Douglas Laing Big Peat vs Bunnahabhain Toiteach A Dhà

Writing about whisky during the ongoing insanity of current events is no different than writing about music. In the process, with these words, these sounds, and the warming feeling at the centre of my body, I seek refuge from the unnecessary clash. It’s still a little difficult to truly ‘enjoy’ either one of these activities, especially as others are focused on survival. And yet, we must go on. Perhaps in both of these, I find a portal of some sort (an exit and an entrance all at once), and that alone is worth reflecting on. So let us transport where the whisky soothes the soul, but first, of course, we need the music! Now playing: Piano Shapes Spotify Playlist, which I guest curated for Moderna in February.

Big Peat is a brand from Douglas Laing – the independent whisky company that bottles the Premier Barrel, Old Particular, Remarkable Regional Malts, Timorous Beastie and Scallywag, among the many blends and malts. This particular bottle is a blended malt (no grain whiskies in here) of many smoky and peaty whiskies from Caol Ila, Ardbeg, Bowmore and even the elusive Port Ellen. Although, at only £43 a bottle, not sure how much of Port Ellen is in there. That being said, this uncoloured and non-chill filtered blend bottled at 46% ABV is more than meets the eyes, especially with its whimsical, cartoonish label, where the drawn character is literally blown away by all that Islay smoke. “Typically Islay in flavour, the palate carries notes of ash, sweet tar, smoking chimneys and subtle salty beach quality, with a long and lingering phenolic finish.” It’s pretty fresh, crisp, light and coastal on the nose, with just a tad of autumn grass. There’s that Cool Ila on the nose with a bit of Ardbeg in the back. The flavour is that of a young whisky, but there is definitely a round umami in there, which hints at a touch of older single malt. There is no age statement on this bottle, but there are other editions that spell out the minimum “12-years-old” presence. There are also the Christmas, Halloween, BBQ, and other editions, presumably containing a slightly different character of each small and individual batch (some at higher ABV or PPM!). I kind of want to check them out!

I picked this bottle of the Bunnahabhain because it was open on my shelves, and well, because it’s close to the ABV of the above tasted Big Peat blended malt [it’s 46.3%]. And since it’s also an Islay peated whisky, I figured it’d go well with along. In fact, Toiteach A Dhà (pronounced “toch-ach ah-ghaa”) is the sequel to the original Toiteach, which means “Smoky” in Scots Gaelic (“a dhà” means “two”). It goes so well with Big Peat side by side, that it’s almost difficult to pick a favourite. It’s slightly darker in colour, a little sweeter on the nose, and just a tad more dense in all the right places. No doubt, this is the influence of the Oloroso sherry casks in which this single malt was aged, in addition to ex-bourbon casks. This bottle won many awards in the past (International Spirits Challenge, Scotch Whisky Masters, World Whisky Awards, etc.), and I can see [and taste] why. Although at only £43 a bottle (same as Big Peat), at first, it feels like it will be a mid-shelf supermarket whisky, the Bunnahabhain truly outperforms. It’s delicate and charming, with a lovely smoothness and an all-around decent finish. Again, relative to the Big Peat, it is the sherry that just gives it extra oomph. But the ‘sharpness’ in Big Peat is also something left to be desired. No artificial colouring or chill-filtration in this gorgeous dram.

At last, we come to the end of this tasting. And honestly, I can’t pick a winner. I’ve sipped on Bunnahabhain for a few months now [I have a smaller, 20cl bottle], and every time I pour a dram, I’m pleasantly surprised. I think it’s mainly of the tinting of the bottle – you simply can’t appreciate the pretty colour through that black. But, honestly, Big Peat has also been amazing – genuinely overdelivering throughout, past its semi-gimmicky cartoonish look. We shouldn’t judge our whiskies by their bottle, eh? And with these words, I think I’ll call a draw between these two fantastic drams.

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