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Salt and Earth - Adventures in Peat - Whisky Tasting at Regional Wines

It was a peat tasting with a twist… a twist of bordeaux, amrut, px and sherry in seven whiskies that were more like a lineup of martinis, where the white spirit had been switched for malt spirit and the vermouth for peat.

Some of these whiskies had experienced a mere suggestion of peat, a fleeting couple of years aged next to a barrel with peated contents perhaps, whereas others were dirty martinis, heavy on the vermouth, two olives and a dose of brine. There was also a rather nice game at play called spot the coastal distilleries, made all the more irksome by an (almost) unpeated Islay, the stinky mainland Ballechin and an Adelphi fusion containing Indian and Scottish malt. Well, we don’t like to make things easy here at Regional Wines do we…

First up were the Bunnahabhain and Ardmore - a deliberate pairing of two very modestly smoky whiskies both at 43%. The Bunna offered a coastal crispness that lined its sherried profile and a fleeting glimpse of peat that was more a memory that haunted every sip, whilst the Ardmore was more robust with deeper licorice, dark fruits and burnt earth like qualities.

The Ballechin signified the entrance of some real peat, but it's deep red fruits and confected plum notes on the nose gave it an almost PX like quality that could have had it mistaken for the Ardnamurchan. This was a real tongue twister on the palate with clashing flavours of BBQ, bacon and fine red fruits that made it feel like a bacon double cheeseburger paired with a glass of Lafitte.

Number four was our mystery whisky on the evening and its nose immediately placed it firmly in the islands - and surely this was Islay. It struggled after the cask strength oomph of its predecessor and upon its revelation as the Lagavulin 16yo, an all time classic, there was much debate about its quality. And yet, it was a whisky made with deliberate intent, offering a palate that seamlessly followed on from its nose, and was indicative of a distillery that knew what is was doing.

Next was the Longrow 18yo, a classy dram with complexity to spare and which left its predecessor for dead. If the Lagavulin had offered body and presence in the mouth, this whisky somehow penetrated deeper into one's consciousness, stirring the grey cells and demanding attention.

It was the perfect springboard from which to dive into our final pair - and which were undoubtedly the stars of the night.

We've had the previous two releases of the Ardnamurchan at tastings, and it's always done well, but on this occasion it won. The AD 2018 is still too young to be called whisky, but apparently now has some whisky in it, and it certainly seemed less peaty and more balanced than the 2017. It was a cunningly deceptive dram too, that aligned with people's preconceptions. If you'd tried the Adelphi Kincardine (Adelphis first Indian fusion) you'd be forgiven for expecting something like the Ardnamurchan from the E&K. With whisky from three distilleries and two continents I'd been expecting something of a beast from the E&K, and yet it was delicate and fruity with just a hint of peat from its Ardmore component. The Ardnamurchan, on the other hand, was more the Frankenstein's whisky - an assemblage of PX, oloroso and previously peated casks, sewn together and so young that the seams were still obvious. And yet it was certainly alive - demonstrating a youthful vigour one might say.

A tricky one for the blind guessers without doubt, thanks to a complex and eclectic mix of whiskies from which none were disappointing. All this from a lineup of peated whiskies… maybe we should be doing more?

Here are the scores...

Bunnahabhain Gordon & Macphail Discovery 11yo 43% - 7.53 (6th)

Ardmore Gordon & Macphail Distillery Labels 1998 Vintage 43% - 7.28 (7th)

Ballechin 'Straight From The Cask' 2005 12yo Bordeaux 56.2% - 7.71 (5th)

Mystery whisky?? Lagavulin 16yo 43% - 7.9 (3rd)

Longrow 18yo 46% - 7.78 (4th)

Ardnamurchan Malt Spirit 2018 AD 55.3% - 8.98 (1st)

Adelphi E & K Fusion 57.8% (Ardmore, Glenrothes and Amrut blend) 8.78 (2nd)