On tasting: Belgrove Peated Rye Whisky, Limeburners Heavy Peat M220, Black Gate BG074, Hellyers Road Master Series 12 Year Old and Fleurieu Ecto Gammat
It’s an exciting time if you’re a peated whisky fan. Internationally, peated whisky of every type and kind is growing in popularity, and the Australian whisky industry is now offering up some fascinating peat monsters to try.
When you think about it, Australia’s uniquely placed to produce peated styles. Whisky generally matures faster here than it does in Scotland, and that’s accelerated with the Australian industry’s use of small casks. As peated whisky ages, that classic smoke and grunge softens over time, which is great if heavy peat isn’t to your liking, less so if smoke bombs are right up your alley.
There’s no doubt peated whisky can taste fantastic at a younger age – you get a proper look at the smoke in the spirit, and peat can even mask its youth. Begs the question: if Australian whiskies continue to be released at that 2-6 year old mark, might peated whisky be perfectly suited to Australian conditions?
Compare what’s happening here with one of Scotland’s benchmark peated whiskies in Laphroaig. It’s currently one of the top-selling single malt whiskies in the world and has rapidly increased its market share in the last five years. But Laphroaig and other heavily peated Scottish malts drink brilliantly in that 6-12 year old bracket – consider the success of Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Ardbeg have even gone younger with their new ‘Wee Beastie’ 5 year old. And those are Scottish years. The golden age in Australia might be more like 3-6 years, so there’s plenty of potential.
The other big question – does it matter where the peat comes from? It definitely adds a layer of intrigue when a distillery has a unique peat source to its make, but it’s not a distiller’s only consideration.
Bruichladdich have an abundance of peat and peated malt at their fingertips on Islay, and yet they source peated malt from Bairds in Inverness on the mainland, around 300 kilometres away (Hellyers and Black Gate, reviewed below, also use Bairds). If Bruichladdich’s Octomore, one of the world’s most revered peated malts, doesn’t taste of its immediate surrounds, should Australian distillers be concerned with infusing local flavours into their whiskies?
As you can see, there’s so many factors to take into account when making peated whisky. Casking, cleaning equipment, altering cut points, maturation techniques, the list goes on. But there’s no hard and fast rules, especially here in Australia, where producers are trying a number of methods to find the style of peated whisky they’re after, as you’ll see in the line-up of Australian whiskies below.
From well established makers like Hellyers Road with their 12 year old, to locally peated expressions in Limeburners and Belgrove, to younger and heavier peated malts from Black Gate and Fleurieu. Throw in the quality peated offerings from Bakery Hill, Bellwether, Adams, Furneaux and Corowa Distilling Co and the style is really starting to progress here.
Give them all a go. Our distillers are on the verge of something here.