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Peat or Smoke?

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Peat or Smoke?

Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Oct 02, 2007 9:28 am

Here's a little discussion topic for you:

I am getting more people coming into The Arc and asking for a smoky whisky, to which I would usually offer them something like Talisker. But as I mention this or reach for the bottle, they almost always stop me and say "no, smoky like Laphroaig (or Ardbeg ... etc)"

"Ahhhh" Says MT, "You mean peaty?"

This often leads to a discussion along the lines of "What's Peat" or "Peat???" or something similar.
To be fair, most English / Scots / Welsh and even Yorkshiremen understand Peat and this type of discussion is most often had with native Germans.
Even when I translate and tell them peat is "torf", they will usually look puzzled and still ask "but what does peat taste like?".
When I then pour them an Ardbeg / Laphroaig / Peat Monster / 'Laddie 3D3 .. etc .... they still say "No, that's smoke".

So, have you any recommendations for simple descriptions that I can use in my explanations / discussions?

Bearing in mind, I'm not complaining, I love any type of whisky discussion, but I really want to help people understand 'peat' as well as smoke.




Dear Mr. Ardbeg,
Please could I have a real lump of peat for my bar.

MT
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby K-Mile » Tue Oct 02, 2007 12:40 pm

I am in no way an expert on this subject, but I can understand the confusion. The smoke often comes, as far as I understand, from burning peat under the malted barley.

This could confuse people, as they often are combined.

Again, I could totally miss the point, but a lot of peated whiskies are marketed as 'peaty smoke'.

Peat:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Peat ... otland.jpg
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby Matt2 » Tue Oct 02, 2007 12:43 pm

Hi MT, thats a difficult one because they always seem to go together and to me it always ends up as peaty smoke or smokey peat...

I remember someone saying peat is more of the damp vegetation, fallen leafs in Autumn, sweetish, try smelling compost or other decomposing plant matter. Got a book somewhere that explained it quite well, will try and dig it out for you..

And yes, ask the distilleries for a bit, I'm sure they will send you some for your bar. If you are a friend of laph ask if they can dig it up from your own square. :D
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Oct 02, 2007 1:12 pm

I suppose technically speaking, the peaty whiskies do impart the peaty flavour through smoke, so your German guests are not wrong. But I think there are different types of smoke. Sometimes you get seaweedy, tcp, bacony smoke. Sometimes you get woodmoke or bonfires. Sometimes you get ashtrays or cigarettes. They are probably all from the peat, but the peat flavour rather depends on the vegitation that went into it. Gerry Tosh from Highland Park reckons that all the heathery flavour of his whisky comes from peat, and the reason the peat gives a heathery flavour is because it was made almost entirely from heather.

I'm probably wrong, but it does make for interesting speculation.
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby fishboy » Tue Oct 02, 2007 1:19 pm

Malt-Teaser wrote:Dear Mr. Ardbeg,
Please could I have a real lump of peat for my bar.
MT


Hi MT,

Your situation mirrors conversations I've had with friends when I offer them free choice from my cabinet. If they ask for something peaty I go for the south shore of Islay, if they want something smokey I tend to head for the Talisker or one of the smokier speysides (I'm really into Ardmore at the moment!). But I do see both terms being used interchangably and I'm not at all convinced that its right to do so.

By the way, Ardbeg will sell you some small "peat cones" to burn in your bar. Check out https://www.ardbeg.com/shop.asp?Cat=17

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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby les taylor » Tue Oct 02, 2007 1:23 pm

That point that Nick made about what has rotted down to form the peat, is an excellent one.

So here is my question. For instance Islay is very flat and the distilleries have sites, like up on the moor near the airport road where they cut the peat. Now to me the landscape doesn't look as though it's ever changed much. So what was there way back when to form the peat that is being used now?

So has the look of the Island changed?
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby fishboy » Tue Oct 02, 2007 1:41 pm

les taylor wrote:
So here is my question. For instance Islay is very flat and the distilleries have sites, like up on the moor near the airport road where they cut the peat. Now to me the landscape doesn't look as though it's ever changed much. So what was there way back when to form the peat that is being used now?

So has the look of the Island changed?


I don't think the look of that part of the island has changed all that much (probably since the end of the last ice age). I seem to remember from Andrew Jeffords book that the peat on Islay is formed from decayed, compacted Sphagnum moss. Pretty much the same stuff that still covers the site I guess.

