The Elements of Islay range focusses on showcasing cask strength single malt whiskies from across Islay’s distillers – at least, it did until 2016 when the first blended malt ‘Peat’ was introduced – effectively forming a blended core range of permanently available expressions. Bottled ‘Full Proof’ (avoiding any issues around the changed SWA definition of cask strength), Peat clocks in at a very pokey 59.3% - so, whilst it was the series’ first blended expression, the high strength of the previous single cask releases was still maintained though into Peat. The whisky is drawn ‘from across the island’ – I.E. you’re going to have guess which Islay distilleries have been utilised in this blend – for my money, I’d be looking to the North East of the island. Each batch is made up of a vatting of around 60 casks - with the resulting 50cl bottles being available from the Whisky Exchange for £38.95.
Nose: Immediately phenolic with sharp, citrusy smoke, coal dust and hospital antiseptic. Both the fruit and smoke and fresh and crisp, though deeper, there are aromas of soured lemons, seafood, slight rubber and briny water. Reduced, this becomes sweeter with more overt fruity notes – apples and pears and creamy vanilla. Likewise, underlying minerality is now perceptible – rock strewn beaches and chalky minerality.
Taste: Potent and powerful – much more so than the nose implied. A big, oily and full arrival that’s packed full of high-impact smoke – sharp, pungent, TCP-laced with lobster bisque and plenty of burning wood. Sweetness is restrained here – it’s mainly citrus lead with lemons and grapefruit, but there are touches of salted caramel also. These still play second fiddle to the highly medicinal peat, which takes on more cask influence in the mid to back palate with pepperiness and touches of salinity. With water, this becomes a tamer and less immediately aggressive – still highly smoky, but perhaps with a better overall balance of fruity and smoky flavours. At 59.3% ABV there’s plenty of scope for dilution without fear of drowning.
Finish: Long, clean and sharp and packed full of medicinal peat smoke and tart lemons.
Make no mistakes, the Full Proof version of Peat is a big big whisky. It’s not just the ABV that’s been turned up a notch over the ‘milder’ Pure Islay edition – the phenolic profile and coastal character of this edition is much bolder and altogether more powerful. Despite this being reduced down to 59.3% before bottling, I suspect that many folks will be reaching for the water to dilute it further. But, in a way, that’s the beauty of higher strength bottlings – they’re yours to play with until you reach your own personal sweet spot.