Peated whiskies include scotch. The spelling changes according to different parts of the world- whisky or whiskey. Usually, “whisky” is used in Europe, Scotland, Australia, Japan. Whether it be peated Japanese whiskies, single malt whisky, Islay whiskies, blended scotches, peated Highland malts, or any Indian whisky company- the leading magazine Whisky Advocate will tell you the difference.

All novice whisky drinkers know the gentle flavor enhancements in every malt. Peat is responsible for such enhancements. Just how chili peppers add that sweet smoke to spicy food, the peat game of peated whiskies should be strong too. Peated whisky is a tradition for countrymen and stays strong till today.

What is Peat?

Peat is practically a type of waste that is necessary for taste, smell, and other alcoholic characteristics. It is a soil-like fossil fuel. It is prepared by processing dead and decaying plants (even partially decayed vegetable matter) and animals. The compression takes place in very damp, wet, and bogland areas. Peat is also factorized by the plant life that grew on specific land.

Scotch drinks
What is Peat In Scotch: A Complete Guide

Surprisingly, many people are not aware of the fact that peat has been used as fossil fuel for thousands of years for energy. As the extraction of fossil fuel was limited and transportation was difficult, peat became the source of energy. In earlier times, peat bog was harvested and cut into slices of sods that turned into tough peat bricks after 2 to 3 weeks. They held more energy than coal.

What are the 5 Types of Peat

There are 5 types of peat mainly based on the extraction method, climate circumstance, and the depth at which they are present.

Upper Layer

This is the topmost layer of peat and extends 10 inches long. In the German peat cutting procedure, the upper layer is cut and laid on a sand bed after the harvest of black and white peat. The upper layer of peat is made up of the roots of sphagnum moss.

Sphagnum Moss Peat

It is the youngest peat and is made from moderately decomposed moss called sphagnum that is nearly 10 times its weight when placed in peaty water. This peat is very light-colored. Not one, but many varieties of sphagnum moss can be used to prepare the same. But, the only downfall to it is that sphagnum moss peat degrades much quicker than other peats.

Colored Peat

It is also known as grey peat. It is extracted from the upper layer and is light brown in color but slightly more decomposed than the topmost layer. Colored peat is more decomposed than the white peat and retains less water compared to the sphagnum moss and litter.

Peat Litter

It goes by the name of peat dust. It is also extracted from the upper layer like the colored peat. Peat litter is found in three forms- normal, coarse, and fine. This grade differentiation comes from different extraction methods. It can retain around 8 times its weight in the water. However, the water uptake is much slower than sphagnum moss peat.

Black Peat

It is non-permafrost peat and one of the oldest. Upon drying, it shrinks because of low peaty water retention. After complete drying of damp malt, it turns very hard. This dried peat is the best for smoky peated whiskies.

What Does Peat Tastes Like?

The taste of peat is affected according to the region of brewing or fermenting. Every region in this world has a different kind of climate that puts a direct effect on the peat. So, the usually noted taste of peat are-

  • Herbal
  • Creamy
  • Sulphuric
  • Smoky
  • Rich
  • Soapy
  • Medicinal
  • Burning tires
  • Diesel
  • Mossy
  • Bonfire
  • Saline
  • Citrus
  • Nutty
  • Barbecued meat
  • And even like bacon

What is Peat Smoke?

Peat smoke has phenols. This chemical gets absorbed by single malt peated barley. This happens when the drying process takes place in a kiln. The dried peat is what gives away the flavor of peat smoked barley and the punch of peated malt. The smoke is ideally obtained because of the peat fire.

The peat smoke is the reason why some Scottish whiskeys taste best with a spicy vanilla twist. Due to the phenols, a medicinal note of taste also comes up.

What is Peated Whisky? 

Peated whiskies are pungent, antagonistic, and boisterous alcoholic beverages. These are more popular than pure peated scotches. Although, scotch is getting more attention nowadays as it is entering a fashionable zone.

