent whisky. A good Christmas dram for Islay enthusiasts. Tastes more mature than your average young peated whisky also.