Tag Archives: Peat fire

Storm Brewing/Russell Brewing Big Smoke Ale

This limited release collaboration beer between Storm Brewing and Russell Brewing has been around for just a few months. Producing one of the first of a slew of collaboration beers that have been released over the past several months, brewmasters Jack Bensley (Russell Brewing) and James Walton (Storm Brewing) are pioneering a kinsman-like spirit for the Vancouver craft beer community.

The name Big Smoke is derived from its unique approach to beer fermentation: using peated malt! Well, some peated malt — 10% to be exact. If you’re unaware, peat is vegetation that is primarily used in Scotland to dry barley malt. This technique, using peat fires, is especially used in Islay single malts, and gives it that characteristic vegetal flavour — grass, moss, dust, dampness, etc.. It’s a little difficult to describe, but quite obvious once you’ve tried a peated whisky. Because of its association with drying of the malt in peat fires, peat flavours often come in tandem with a smoky quality. Peat is, in fact, often mistaken for smoke; truth is, while these two aspects typically come hand in hand, they are not inextricable — there are some very smoky, lightly peated whiskies, as well as some highly peated, lightly smoked whiskies, but this is all relative.

When it comes to beer, peated malt is unusual, but can be quite the pleasantry for a whisky drinker. Some other peated beers include Unibroue’s Raftman, Williams Brothers Fraoch Heather Ale — where the peat and heather come in part from the water sources of Scotland, and, though not actually using peat, (whisky) barrel aged beers — Phillip’s Double Barrel Scotch Ale, Driftwood’s Singularity etc. — tend to give off some peat flavour. Besides the peat, the Big Smoke is a heavy, malty, thick, dark, high percentage beer; a true sipping beer that’s not for the faint of heart.

– Kamran

*****

Amidst the light, effervescent peat smoke aroma is a solid malt backbone. As a single-malt enthusiast who loves his peaty scotches — Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Ileach, etc. — I was rather disappointed that the peat does not shine through as much as I’d hoped. In fact, the malt all but overwhelms the notes of peat. That said, with careful concentration, one may extract moments where peat instilled flavonoids connect with one’s receptors. The feeling is quite pleasant, however, this is much too much work, and I don’t want to have to pay such careful attention to access the best parts of a beer; these parts should be the forefront of the beer.

While the body is enjoyably creamy, the beer is quite heavy. You certainly don’t want to be drinking more than one of this tallboy bottle badboy. Though not considered a stout, it reaches certain stout-like parameters — heaviness, thickness (the definition of stout), and darkness. While the malty taste is excellent — especially the initial flavour — it does not last; the finish, while retaining the taste of alcohol, loses its sweet malt flavours.

All things considered, the Big Smoke is an exceptional beer, and while not fitting for all occasions, there are some instances — perhaps while sitting in front of a fire on a cold night — where it would be perfect. So, don’t miss out on it while it’s still around!

Nose: 20.5
Body: 21
Taste: 23
Finish: 21.5

Kamran: 86 pts.

*****

As you can tell, Kamran has left little room for expansion on this particular beer; I suppose he really enjoyed it!  Just along the basics of this beer then, I found it to be one of the best beers we had that night.

The nose was a rich malt that, while stronger than the peat notes, was still an enticing factor to salivate for this beer. The body was a thick and heavy combination that went down creamy and smooth, much like certain stouts. The taste was naturally malty and slightly peaty to my senses, but it also possessed a slightly cocoa-like flavour. The finish is a brief encounter to say the least. It fades rather fast for my liking, but it is a smooth malty presence that is enjoyable prior to dissipation.

This beer is one I’ve had on a couple of occasions since the tasting, and I have to say, it is a nice treat to have and even share late at night. Well done Russell/Storm, but you’ve now set a high standard for any future collaborations!!!

Nose: 21
Body: 24
Taste: 22
Finish: 20

Tristan: 90 pts.

*****

Final Average: 88 pts.

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Talisker 18 Year

Talisker 18 is regarded as a premium whisky, so we were excited to have a small taste of it! A great fragrance accompanies this single malt . Amber in colour, it is a full bodied whisky with a higher alcohol content of 45.8%. Compared to the Bowmore 12 it is certainly more reserved when it comes to the smoke and peat flavours, but still sweet at the start. The finish was rounded and smooth on the palate., with a medium length. A favorite of mine which I’ll have to purchase if ever passing through the duty free from the U.K.