Ballantine's Bottle With Two Rock Glasses
What is Peat In Scotch: A Complete Guide

Some choose to drink it but other whisky connoisseurs still prefer peated whisky more. They like the feel of good peaty single malts and other peated malt production of whisky. Barley grain matters a lot to them. More refined is the produce single malt whisky, better is the smoothness while drinking. That is why a spicy vanilla Scottish whiskey is marked as an earned peated whisky during special occasions for many drinkers.

What is the difference between peaty and smoky?

Both flavors of peaty and smoky are similar, yet a tad different. They cannot be present together in one batch of whiskey or scotch. During the compression of peat, it is burned for dry grains of whisky. This is when it acquires a smoky flavor to itself. This peat smoke flavor obtained by the burning process is very mild. Many whisky fans enjoy this.

The entire peat is put inside a kiln and burned below malted barley. Peat fires are important for the same. The germination process stops and transferring just a waft of smoke in the grains. The peated barley sourced for the same is chosen with perfection. This is what gives a particularly fierce style to single malt whisky production.

On the other hand, fine dining asks for a smoky Irish whiskey. Why? because the flavor is intense. A very subtle charcoal smokiness is directly exposed to the whiskey which is greater than any usual peat taste. But, it is not preferred by whisky drinkers.

What is the Method of Peating?

Some think that it is simply the water that comes through peat bogs that provide peated whisky its flavor. But, smoke is what plays an important role. Barley or damp malt get exposed to smoke in peat fires. The phenols in peat smoke are absorbed by the barley. The time they are exposed to the smoke gives the whisky its taste.

Why is peat in the whisky in the first place?

Every peated barley grain defines the refinement in any whisky production. Not all peated whisky is chosen for drinks late at night. Why?

Because of their density of peat. A peat free distillery may not provide that damp malt or peat smoke flavor. This is what defines fine Islay whiskies like Ardbeg’s which are usually described as rather pronounced elements such as fish oil, seaweed, or rubber tire. Mostly barley is used for production and each step defines how the peaty single malts will encourage every whisky production.

Clear Creek Distillery of Mccarthy is situated in Oregon and sources its barley from Scotland for the production of single malt whisky to provide peaty whisky along American shores. On the other hand, Corsair Triple Smoke produces peat smoke malt with the help of beechwood smoked barley and cherry wood to get that peaty funk.

In India, Amrut is a company that is also coming strong in the peat game. Other than any peat crazy fan, even a wine enthusiast will speak about the difference in these productions easily.

What is Peat In Scotch: A Complete Guide
What is Peat In Scotch: A Complete Guide

Usually, there are both unpeated and peated styles, If we see the history, Irish whisky is traditionally unpeated.

Which regions are stuck with peat?

From Islay to Orkney and from east to west, producers enjoy out peating. In the farther islands, peat is reminiscent of pipe tobacco. As a wine enthusiast, one can also determine the effect of peat adds in alcoholic beverages like whisky. Distillers try to improve the variations of whiskey and scotch by changing the proportions of peat for different flavors.

Mostly peat free distillery won’t try kiln or more production methods for variations. They stick to their particular flavor without any sign that their brew incorporates peat smoked barley. Hence, traditional Irish whisky makers don’t use peat fires or are concerned about keeping track of peat bog. Highland Park in Orkney peats small amounts in peat fire for themselves.

Why is Peat Needed in Whisky Production?

Scotland is covered with a large area of peat bogs. They form for thousands of years with decaying animal and plant life. It takes a year for the peat bog to grow 1mm in thickness. Moreover it was an energy source in the early England.

It was noticed that peat gave a smokey flavor when burned on a kiln. So, when peat was used as an energy source for whisky instead of coal, the flavor retained and attracted many drinkers. And at last, the flavor became a favorite and till today, it is used as a base for whisky production. Peat in the whisky is important for the flavor and richness that hooks many whiskey lovers. As said above, as chili is needed for spicy food, peat is needed for whisky production.

