Life

A Whiskey Writer Names His Favorite Smoky Whiskeys (Not From Scotland)

Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. In the process, he’s enjoyed more whisk(e)y drams than his doctor would dare feel comfortable with, traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, and visited more than fifty distilleries worldwide.

From the outset, it should be noted that smoky whisk(e)ys aren’t for everyone. If you’re new to whisk(e)y, you might not want to dive headfirst into a bottle Bruichladdich, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, or one of the other peat-smoked scotches from Islay. But if you’re well-acquainted with scotch, bourbon, rye, and other whiskeys and you’ve been meaning to try some smoky offerings, now is the time. Fall weather is perfectly suited for the charred, campfire-ish, sometimes briny flavors of these expressions.

While you can always head to Scotland (figuratively) and grab a bottle of peated whiskies from one of the aforementioned distilleries, today we’re looking elsewhere for our smoky bottles. I cracked my tasting notebook again and decided to list my favorite six smoky whiskeys that don’t come from Scotland.

Balcones Brimstone Whiskey

ABV: 53%

Price: $69.99

The Story:

Normally, when we think of smoky whiskey, the flavor comes from peat smoking. But this 100% Hopi blue corn-based whiskey from Texas’ renowned Balcones doesn’t get its flavor from peat, it comes from smoking the distillate over Texas scrub oak before aging.

Tasting Notes:

The first scent you’ll notice when you nose this whiskey is that of Texas barbecue smoke itself. This evolves into toasted caramel, charred oak, and cinnamon. The first sip yields brown sugar, sweet cream, subtle spices, and even more wood smoke. The finish is long, warming, and filled with still more bonfire smokiness.

Bottom Line:

It’s called Brimstone for a reason. It’s super smoky and perfectly suited for slow sipping neat or on the rocks on a chilly evening.

Westland Peated Whiskey

ABV: 46%

Price: $79.99

The Story:

This award-winning whiskey plays like an homage to the peat-smoked monsters of Scotland but made in a uniquely American way — which mellows the smoke for U.S. palates. They do this by using a blend of both peat-smoked malts as well as un-smoked malts. It’s then aged for three years. This creates a whiskey with a smoky, yet not overpowering flavor.

Tasting Notes:

This subtly smoky whiskey deserves a proper nosing. The first aromas that will swirl around your nostrils are those of charred oak, wood smoke, candied orange peel, and sweet caramel. The first sip delivers the flavors of a backyard barbecue paired with mint, vanilla, toasted almonds, and toffee. The finish is long, lingering, and ends with an added kick of light smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is a great gateway into the world of smoky whiskeys. The smoke presence is much more subtle than other peat-smoked offerings. It’s perfect in a whiskey-based cocktail or as a sipper on its own.

High West Campfire Whiskey

ABV: 46%

Price: $59.99

The Story:

Like Balcones Brimstone, High West Campfire doesn’t attempt to hide what it is. This is literally a campfire in a bottle and that’s thanks to a blend of sweet bourbon, spicy rye, and peat-smoked scotch. The result is a complex, well-rounded whiskey that appeals to fans of all three styles.

Tasting Notes:

Before taking your first sip, give this whiskey a nice nosing. If you do, you’ll be met with hints of toasted oak, brown sugar, butterscotch, dried cherries, and a subtle whiff of smoke. The first sip offers up subtle Christmas spices, dried orange peel, caramelized sugar, and rich vanilla beans. The finish is long, warming, and filled with hints of peppery spice and a whole dose of wood smoke.

Bottom Line:

It would behoove you to imbibe a glass (or three) of this whiskey while you sit around an early fall campfire. It’s a literal alcoholic incarnation of the smoke from the fire.

The Connemara Peated Irish Whiskey

ABV: 40%

Price: $45.99

The Story:

We all know about peat-smoked scotch whiskies, but what about Irish whiskeys? Connemara is the only Irish peated single malt whiskey that we know of on the market. Its original offering was made to pay tribute to the 18th-century practice of smoking malted barley over peat fires. The result is a unique whiskey that possesses the patented sweetness Irish whiskeys are known for along with the smoked flavors of their Scottish counterparts.

Tasting Notes:

Breathe in the aromas of this whiskey and your senses will be filled with the astringent, briny smells of peat smoke paired with sweet caramel and dried fruits. The first sip will bring you charred oak, sweet cream, brown sugar, velvety honey, and rich wood smoke. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a mixture of butterscotch, cinnamon, and another waft of peat smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is a truly unique whiskey that should be enjoyed on neat or on the rocks with a single solitary ice cube. Anything else would diminish the hard work put into its creation.

Hakushu 12 Japanese Whisky

ABV: $43

Price: $198

The Story:

When it comes to gateway smoky whiskies, it’s hard to beat Hakushu 12 (if you can afford it). This single malt whisky is known for its combination of subtle smoke and sweet vanilla and caramel notes. It gets its smoke from peat-smoked malted barley, similar to the style of Islay whiskies. But this expression manages to be both more subtle and more well-rounded than many of its Scottish brethren.

Tasting Notes:

This whisky needs to be nosed before it can be sipped. You’ll be met with hints of charred oak, butterscotch, toasted almonds, and sweet caramel. The first sip drops in with a nice kick of peat smoke along with dried fruits, subtle herbal undertones, and brown sugar. The finish is medium in length, warming, and ends with another quick hit of toasted marshmallows and a more campfirey sort of smoke.

Bottom Line:

If you get your hands on a bottle of Hakushu 12, chances are you spent a good deal of money on it. That means you should save this bottle for a special occasion and sip it in a dram surrounded by friends and family.

Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey

ABV: 46%

Price: $49.99

The Story:

With a name like Colkegan, you might assume this is either an Irish whiskey or a scotch whisky. But this smoked whiskey is actually made in New Mexico by Santa Fe Spirits. Colkegan gets its smoky flavors from peat-smoked malted barley (sensing a trend here?) and is actually run by an Englishman intent on bringing scotch whisky techniques to the states.

Tasting Notes:

The first sniff of this whiskey provides hints of dried cherries, sweet honey, and subtle smoke. The first sip yields caramelized sugar, toasted vanilla beans, dried fruits, spicy cinnamon, and subtle barbecue flavor. The finish is long, warming, and full of hints of caramel, leather, and more pleasing wood smoke.

Bottom Line:

Drink this whiskey in the form of a nice dram (or three). You can add a few drops of water to open it up, but anything else is unnecessary.

×