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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby LeoDLion » Tue Oct 02, 2007 2:39 pm

Texas is noted for barbecue and grilling meat. Everybody here knows what smoky taste like! (Do you know the difference between barbecuing and grilling? :lol: ) Heck my clothes smell smoky after grilling some steaks! And when I just come out of the casino where smoking (cigarettes) is allowed, I also can smell the smoke in my clothes. Yeccc!

But peaty? Texans never heard of it because we dont have peat bogs like Scotland does. But I do can tell that peaty aftertaste with Ardbeg.
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby Mr Fjeld » Tue Oct 02, 2007 4:30 pm

Nicks explanation seems plausible. Maybe that's why there's such a variety between the different distilleries' smoke character? The smoke in the Bruichladdich smokey/peaty versions are very different than the other Islay whiskies. I don't get the same licorice and herbal scents and taste as I do with a Bowmore - which is a little bacony, and Caol Ila's expressions which I think closely resemble the Kildalton trio's peatsmoke character.

I really don't have any experience with burning peat other than the peat cones from the Ardbeg shop and they are very disappointing as they smell exactly like cigarette smoke. Myself I usually refer to smokey rather than peaty for two reasons; I don't know how peat smells when burned, and secondly because by using the term peat instead of smoke you make people think it smells like the peat itself which clearly cannot be the case.

Something is after all altered by burning such as the creation of phenols which simply isn't a smell found in any organic product unless it's burned! The herbal qualities will be there but not the phenols/medicinal qualities.

Most of the time I think we use smoky or peaty as two words covering the same character?

Interestingly, my better half bought me some hickory smoked ham some time ago and it smells very much like Ardbeg Ten!
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby LeoDLion » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:25 pm

Mr Fjeld wrote:Nicks explanation seems plausible. Maybe that's why there's such a variety between the different distilleries' smoke character? The smoke in the Bruichladdich smokey/peaty versions are very different than the other Islay whiskies. I don't get the same licorice and herbal scents and taste as I do with a Bowmore - which is a little bacony, and Caol Ila's expressions which I think closely resemble the Kildalton trio's peatsmoke character...
!

If the Islay distilleries gets its peat from surrounding areas, why would it impart different taste to sm? Is it the processing or burning?
Is it where the peat was taken from meaning from place to place the composition of peat changes? Or do the distilleries buy their peat from the same source as they do with barley? If from the same source, then we eliminate the peat itself.
My guess is its in the processing. Correct me if I am wrong but Islay distilleries gets it barley from the same source at Port Ellen? And water is water whether it be by Ardbeg Uigeadail brook or Bowmore or Bruiclladich? So what makes an Ardeg different from Lag? What makes its sm develop its own character different from the rest?
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby Mr Fjeld » Tue Oct 02, 2007 7:02 pm

I don't know Leo but Bruichladdich sources its malted barley on the mainland so the "peatsmoke flavour" might be different because of that. Personally I find Bruichladdich's smoke character to be more ash-like than herbal. But I'm only speculating :oops:
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby K-Mile » Tue Oct 02, 2007 7:50 pm

It might have something to do with how the barley is smoked. I can imagine that when burning the peat at high temperatures, it gets less smoky flavors, but then again, higher temperature might cause the malted barley itself to get the bitter 'burned' scent.

When burning peat at lower temperatures, more smoke is produced, but this should also let more of the peat out into the air, since it is not completely burned.

I just did a quick scan on google, but the words 'peat' and 'smoke' are most often joined together. So this would imply them being inherent to each other.

Edit: I just found this article:
http://www.thewhiskystore.de/experts/peat.htm

Only during the drying process of the damp malt over a peat heated fire, the smoke gets into the barley. The difference in the smokiness of the whisky depends on the time the barley is exposed to the biting peat smoke. The drying time of damp malt lies at approximately 30 hours. At Laphroaig about 18 hours of these 30 hours it is dried over peat fires; in contrast at Glengoyne it is dried over non-peat fire. Thus a huge pallet starting from extremely peaty up to whiskies with little smoke flavor develops. There is a special characteristics of malt. Even without peat, the seed develops a little peatiness.
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby Ganga » Tue Oct 02, 2007 11:01 pm

LeoDLion wrote:Texas is noted for barbecue and grilling meat. Everybody here knows what smoky taste like! (Do you know the difference between barbecuing and grilling? :lol: ) Heck my clothes smell smoky after grilling some steaks! And when I just come out of the casino where smoking (cigarettes) is allowed, I also can smell the smoke in my clothes. Yeccc!


