The Peat Monster is one of the Compass Box Signature Range whiskies. As the name implies, this is a peat-focused dram….and the peatiest whisky in the Compass Box Signature Range.
Peat Monster is a 100% Blended Malt whisky composed of heavily peated whiskies distilled on Islay – Laphroaig and Caol Ila; whisky from the Isle of Mull – Ledaig from the Tobermory distillery; and a medium peated Speyside whisky from Ardmore, all aged in refill American oak casks.
Peated whisky is really enjoying the spotlight, these days. Why? Well, to many whisky fans, the bold, intensely smoky aromas of peated whiskies convey the true essence of Scotch whisky. And, seemingly, whisky fans just can’t get enough. New releases are eagerly awaited and snatched up very quickly. The peated whiskies of Port Ellen and Brora (both, sadly, closed distilleries) are some of the most anticipated, most sought-after, and most expensive, whiskies around.
With the current rising demand in many whisky circles for peat, peat and more peat, distilleries are expanding the range of peated offerings. New peated whiskies come out In limited releases – like the various Ardbeg batches such as Supernova, or the Bunnahabhain Toiteach, or are becoming permanent additions to a distillery’s core range. All across the board, peated whiskies continue to hit the market in greater numbers. And the whiskies from Islay’s traditional peat distilleries – Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Bowmore remain in high demand. Additionally, two new distilleries have sprung up on Islay. Kilchoman, became the 8th active distillery on Islay – the first in 124 years – and has been producing some great peated whiskies for a few years now. Gartbreck Farm, will be the latest addition to Islay, scheduled to begin distilling in 2016.
It is not just the sheer number of releases that serves as an indicator in the search for peat, but also the search for MORE PEAT in a whisky, such as we see with Bruichladdich’s Octomore releases. Octomore has been “experimental” as it routinely raises the bar on the peatiness levels, releasing whiskies with peat ppm counts reaching as high as 167 ppm (parts per million is the common measurement for peat intensity in the malted barley). For reference, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg, long known for their peaty whiskies, have standard ppm rates that are in the upper 20’s to low 30’s, and Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte bottlings, named by the distillery as “Heavily Peated”, have ppm counts in the 40’s! Octomore starts with barley that is peated to four-to-eight times the ppm level of these big peat distilleries!
No matter where you shop, you can see that distilleries are producing more and more peat-influenced selections. Even some Speyside distilleries not known for peated whiskies are getting into the act and putting out batches of peated whisky. Glenfiddich put out a 125th Anniversary edition that was very nice with a subtle peat smoke flavor. Benriach and Benromach are releasing peated versions, and an Cnoc released a range of peated whiskies, Cutter, Flaughter, Rutter and Tushkar.
And it goes beyond Scotch single malt whiskies. On the blended whisky side, Johnnie Walker put out the Double Black edition, designed with a higher peat-smoke flavor, and Black Bottle, a blend composed of whiskies from almost every distillery on Islay, is having a resurgence. Connemara is a peated Irish whiskey. Even US whiskey-makers are introducing peated whiskies such as McCarthy’s Single Malt. Produced by Clear Creek Distillery in Oregon, McCarthy’s is made from 100% peat-malted barley brought in from Scotland.
So the peat-craze is clearly growing and distillers have recognized the demand. I guess you could say that Peat is the New Black!
The Peat Monster
In most tastings peated whiskies are held for last because they are difficult for anything else to follow them as the smoke and peat can dominate a palate and remain on the tongue for a long time. Holding to that logic, our review of The Peat Monster comes at the end of our series of reviews of Compass Box whiskies, which included Asyla, Hedonism, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, Orangerie and The Lost Blend. For the most part, the whiskies from Compass Box have all delivered a good to very good experience, with one exception. So, let’s see if Peat Monster puts another check in the plus column!
Color: Very pale yellow.
Nose: (Neat): Peat is immediately obvious, but surprisingly, it is the farmy Ledaig-peat that is at the front, not the Islay peat. Ledaig peat is unique; it is earthy, musty, and vegetal, full of damp leaves and hints of pine. Slowly the peat notes expand, and the Laphroaig and Ardmore whiskies get their moment as I now get a soft brininess, menthol, a touch of juniper, some lemon, damp rope, tar, and smoked fish. There is a good dose of oak adding a spicy undertone of ginger, some white pepper and a slight hint of cinnamon. Touches of vanilla and a distant fruitiness add a bit of depth, but so far the nose is all about the Ledaig. (With Water): If possible, the farmy notes pick up with water. Wet earth, smoke from a fire recently put out with water, more tar or creosote notes now. Without question, the peaty nose is “dirtier” with water. It is wet earth, damp vegetation, roofing tar, oatmeal, iodine, saltwater, damp rope, smoked fish….and I really kind of dig it!
Palate: (Neat): Arrival starts soft, but quickly picks up in intensity with a growing sharpness and a citric tanginess. A good bit of vanilla and honey sweetness shows up, but then the Peat takes over. Earthy, smoky, salty, slightly medicinal, ashy. The citric sharpness remains evident throughout. There are some fruits, but just very delicate (With Water): Certainly a bit fruitier, now, with some ripe apples, maybe baked apples with vanilla, fresh lemon zest, but there is still full-fledged peat going on. The mouthfeel is nicely oily, surprisingly soft.
Finish: A quick, brief sweetness gives way to the earthy, smoky, ashy peat. Slightly tart, becomes more sooty (sootier?) and nicely tannic. Good length.
Overall: The Peat Monster is a bit unique. Port Charlotte, Brora and Ledaig all seem to have this “farmy” essence in their peat, which is interesting given their disparate locations. On both the nose and the palate, the Ledaig peat holds court in front of all. But the other components lend a wide array of supporting notes and flavors that increases the complexity. My friend Mike, over at the Diving for Pearls blog, reviewed this whisky (click here) and also found the Ledaig to be dominant, although he also found far more sweetness in this whisky than I did. Either way, we both liked it quite a bit!
Caveat: I think that you have to enjoy this style of peat to really appreciate the experience that Peat Monster provides, but for me, Peat Monster is another winner from Compass Box. Peat Monster is a quality malt with a complex and fun peatiness at a pretty good price point. Thumbs up!
Distillery(ies): Laphroaig, Ardmore, Caol Ila, Ledaig
Type: 100% Blended Malt Whisky, non-chill filtered, natural color
Age: Not stated
Maturation: Not Stated
Price: $55 (Specs)
Availability: Currently on the shelves
Sample Source: My own bottle