Which Ardbeg is the one to get for someone that doesn't love a HUGE smoke/peat profile? I'm trying to ease my way in.
Unfortunately I don't think there's a good answer for that. The two that spring to mind are Airigh Nam Beist and Gallileo. ANB is a dusty released from 2006-2008 and is expensive and/or difficult to find. Gallileo was the 2012 annual special release, is expensive, and is not a great whisky or a great representation of Ardbeg.
Thanks for the help. I'd heard good things about the Uigeadail, but wasn't sure how much of a smoke bomb it was.
That said, when I started on Scotch, I was advised to buy a bottle of Laphroaig 10 to see what my tolerance to the extremes were. So I did, and I've never looked back. I'd guess less than 10% of all my Scotch purchases since that day have been totally unpeated. But that's me... and in retrospect, it could have gone very badly.
It's up to you - either head straight for the deep end (Laphroaig 10 or Ardbeg 10 - usually cheap enough you won't be pissed if you hate it, can both be found around $40), or pick up a lighter peated malt like Springbank 10 or 12 CS (which almost everybody loves - even peat haters) or look for some traditionally non-peated brands that occasionally offer up something with a hint of smoke (Bruichladdich, Benriach, Tomatin, etc.).
Talisker 10 is more smokey & peppery than "peated" - which is a nice middle ground. Doesn't have the medicinal qualities of your typical Islay peat bomb. Highland Park 12 is another very lightly peated pour that tends to score well with most folks.
So... if you want to dive in: Ardbeg 10 or Laphroaig 10
If you want to put in your whole foot - Sprinbank 10/12CS or Talisker 10 (Bowmore Darkest noted above - but it's not a great whisky, in general IMHO).
If you want to just dip your big toe try Highland Park 12 or Bunnahabin 12 (super light peating)
I wasn't sure how I felt about peat. Thought I didn't like it. But I decided I WANTED to like it so I bought Ardbeg 10. Since then I've added Laphroaig Triple Wood and Caol Ila 12. Like me some peat. The Caol Ila is decent intro to the heavier peated style that's easier to tackle than Ardbeg IMO and could be a good place to start. HP12 is also great. Lots of flavors with that hint of peat.
Balvenie TUN 1401 Batch 3 & 6, followed by a wee small pour of KL Chieftain's Mortlach 22 - my first bit of whisky in about a week and BAM did it kick my @$$... small pours each but man are these Scotches hitting my sweet spot right now!