I grill over a nice open flame with no sauce, red or yellow. I've been through the great BBQ Sauce debate between Texas, Tennessee, Carolinas and Georgia. It reminded me of a voucher debate.

Many times I try to describe the smokiness as it will vary based on the type of material burning and the dampness of the burning.
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby Lawrence » Wed Oct 03, 2007 6:28 am

You could stop describing the whiskies as peaty and as smoky. I'm not trying to be a smart ass but technically there really isn't any peat in whisky but certainly there are some smoky notes.

MT what do you think?
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Oct 03, 2007 10:50 am

Don't worry, I haven't opened this topic and then done a runner, I'm here and keep looking at the discussion I generated.

Some excellent points by all, thanks.

Lawrence, I would never consider you a "smart ass" and you have more whisky experience than many of us around here, but I would personally find it difficult not to distinguish between smoky notes and peaty ones, as I find them to be two different flavours.
Even as I type, you are making me think about your comment, but still, when I drink something like a Talisker I find smoke, but no peat. (Or smoky notes but no peaty ones). Whereas when I drink an Ardbeg or other similar Islay dram renowned for peat, I find peaty notes and not really smoky ones. Or at least the peaty notes totally outnumber or overwhelm the smoky ones.
There is some smoke to be detected in these drams, but it is different, it gives a flavour of peat.
Perhaps here I am differentiating not between peat and smoke, but between peat-smoke and wood-smoke? But certainly, that rich, earthy flavour is what I call peaty.

The great dilemma I have now is possibly Caol Ila. This is one of my favourite Islay drams, especially at CS (the JWWW "castles" and my latest Cadenhead are truly superb examples!).
Every time I drink a good Caol Ila I am immediately transported back to my native Yorkshire of all places!
In my late teens and early twenties I did much hiking in the Yorkshire Dales, mostly around the three peaks (Ingleborough, Whernside & Pen-y-Ghent) staying in various locations. But, if you walk between Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough you pass by a couple of very small hamlets, each with only a few houses. These all have open fireplaces and on Autumn or Winter days, the smoke from the chimneys drifts gently across the Dales and warms the air with what can only be described as 'the flavour of Caol Ila'.

This flavour does contain some peat and is very recognisable, but it is also a very smoky dram and I can recognise BOTH separate flavours in this dram.

So, rather than point me to an answer, your very thought-provoking post has increased my dilemma which can possibly only be cured by savouring a Caol Ila ...... Oh boy, I can hardly wait to get home from the pub later tonight!
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:03 pm

I have no idea where or how the peat flavour and the smoke flavours seperate but I too can differentiate from both flavour profiles as well as ash and sometimes even a coal type smoke :o .

However there are 2 general types of peat bogs .... 1. is a raised bog which funnilly enough is formed in lowland water logged areas areas and the other 2. is a blanket bog which is mostly formed in mountian or hill areas.

Eventhough both are very similar the Raised bog is made up of mainly decaying vegetation such as the moss mentioned earlier but no heather where as the upland bogs will contain a much wider variation of plant vegitation which would include heather.

However I'm not sure if you can point out whether turf sorry peat (we call it turf in Ireland) from different areas can impart such a dramatic and different flavour profile on whisky. It could possibly be the much more complicated and the interaction of the peat smoke in the 'new make' and then the interaction with copper stills etc could all play a major part in the end flavour profile but that is all guess work on my behalf.

However I do know that to get a higher PPM value you use the upper part of the peat as pure peat is very low on smoke when burned. They would use the upper or top part of the peat because that is where you still have vegetation that has not decomposed yet. So as top peat is dried before it is burned you will also have dried heather, dried moss and even dried grass stalks and other such material that when it burns give you more smoke. SO theorethically you could have different profiles happening in the same field of peat. So is this where the different smoke flavours come from while we get both some smoke and peat flavour from the burnt peat ... no idea but that is my un-educated guess....

Let the discussion continue ....
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby K-Mile » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:25 pm

There is an interesting observation in the "Enjoying Malt Whisky" by Par Caldenby on this subject. He mentions peat and smoke almost always as closely related. What he also says is the temperature of the burning peat (higher is less smoke), and the wetness of the malt. Malt that has not dried completely dissolves the phenols in the peat smoke in the water still attached, and when completely dry these phenols still stick to the malt.

