Big Smoke is a blended whisky created by Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky Ltd, which are one of Scotland’s largest independent bottling companies. There are two whiskies in the range – the Big Smoke 40 and the 60 – and both are blended in small batches. These are the same whiskies but are bottled at different alcoholic strengths – 40% and 60% ABV respectively. Big Smoke is a young blend and contains a large percentage of smoky single malts from the western isle of Islay. The island is traditionally famous for this style of whisky and this whisky has been created to appeal to fans of big, peaty and smoky characteristics. This new batch will retail at around the £30 mark from specialist whisky retailers.
Duncan Taylor were set up in Glasgow in 1938 with the plan to bottle and blend whisky for export to America following the Prohibition period there. They are now based in the town of Huntly, close to the Speyside whisky region of Scotland. Duncan Taylor are reported to have one of the largest privately held collections of rare whisky casks in the world and bottle approximately 200 different whiskies a year. Their range is extensive and has numerous branches to it. For more information on their ranges of whisky and Duncan Taylor, check out their website www.duncantaylor.com.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a pale lemon yellow and the nose is immediately fresh, vibrant and punchy. The name of the whisky should be a clue as to what to expect - BIG SMOKE! This smokiness has an intense burnt ashy quality to it, which is backed up by some bitter iodine and phenol notes plus a whiff of surgical spirit. The high alcohol level and intense smokiness present a barrier to begin with but slowly other aromas appear as the whisky settles in the glass - plenty of cereal grains and dried grass (think of straw and hay), some vanilla, honey and a hint of tangy lemon. On the palate, this immediately numbs your taste buds and seems brash and overpowering but it is better than that. Once your mouth gets used to the alcoholic strength, the characteristics of the whisky begin to reveal themselves - this is fiery and hot with plenty of burnt ash and chilli spice, with sweet notes of vanilla, icing sugar and honey giving balance. There are also notes of robust cereals (imagine oatcakes especially), that dried grass from the nose, some salty brine and juicy, zesty lemons. The finish is long and spicy with the ash and chilli notes lingering in particular. The robust cereals/oats come through more and more with time.
A whisky of this strength suggests that some water should be added. Up on doing this (just a few drops) the characteristics are immediately softened and the effect of the powerful alcohol is lessened. The smokiness is soft and gentle now (think of damp embers), although still ashy with a hint of hot peppery spice. Plenty of vanilla and milled oat notes are present, as is a new vegetal note which is reminiscent of cooked asparagus. The palate is creamy with vanilla again prominent. The soft smoke and sweet notes above combine well and more dried grass is evident. The finish is shorter but very pleasant and leaves a slight bitter freshness in the mouth.
What's the verdict?
This is a lively whisky that is enjoyable and a good example of the smoky style at a high/cask strength. However, we recommend drinking it with some water as while it shows its potential without, it is a little hard on the senses. With water it truly reveals its quality. Having said that, you will have to really be a fan of the smoky/peaty style of whisky to fully enjoy this and it is not for the faint hearted! Others may find it too strong or concentrated in flavour. Duncan Taylor have produced a very good whisky here and it offers plenty for your £30.