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These Peated Highland Scotches Will Expand Your Ideas About Smoky Whisky

Islay has peated Scotch whisky on lock. The malts are smoked with peat-fueled smoke in Port Ellen’s legendary malt house on the island’s southern coast. All of the island’s distilleries produce smoky whiskies, though the degree of the smokiness varies.

But there’s more to Scotland’s peated malts than just Islay. The Highlands and Islands also produce signature smoky whiskies that stand as tall as any peat monster from Islay.

Today, we’re going to dip our toes into the peated malts from the Highlands. We’ll hit up the Islands (Talisker, Highland Park, and others) next time around. Though both styles are smoky, Highland peated whisky is a different breed than the stuff from Islay, based on the peat. The peat from the Highlands is imbued with trees, grasses, and cold winters full of snow; the peat in Islay is all about that sea soaking into the soil and the grasses and botanicals that grow across the island.

Very broadly, the smoke that is produced by the peat in these places is just different. That creates a different smoke which results in different malts, mash, and, finally, whiskey.

The ten bottles below tour you through peated malts from the Highlands. Full disclosure, some of these are pretty deep cuts. Some of them aren’t readily available at your local liquor store. Don’t worry — others are. If you want to give one of these peaty Highland whiskies a shot, just click on the price links.

anCnoc Rascan

Inver House

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $92

The Whisky:

Hailing from the famed Knockdhu Distillery, this single malt is named after the rake-like tool that breaks up the sod so harvesters can dig out some peat. The whisky is made from malt that’s barely been kissed with the smoke from a peat fire, keeping the phenols very low. The juice is loaded into ex-bourbon barrels where it’s allowed to rest for “nearly” ten years before proofing and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a rush of fresh Granny Smith apples on the nose next to Honey Nut Cheerios made from fresh oats and dipped in real honey with the smallest spritz of orange oils. The fresh honey sweetness builds as a slight and almost woody bourbon vanilla sneaks onto the palate with a sharp edge of eggnog spice. The sip slowly fades towards smoked dried apple tobacco with a touch of old, soft leather and dried heather.

Bottom Line:

The smoke on this is so dialed back, that no one will blame you for missing it. It’s wholly tied to the sweet honey and apple, making this a great whisky for the smoke neophyte.

Clynelish 14

Diageo

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $72

The Whisky:

Up on the cold northern coast of Scotland, you’ll find a little town called Brora. There used to be a distillery there of the same name, which made peat monsters up unit the 1980s. Clynelish took over the location and started making their own peated malts, this time while leaning more into the sea than the peat. And in this case, they’ve created a very lightly peated single malt that spends a decade and a half resting near that sea until it’s just right.

Tasting Notes:

This has a nostalgic sense of a cold, rainy beach. You’re not necessarily on that beach but you can remember to sea spray, the salt on your lips, the smell of dried seaweed, and a touch of old smoke from a nearly dead fire. The taste dances between notes of burnt orange peels, old leather tobacco pouches, and this soft mineral water mouthfeel that carries with it a creamy vanilla just touched with sea salt. The end is medium-length, salty, and has this mildly bitter edge that’s akin to a cocoa bean pith.

Bottom Line:

This was a revelation when I tried it with Johnnie Walker’s Master Distiller Emma Walker this year. It’s unbelievably well balanced and so soft. It’s a true hidden gem.

Dalwhinnie 15

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $75

The Whisky:

This entry-point bottle to the wider world of Dalwhinnie is a hell of an easy drinker. The juice is aged in Scotland’s coldest distillery, making the maturation process a severe one. The juice spends 15 years hiding in those barrels as the temperatures dip well below freezing across all those winters.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine a bowl of pear and apple peels sitting next to an open jar of floral summer honey on the nose. Dots of citrus oils mingle with that honey as a smooth vanilla character arrives on the back of sweet brown bread bespeckled with smoked walnuts. The nuts, sweet bread, and floral honey all converge on the finish as it slowly fades towards a final billow of sweet smoke at the back of your mouth.

Bottom Line:

This is another whisky that’ll hook you in immediately. It’s so delicately balanced while still being assured in its flavor and texture profile. It’s an all-around classic.

The GlenDronach Traditionally Peated

Brown-Forman

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $72

The Whisky:

This unique drop from late 2019 took The GlenDronach back to its 19th-century roots. Dr. Rachel Barrie devised a throwback peated single malt to celebrate the mash bills of the distillery’s founder that leaned into peated malts. The juice was then aged in ex-bourbon barrels before a finishing rest in both Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks.

Tasting Notes:

The whisky draws you in with a sense of pineapple and peaches that have been grilled on a smoky grill and then drizzled with honey and served on a slice of vanilla white cake. The honey and smoky BBQ briquettes drive the taste towards hints of smoked plums and smoldering cinnamon sticks while that fruit starts to edge towards bittersweet. The end has this oatcake vibe with a touch of raisin and walnut while the honey takes you back towards that smoky grilled fruit.

Bottom Line:

This is a very well-round bottle — in that you kind of end up back where you started while still feeling the journey that got you there. The smokiness is amped up a little on this (compared to the other peated whiskies on the list). So, we’d recommend pouring this one over a single rock.