Tristan

*****

Since the Talisker 10 is one of my favourite single malts, and since the 18 has become increasingly difficult to find — due to it mainly being produced for duty free, and rumours of it being discontinued — I was extremely excited to taste this whisky. Perhaps it is because of my ultra high expectations, and though it is fine whisky indeed, I was rather disappointed with my experience.

To be sure, though Talisker, coming from Skye Island, produces relatively peaty whisky, the 18s degree of peat is quite mild. The extra 8 years of maturation markedly softens the peat smoke that is apparent in the 10-year. In light of this, the Talisker 18, unlike the 10, shares more in common with a Speyside single malt. A mild earthiness, wood, and citrus notes are exuded both from the nose and palate, while the characteristic sea-salt flavour of Talisker lingers on the finish. An enjoyable whisky, though not what I expected. I hope to try it again someday without any preconceptions.

Nose: 22
Body: 21
Taste: 21.5
Finish: 22.5

Kamran: 87 pts.

*****

The nose in my humble opinion is by far the nicest I’ve come across. It’s smooth, fruity, sweet, with a faint smokey note. In body it’s certainly full, with a peaty presence. Very strong. The flavour is sweet at the start, which fades to a earthy/smokey note. Finally, the medium length finish was a rounded – almost smooth – and peaty. While I’m more a fan of the sweeter single malts, this is an exception that won me over!

Nose: 25
Body: 22
Taste: 22
Finish: 24

Tristan: 93 pts.

*****

Final Average: 90 pts.

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Bowmore 12 Year

One of only several distilleries in Scotland that do their own floor maltings — a traditional practice that has mostly been abolished due to its labour intensity — Bowmore produces a classic Islay single malt. The Bowmore 12, in particular, has become a staple in the whisky community, as it’s one of those malts that one could not call themselves a whisky drinker had they not tried it. Though some novice drinkers may be offended by the level of peat in this whisky (approx 25 ppm), it is really quite moderate for an Islay whisky — the latest Octomore is peated at 167 parts per million! In light of this, the Bowmore 12, along with some of the Bruichladdich’s and Bunnahibhain’s, is an ideal introduction to peated whisky.

– Kamran

*****

While the Bowmore 12 is not overwhelmingly peaty, and certainly isn’t a highly smoky whisky, the nose is profoundly vegetative. Pronounced notes of damp peat, dry sawdust, and a touch of honey gives the whisky plenty of complexity. While the peat lingers in the nasal cavity, as if you’re in the vicinity of a peat fire, it doesn’t appear nearly as intensely on the palate; instead, it is softened by flavours of oak and dark chocolate. This isn’t highly surprising; it seems that much of the peat, what is noticeable on the nose, is instilled in the whisky indirectly.

Sitting at the shore of Loch Indaal, the water at Bowmore is dark — dirtied with peat. This peated water, used in the distillation, gives the whisky its characteristic peat aroma without having to bombard the barley with an intensely peat driven malting. Moreover, I posit that, due to Bowmore’s own peat fires and floor malting process, lingering volatile aromas of peat that are in the air at the distillery may come in contact with the whisky, causing the whisky to absorb the peat, sort of like how dry hopping a beer increases the hop aroma without increasing the bitterness.

As with many Islay whiskies, a touch of water to oxidize the whisky and open up the flavours may prove beneficial. Two to three drops is more than enough, so don’t overdo it — invest in an eye-dropper; it comes in handy. While the peat is not so pronounced on the initial taste, being complemented by other flavours, it is primarily what remains on the finish. The finish is exceptional; after a wee dram, one can still taste the peat 20 minutes later — that is if you haven’t already starting sipping another whisky! All in all, the Bowmore 12 is a classic malt that all single malt enthusiasts must try!

Nose: 24
Body: 22
Taste: 23
Finish: 22.5

Kamran: 91.5 pts.

*****

In typical Islay style, the Bowmore 12 is certainly one of the most peaty and smoky single malts I’ve tried to date! In my opinion, the nose was the best part of the whisky; it was rich in an earthy tone, full of peat, malt and smoke. Golden amber in colour, Its sharpness is not only from the alcohol but the peat. As expected, these notes are certainly evidenced in the flavour, meaning I couldn’t truly detect any other flavours in the whisky. I found that the finish was a harsh peaty one. More to Kamran’s liking than mine, but I prefer the more mellow peat and sweeter single malts.

Nose: 23.5
Body: 19
Taste: 19
Finish: 19.5

Tristan: 81 pts.

*****

Final Average: 86.25 pts.

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