What is Peat In Scotch: A Complete Guide
What is Peat In Scotch: A Complete Guide

What Are Some Famous Scotch Whisky Brands?

These brands are known to have made a name worldwide-

Which is the Most Peated Whisky in the World?

There is no certain competition but Bruichladdich’s Octomore 08.3 Masterclass has 309.1 PPM! It is greater than any peated whisky in the world.

Even though, how appealing is the number- it has concerns. One sip of it tastes like diving into a swamp of peat. And, besides that, this alcohol is too overpowering.

Why some distilleries ceased to use peat?

Quality is a factor that divides consumers of peated whisky into different groups. Due to lack of fossil fuels, inland distributers produced barley peated whisky and it used to be consumed. But today, with coal and other sources of fuels, the conversion started. Speyside and Lowlands were the first ones to use coke in the whisky production.

Coke burns evenly unlike peat. Hence, some distilleries ceased the use of peat and the unpeated version of whisky started running in multiple shops. But the whisky connoisseurs prefer peated one more.

How do we measure peatiness?

The malt is mashed after drying. So, the peatiness is then calculated with Phenol Parts Per Million (PPM) system. Although, some phenol parts are lost during the process of distillation. This results in the decreasing ratio of peatiness in spirit by 2/3rd parts of the total figure. The higher the number in PPM, the smokier the whiskey.

Some examples-

  • Bowmore: 22 PPM
  • Ardbeg: 54 PPM
  • Bunnahabhain: 1-2 PPM

When one removes the upper layer of peat, they lose phenol parts per million. But, in some places, it is non-advisable to remove the topmost peat layer. Because healthy peat bogs form carbon stores for combating climate changes and other factors of habitat. The top layer provides a protective layer to fight against such changes. Therefore, when the peat removal does not happen, the PPM stays true.

What is the purpose of malted barley in peated whisky?

Malted barley or malt is used for brewing purposes. Many alcoholic beverages are made with malted barley. Normally, when one thinks of barley or malt, their mind goes to beer. But, it is also used for peated whisky and scotch. Many brewers malt their own grain while some get it done in factories. There are many processed thew barley goes through for that perfect glass of poured fine whiskey. The Whisky Advocate speaks all about it.

What is Peat In Scotch: A Complete Guide
What is Peat In Scotch: A Complete Guide

Does all Scotch have peat?

No, not all scotch have peat. Some whisky lovers have this misconception that every scotch or whisky is made with peat. It is simply a fuel source. Some brewers use peat for their own advantages while some stick to coal and other fossil fuels for the production that produce a different range of whisky.

Peated or Unpeated: What is the Diference?

Irish whiskey is originally unpeated while the other parts of England have purely peated whiskies. It is because of the climatic conditions and soil profile that the peat is used accordingly. Single malt whisky production is now spread further outside of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The peated scotch remains the highest in production compared to unpeated one. Even though many peat free distilleries try not to include any peated material, the maltings still release some peated expressions in the flavor.

Who are whisky drinkers of history?

There are 7 renowned whisky drinkers of history whose profession and art speak for their whisky love. They are-

  1. Mark Twain (writer)
  2. Frank Sinatra (musician)
  3. Ava Gardner (actress)
  4. George Bernard Shaw (playwright)
  5. Winston Churchill (former British Prime Minister)
  6. Haruki Murakami (poet and writer)
  7. Robert Burns (Scottish poet)

To end: Peated whisky or not?

As the famous whisky drinkers of history would say, “What is life without a smooth grained peated whisky?”

There are numerous variations of peated whisky and scotch out there in the market. With varying grains, flavor, smell, type of fossil fuel for production, and more factors, the consumers shift. Whether a glass of unpeated scotch or peated whisky- the love for this classic and traditional alcoholic drink remains in the hearts of passionate drinkers forever.