Penderyn, Bunnahabhain, Machrie Moor

Lightly peated whiskies are a tricky business.

Big bold peated malts are a great style, shouldering their way across your palate with their salt and smoke and earthiness, but at times they can leave you feeling like a crockery salesman in Pamplona.

Speysiders or Highlanders would say they have a touch of peat in them (from the water), before changing the subject to honey or sherry or such like.

Lightly peated malts fall somewhere between these two stools, landing in an awkward area which not many whiskies can comfortably inhabit.

Hence the great fascination of Bunnahabhain. Good Bunna is one of life's pleasures. Bad Bunna, as Oz Clarke says of bad Burgundy, leaves you discontentedly fingering your wallet.

So where do Penderyn Peated and the new Isle of Arran Machrie Moor fall?

My first impression is that they are mood whiskies - sometimes fantastic and other times so-so. This isn't a criticism, it's true of most drams.

The Isle of Arran Machrie Moor has a quietly attractive nose, starting with toffee and then letting out a little puff of smoke, nothing ferocious. To taste it is nicely oily, with a lemony spicy sweetness and a fair bit of dry smoke - dried pine twigs rather than big bonfires. It dries out in the finish, leaving the smoke behind to remind you to take another sip (yes, it is rather moreish).

The Penderyn Peated is less intense to smell, with something like mint tea and a sort of fresh smoke - maybe smoke on a windy day. Tasting it reveals a herbaceous edge to the smoke, like throwing thyme on a barbeque, and then it gets all hot and peppery in the finish.

After these two the Bunnahabhain 12 year old seems pretty mild mannered. Sweet, malty or cerealy to begin, becoming really as sweet as a toffee penny. Tasting it, the body is much fuller than the other two, and I can't really see any smoke in there at all. Perhaps the peat is doing the Highland trick of broadening the malt, but behind the scenes, so to speak.

Both of the newcomers have been growing on me with repeated tastings. But (it's a small but), my overall impression, as has been the case with the standard release from each distillery, is that, while good, they'll be better when they are older. I'm really enjoying the standard Arran 10 just now, which has a decent breadth that younger releases lacked, and I'd love to taste a smoky version of that. So the Penderyn Peated is pretty good, 3; the Isle of Arran Machrie Moor is really rather good, 3++; and good old Bunna (tonight, at least) is comfy and reliable, 3.

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