Balvenie’s Speyside distillery might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to peated Scotch, but this year’s “Peat Week 14” release, available now, is likely to change that.
Peat Week is a single week devoted entirely to the production of peated whisky by The Balvenie. The distillery is one of the few remaining in Scotland that malts its own barley in-house — an advantage when the 125-year-old distiller wants to change things up a bit.
Rare peated releases have become more common in recent years as distilleries look to diversify their special releases. For instance, Macallan’s 65-year-old Lalique release last year contained whisky distilled in post-WWII Scotland, where electricity, gas, and oil were still rationed and the distillers were forced to use old techniques to get back to production.
But that’s an exception to a rule that, for the most part, only Islay distillers use peat today, as most of the Highland and Speyside distillers moved away from it in the 1960s. Which is why Balvenie’s ongoing project is so impressive, and why it’s so special to taste peated whisky laid down in that region anytime after the Eisenhower administration.
The whisky itself is good, though not as aggressively smoky and deep as an Islay malt like Lagavulin, Laphroaig, or Ardbeg. Instead, it’s undercurrent to the whisky, barely present in the nose, and perfectly integrated throughout, which means it’s ideal for peat-curious drinkers looking for a gateway to the smoky stuff.
Other than the peat, this is a typical Balvenie single malt, aged in American oak, with light notes of vanilla, citrus, and honey. The wood takes a back seat because of the relatively low age point.
For the growing number of whisky-curious adventurers, trying this release alongside some of the distillery’s unpeated malts would be an unprecedented opportunity, even if the whisky wasn’t good.
We hope we’ll see older peated expressions from Balvenie in the coming years, but for now 14 is pretty tasty, and with a $99 price tag it’s one of the best values in limited edition single malts we’ve seen all year.