SMWS 66.120 ‘Bacon Butty’
So far during our Peat Month we’ve explored whiskies showcasing different levels of peat smoke. Both distilleries use peat from Islay to kiln their malts. We’ve hinted that not all peat is created equal, and the terroir of the peat can dramatically change what the resulting smoke adds to a single malt. Peat can vary dramatically depending on the local plant matter. Since Islay is not the only region producing peated whisky, we wanted to include a review of whisky that uses peat from a different region.
There are many distilleries across the other regions of Scotland that utilize peat smoke, yet far fewer companies feature fully peated whiskies throughout their core range. Ardmore, located in the Highlands, is one such distillery. The challenge for us was that Ardmore can be hard to find in the US. Luckily, the SMWS has had several mainland peated single malt bottlings recently. For those of you who are new, check out our review on the SMWS experience. We had a chance to taste 66.120 before purchasing the bottle and thought it would help build our non-Islay peat collection.
There was more that drew us to 66.120, however. SMWS bottlings come with a colorful title and description that seek to communicate the tasting experience. Some are more concrete, others very abstract or whimsical. In the case of 66.120, the title and description were very straightforward. We learned that bacon butty is one name for the classic British bacon sandwich. So not only do we get to test this whisky as an example of mainland peat smoke, but we also decided to make our own version of a bacon butty to see how it stacks up to the opinions of the SMWS tasting panel. Granted, our recollection of eating bacon sandwiches in the UK have all been from breakfasts on the go, but we attempted to do our best to recreate the essence.
SMWS 66.120 ‘Bacon Butty’
For bottling 66.120, the SMWS chose an ex-bourbon cask and let the whisky mature for 11 years. Ardmore is typically peated in on the low-medium range of the spectrum, so probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 15ppm. 66.120 clocks in at 57% ABV, so it is certainly a heavyweight and so we decided to add water during the course of our tasting to get a full picture.
On the Eyes: 66.120 pours a pale gold color that resembles dried straw. The textures is
pretty thick and oily.
On the Nose: At first the nose took us by surprise. Fruity, with lots of grape and candied apricot. The whisky seemed younger, and we definitely did not detect a lot of smoke. With water, however, the aroma was much more bread and cereal heavy. More smoke and barnyard scents emerged, giving a much stronger impression of cooked bacon.
To the Taste: The first few sips were very oily and sweet. Not quite a honey sweetness, but somewhere in between vanilla and caramelized sugar. The whisky tasted younger than we had anticipated. The dram became increasingly buttery and salty, with a good amount of building heat. Mid palate, the earthy smoke made its debut. The peat smoke is neither medicinal nor reminiscent of barbeque, but instead very earthy and subtle. Water transformed this dram, making it much more fragrant and floral.
And the Finish: The finish was very full with a lot of cereal grain, butter, smoke and a lingering sweetness. Water changed the focus towards salty smoked meat and honey.
Side by side with our improvised bacon butty, we could see how the SMWS tasting panel arrived at the title for 66.120. While we weren’t totally authentic in our bacon butty creation, it turned out to be delicious (hard to mess up bacon, butter, and bread), and we think we got close enough for comparison. We didn’t get as strong of an association with the sandwich as we expected, mostly because the peat was subtle enough that a number of other flavors took center stage. Even still, 66.120 is a fantastic example of a whisky produced with mainland peat smoke. The effect is completely different than Islay, and a lot more like peat from Orkney (Highland Park).