But the real question is: what difference does it make when nosing and tasting?

I think that we can define a more woody smoke, and a more earthy smoke. Maybe herbal or spicy influences also define or combine with the smoky flavor to form a different scent or taste.

Similar chemicals that give the (peaty) smokiness are for instance also found in chili peppers.
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby Mr Fjeld » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:36 pm

This thread is great :thumbsup: Matt should make it a sticky!
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:00 pm

Yes K-M that is a very good point about the burn method and also ... the state of the malt it's self and at whatstage the heavier smoke is put through it could well be a huge factor.

I think we all have had a whisky with a touch of peat but no apparent smoke.
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby K-Mile » Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:09 pm

irishwhiskeychaser wrote:Yes K-M that is a very good point about the burn method and also ... the state of the malt it's self and at whatstage the heavier smoke is put through it could well be a huge factor.

I think we all have had a whisky with a touch of peat but no apparent smoke.


I am just having a Talisker 10yo, and I deeply inhaled from the empty glass. Talisker should be pretty peaty, as it is smoked on a peat fire, but I mainly smell fresh chopped wood kindling when starting a campfire. After a while that disappears, and it smells quite sweet, cereal at the moment, but the woody smoke was definitely there.

Phenols, which are present in large volumes in Talisker (25+ ppm) gives a smoky sensation. So peat alone does not guarantee a peaty nose or taste.

That is quite interesting, as others mentioned in this thread Talisker to be smoky, while it probably is heavier 'peated' during the production process than your typical Islay peated malt. More exposed to peat, that is, but in a different way.

Peaty water is sometimes said to have an influence on peatiness, but that can never introduce the smoky flavor. In the book I mentioned earlier the writer states that peaty water can never attribute to a higher phenol level because it simply does not contain enough. But if the water brings in not phenols, which produce a smoky flavor, but earthiness that we know as peat, that might explain differences as well.
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby Deactivated Member » Sun Oct 07, 2007 9:26 pm

Unbelievably, I had exactly this conversation again this evening.
I called in to The Arc to drop something off, once again not being able to stay away on a day off and found a couple of people asking for drams.

I obviously engaged in conversation with them and one particular person, this time American, asked what I meant when I described something as peaty.

The only way I could halp him to understand was to talk about smoky and differentiate between earthy smoke and wood-smoke.
That seemed to help!
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby pmullin » Sun Oct 14, 2007 3:01 am

In my limited experience, I've found that "peaty" is indeed a difficult concept for those of use that wouldn't know the smell of peat smoke from that of roasted unicorn.

However, IMHO, "peaty" whiskies can be broken down into three categories:
- Smokey: eg. Lagavulin, Talisker
- Medicinal: eg. Laphroaig, Ardbeg (although both of these also have smokey notes)
- Cigarette ash: eg. Smokehead, Six Isles
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby randall fairbrook » Sun Nov 25, 2007 7:46 pm

one of the greatest smells ever.....leave a drop of ardbeg in a nosing glass then return the next day and inhale deeply....it does remind me of the aforementioned smoked ham..also salt and earth....i have never held peat up to my nose and smelled....but i imagine that is in there too....peat would be vegetal in nature.....smoke would be..well...like smoked meat...if you dropped raw wet peat into the process...then filtered i imagine the spirit would taste of earth...but if you take peat and let it dry then burn it to impart flavor..that flavor would have the characteristic of warmed then burned peat mixed with it's own smoke....

it is all so simple, complicated and yummy.....
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Re: Peat or Smoke?

Postby peergynt323 » Mon Nov 26, 2007 7:01 pm

I'm sure everyone has their own way of sifting through the many aromas and tastes of the South Shore peat monsters. It's hard to wrap my brain around all the stuff that's going on. But in my mind, I always think of it in terms of peat, smoke, and phenolic secondaries (medicine, tar, rubber, seaweed, etc.)

When I give Laphroaig to people who have never had an Islay before, the most common response I get is "burnt rubber" or "tire shop." To me, that pretty much means the dominant aspects of Laphroaig are the phenolic secondaries and smoke. I don't know if I filter them out mentally or if my nose and palate are just shot from drinking whisky almost every day.

If I had to pick out a whisky that was primarily peaty, I would go with PC5.
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