Oban 14

Diageo

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $90

The Whisky:

This is a great gateway to both Oban and scotch to have on hand. The juice is classically made and then matured in the Oban storehouses for 14 long years — all within a stone’s throw of the sea.

Tasting Notes:

Citrus, salt, and a billow of peat smoke open this one up in classic fashion. That citrus carries on as a foundation for mild spices, a note of honey, hints of pears, and plummy dried fruits mingle on the tongue. The oak spice and extremely mild peat smoke meet on the end with a slight malty sweetness as the sip fades.

Bottom Line:

Oban is the ultimate accessible peated malt. It’s so subtle, complex, and silky. It’s also the perfect whisky for pairing with a seafood feast.

Old Pulteney Huddart

Inver House

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $68

The Whisky:

This peated malt ups the ante on the peatiness. The limited-edition juice is first aged in ex-bourbon barrels. That whisky is then transferred to second-fill bourbon barrels that aged heavily peated whisky for a finishing maturation.

Tasting Notes:

The whisky’s nose sort of feels like someone dumped a handful of vanilla bean husks on a backyard campfire and then handed you an apple pie brimming with brown sugar, cinnamon, and drizzled with salted caramel. The taste keeps that pie filling vibe but the fruit mellows more towards a stonefruit as a hint of sea spray arrives on the back end of the smokiness. The finish really takes its time and leads you towards singed, dry moss and a final note of floral honey sweetness.

Bottom Line:

Peaty whisky finished in peaty ex-bourbon barrels could be construed as a hat on a hat. But this works. The smoke is bold but the fruits, spice, and sweetness all make sense while balancing the whisky out.

Edradour Caledonia 12

Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Company

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $80

The Whisky:

This is a classic Highland single malt. The peated juice started off as a one-off single-barrel pick that became a yearly release. The whisky aged in ex-bourbon for about eight years. It’s then refilled into ex-sherry casks for about four more years of maturation before it’s proofed and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

The nose on this is figgy pudding with stewed plums, Christmas spices, sultanas, and plenty of brown sugar syrup with a hint of sweet sherry-soaked oak lingering in the background. The palate settles into honey-roasted almonds next to a bowl of ripe red berries in cream with a drizzle of summer honey leading towards this hint of dried mushroom. That touch of umami leads towards a very distant whiff of campfire smoke on the far backend of this sip as it fades out.

Bottom Line:

This is really all about the red fruits, nutty figgy pudding, and sweet treats. The earthy smoke is very much an echo that feels more like you’re eating a dessert outside on a cold fall night.

Ardmore Tradition Peated

Beam Suntory

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $44

The Whisky:

This peated malt from Ardmore takes its aging process back in time to the 1800s. The juice is first aged in ex-bourbon casks. The whisky is then re-barreled into traditional “quarter casks” that were used for aging peated malt 200 years ago.

Tasting Notes:

This has a velvety nose full of vanilla pudding cut with eggnog spices that were cooked in an old, wood-fired oven, giving the nose a hint of soft, sweet smoke. The taste brings a peaty smoke through the vanilla creating a creamy texture while hints of tart apples and dried red fruits counterpoint that creamy, smoky vanilla. The peat really attaches to the creamier parts of the taste on the fade until you’re left with wet moss after a soft rain.

Bottom Line:

This is one of the more interesting deep cuts on this list. It’s fascinating in that it makes you think while you drink. You’ll want to go back in on the nose and taste to see what else you can find in there.

Glenmorangie Finealta

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $88

The Whisky:

Glenmorangie is world-renowned for its sweet single malts. That wasn’t always the case and this is the proof. This juice is rendered from peated malts and a mash bill that dates back to a 1903 recipe from the distillery. The whisky is then aged in ex-bourbon and finished in ex-sherry casks.

Tasting Notes:

There’s this vibe of peaches grilled over soft wood with a touch of smoke latching to the sweet fruit as a touch of orange and marzipan peek in. The palate holds onto the orange and builds this mix of brandied cherries, eggnog spices, and buttery vanilla frosting with just a hint of dried lavender. The finish circles back around to the marzipan with another whiff of sweet smoke and a light touch of soft mineral water.

Bottom Line:

This is a very rare Glenmorangie that’s 100 percent worth tracking down. It’s so unique yet so familiar without sacrificing any deliciousness.

The Famous Grouse Smoky Black

The Edrington Group

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $28

The Whisky:

This version of Famous Grouse is built on a foundation of rare Highland whisky. Glenturret peated single malt is at the core of this blend. That’s special in that Glenturret doesn’t really make peated malts — save for the whiskey that’s in this blend.

Tasting Notes:

Like all Highland peaties, this whisky has a balance of smoke and sweet from the first nose. There’s a hint of cedar that feels like it was soaked in dark rum and then set on fire. As that fire dies down, you’re left with dried fruits, dates, and a spice cake that leans into cloves and licorice root. The end is fairly long and revels in the soot of that burnt cedar box as an old rum note sneaks back in with more raisins and spice.

Bottom Line:

This is a mixing whisky that has a bold, peaty feel. It’s complex enough to be a great cocktail base but don’t expect greatness from this if you pour it in a glass on the rocks.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive commission pursuant to some entries on this list.

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