Happy St. Andrew’s Day! Here’s a little Scotch coverage to honor the occasion.
Many critics and distilleries use the phrase “peat monster” to describe their heavily-peated malts. Compass Box, which hails from the Islay area, actually gave the term to a couple of its products. Here’s how the two real Peat Monsters, plus two more of Compass Box’s whiskys, stack up. (Preview: All of them are good, some are exceptional.)
All four are vatted whiskys (blends of single malt Scotch whiskys, with no additional grain alcohol added).
The Peat Monster – A quite pale whisky, the original “monster” is quite thick with peat and smoke, as you would expect, but not really overpowering. But it’s got lots fruit (largely oranges) and spice in there alongside the smoke; together that combine to create a surprisingly balanced Scotch, rare in the heavy-peat world where peat is prized over all else. 92 proof. B+ / $48
The Peat Monster Reserve – At 97.8 proof, the Reserve version of the Peat Monster offers a hotter take on the recipe but otherwise strikes a very similar profile. There’s actually less of that peat and smoke character, really. The orange character is also muted here, replaced with more of an apple tone. Good, though I prefer the original by a small margin. Available only in 1.5-liter magnums (price is noted accordingly). B / $123 (1.5l)
Oak Cross – A much lighter style of whisky, and a real winner. There is still some good peat and smoke here, but the vanilla from the American oak bourbon barrels in which the malt whiskys are “married” (French oak is also used). The whiskys used in this blend are all Highland malts, which may be why Oak Cross reminded me so much of a personal favorite, Highland Park 18 Year. Altogether a masterfully blended whisky with wonderful vibrance. An excellent value. 86 proof. A- / $45
Hedonism Maximus – A wildly different style in whisky, which hits you first with intense aromas of incense and Middle Eastern spices, then follows up with a sweet bomb laden with pistachio, cloves, peaches, and sugary sweet cream. A blend one 42-year-old and one 29-year-old whisky, this is wholly unlike the three above blends, designed for dessert and for sipping long into the night with a slice of gingerbread. Very enchanting, provided you have it after dinner. 92 proof. A- / $246