Amalga Heavily Peated Whiskey
I love peated whiskey. A lot. The combination of sweet and smokey is just something that I find very compelling and, especially on a chilly winter day, warming. But, understandably, it isn’t for everyone. So, for that reason, I really suggest reading this and knowing what you do and don’t like about whiskey before purchasing. So - the disclaimer. DON’T BUY THIS WHISKEY EXPECTING ANYTHING SIMILAR TO OUR FLAGSHIP. YOU WILL BE DISAPPOINTED. However, the other disclaimer. BUY THIS WHISKEY IF YOU LOVE GIANT SUPER PEATY WHISKIES LIKE OCTOMORE. Okay - now for a bit of story telling and tasting notes. First the story telling.
Peated whiskey is something that I have loved for a really long time. And, my favorites have always been the rowdier whiskies from Islay - a tiny island off the coast of Scotland known for their peated whiskies. You see, part of malting barley includes drying the barley, and long ago the most efficient way to do so would have been by burning clean burning hardwood to indirectly heat a special kiln for drying barley. Well, on Islay, they don’t really have any trees. Like - none actually. So instead, they’ve had to rely on peat that they dig up from bogs and dry during whatever dry spell they may have. They then use this peat for everything, from heating their homes to - you guessed it - drying their barley. But the kilns used put the peat directly under the barley as peat isn’t the most efficient thing to burn. So - the barley ends up very very very very smoky. With an intensely acrid smoke that you would expect from burning something that just doesn’t burn really well. So - that is how you end up with the smoke.
So - scooting along. Bruichladdich Octomore and pretty much anything from Ardbeg have always been my loves. Until one day, this little tiny farmhouse distillery opened up on Islay called Kilchoman. As the new kids on the block (Islay is home to seven old school heavy hitter distilleries: Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila, Laphroaig and Lagavulin (all unpronounceable, really)), they released a young by scottish standard (3 years old), and garnered the award for Islay distillery of the year and Islay whiskey of the year. And they quickly became my new favorite Islay Distillery. Fast-forward a bit, and a story for another time, I had an opportunity to have a brief apprenticeship there where I learned more than I ever could have imagined about making whiskey in a traditional scottish way. At Kilchoman, they grow the barley, malt the barley, kiln dry the barley with peat, and make kind of a lot of whiskey. And it is all incredible. So - I took what I learned there and elsewhere and extrapolated it to make the house style of Amalga whiskey which is our Flagship. BUT! I also really wanted to apply, almost identically, what I learned at Kilchoman. So, what you get with this whiskey, is our applied knowledge making a bit of a Kilchoman Machir Bay clone, but bottling it at cask strength.
This whiskey was aged in ex-bourbon barrels (that came from Four Roses, my favorite bourbon distillery) for three years pretty much spot on. It went into the barrel around 58% ABV, and came out at 62% ABV. And that is what we bottled it at. Yes - you read that right. 62% ABV, or 124 PROOF. Despite the high ABV, it does not come off as being “hot”. In fact - the prevalent note above the alcohol and even the smoke is an incredible sweetness. Like a really nice and very pleasant sweetness. The sweetness is also the first thing that you pick up on the pallet with a gentle and mild smoke. If you are savvy to smokey whiskies, this one is more akin to the warmer and sweeter smoke of Ardbeg that the acrid smoke of Laphraoig. But - despite using a VERY HEAVILY PEATED BARLEY, this is a fine intro to peat for those uninitiated. I’m not saying buy this as your first peated whiskey - but if a friend gets a bottle, or if you get a bottle and want to share with a friend who has never had peated whiskey, this is a good one.
So - the next step in this whiskey, that I rarely recommend, but highly recommend with this release - add a bit of water. Adding a half an ounce of water to a 1.5 ounce pour will bring it down to an appropriate 46.5% ABV - so i’d recommend doing just under .5 ounces to the 1.5 ounce pour to get closer to 50%. At this ABV or a little lower, this whiskey really shines. The smoke is allowed to shine on the nose, and the lower alcohol lets you enjoy and explore more complexity. The smoke combines with the sweetness to make for a really incredible combination. Both honey and apple notes on the sweet side, and a more herbal smoke that dissipates almost immediately. Four Roses is a lighter handed bourbon not overpowered by oak, and that really shines as well - you can pick up the remnant sweetness of bourbon, but no harsh tannins. Really, this whiskey isn’t for everyone. But - for those that this is for - you will LOVE this whiskey. I will certainly be bringing home a few bottles.