By Richard Thomas
The world has seen a boom in small whiskey-making, but not every micro-maker is a micro-distiller. Some small companies buy whiskey from outside sources, and then do their own blending and/or secondary aging. In the United States, Angel’s Envy is one such outfit. Wemyss Malts of Scotland is another.
The Wemyss family estate has been involved in whiskey-making for centuries, starting with its role as a supplier of barley, the main raw material for malt whiskey. John Haig’s distillery used to be located on the estate, and the current seat of Haig’s, the Cameron Bridge Distillery, is located just a few miles away.
Wemyss is a little different from other small scotch-makers, such as Compass Box, in that it concentrates exclusively on vatted malts and single cask malts. The company produces no blended scotches (with grain and malt whiskey) or vatted grain scotches. Every barrel chosen for use at Wemyss passes a nosing panel chaired by noted author Charlie Maclean, and every batch is hand-blended prior to a “marrying” period of secondary maturation lasting for several months.
The Peat Chimney is an eight year old scotch, drawn from up to 16 malt whiskeys, but coming predominately from Islay. This makes it one of the younger Wemyss expressions, since the vatted malt includes 12 year olds, and the single cask line starts at 15 years old. The scotch is bottled at 40% alcohol.
In terms of presentation, Peat Chimney comes in a squat, rounded clear glass bottle that shows off the scotch’s color wonderfully. The label sports the kind of design one might expect to see adorning homemade organic herbal mixtures at a farmer’s market. It’s not slick, but it is thoughtful and sincere, and has a decidedly home-crafts style. I expect a bottle of Peat Chimney on your liquor shelf would attract no small amount of attention to itself. In the glass, Peat Chimney has the color of golden straw.
I found the Peat Chimney to have an aromatic nature, so there was no chasing after the underlying notes for this scotch. Despite this quality, and the whiskey’s name, it is not heavy with peat. Much of the Islay whiskey in this blend is from Caol Ila, noted for its lighter style, and that shows in the Peat Chimney. The peat in the nose has a piney, sooty character, so the “chimney” moniker is quite appropriate. It exudes the fine smokey, woody, tree sap odor of a chimney after a heavy winter’s use. Place a foundation of sweetness underneath that, and the result is a whiskey you’ll sniff at least as much as you sip.
The first thing to come across on the palate is a crisp clarity, followed by a rich helping of the peaty chimney flavors from the nose. Oak and citrus notes are right behind that billowing cloud of peat-and-pine smoke, along with just a slight, peppery bite. The finish is mild, but long. It starts with the peat, evolving into a gradually fading citrus, and ultimately leaving an enduring smoky tinge.
The Peat Chimney struck me as a whiskey that perfectly balances sophistication with ease of enjoyment. While most peat-lovers generally seem to prefer a smokier whiskey that this, it still has much for both more generalized aficionados and novices alike to admire.
I’ve found the Peat Chimney listed with American online retailers for between $35 and $45. A more expensive 12 Year Old version is available in Europe, and this goes for €45.
The Peat Chimney won big at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, earning a double gold, and was named as a finalist at the 2012 World Spirits Competition. A the 2011 International World Spirits Competition, the whiskey won a silver and Best in Class.