By Richard Thomas
A love for peaty, smoky flavors is a fairly recent craze among scotch-lovers. There were always peat devotees before, of course, but now a love for peat is so widespread that scotch-makers are catering to it. The Black Grouse was an early entry for peaty blended scotch, which was followed by Johnnie Walker’s Double Black and others.
Micro-distillery Compass Box is in on the peaty scotch act as well with The Peat Monster, and this suitably named whiskey takes the quality angle of the peaty, blended scotch up a full notch. While the aforementioned whiskeys are blended scotches, and therefore a mixture of grain and malt whiskey, The Peat Monster is a vatted malt. Sometimes also referred to as a blended malt, the scotch is an all-malt concoction, and in this instance the malt whiskey comes from Islay, Mull and Speyside. Although the regions involved are a known quantity, Compass Box is very hush-hush about the specific distilleries involved.
As single malts are blends of malt whiskey from only a single distillery, The Peat Monster is just one step removed, and fans of malt whiskey should take note accordingly. Adding to the quality are the other touches, some of which are standard for Compass Box scotches. The whiskey is bottled at 46% alcohol, not the more usual 40%, and it is not chill filtered, making it a rather old fashioned scotch. The result checks off not one, but three separate boxes of interest for scotch lovers: peat, malt, and traditional style.
As you can see, The Peat Monster bears a labeling style that owes a lot to Art Nouveau. If it were used in an ad, it’s the sort of thing I could easily imagine as a poster in a Paris metro station. The scotch has no aging statement.
In the glass, the whiskey has the pale gold color of white wine. The nose is intensely peaty and smoky, with a crisp note of salty sea spray in for good measure. I think the latter gives the scent a fragrant edge, where one might expect a peaty, smoky scotch to have a heavy nose instead.
The flavor of The Peat Monster delivers, because it is predominately one of peat smoke. Yet the palate is quite sophisticated, because in spite of the smoky character, the whiskey remains surprisingly sweet. Underneath the peat and smoke is an almost fruity sweetness, and a spicy streak bearing hints of cinnamon and ginger cookies. Throw a hint of oak, modest but certainly not elusive, and the result is one very complex scotch. The finish is long, warm, and spicy with a lingering touch of sweetness.
Compass Box sells The Peat Monster on its website for £43. In the United States, the retail price tends to hover around $55, making the whiskey comparable to the typical single barrel bourbon.