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Issue 24 - Peat performance

Whisky Magazine Issue 24
July 2002

 

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Peat performance

Peat is a staple ingredient of many classic whiskie. Ian Wisniewski looks at the hows, and whys and wherefores of this valued element .

I assumed my palate would follow the archetypal route: savouring Speyside elegance before graduating to Islay's blockbusters. But my first trip to Islay revealed a deep commitment to everything peating can achieve. Smoky embers? Yes, please. TCP, creosote and fresh tar? Give me more, I love it.

In addition to the level of peating, another consideration is the origin of the peat. As coastal and inland peat has differing characteristics, this yields a varying range of phenolic compounds – though exactly how influential this terroir is in the resulting dram depends on who you ask (particularly as the production process has a significant effect on the phenolic level).

Peat cut from inland moors features a higher level of forestation and bracken, with Speyside peat for example comprising plenty of Scotch pine, roots, heather and spagnum moss (which has a great ability to retain water). The closer to the coast, the higher the level of sand, which means a looser texture, with coastal peat bogs, particularly on the west coast, also characterised by seaweed.

Islay peat is a prime example, comprising pine trees, grasses, bog myrtle, heather and mosses, alongside a significant level of seaweed and sea spray influences, while sand contributes additional saltiness (being historic ‘ocean sand'). These components combine to give a lightly oily peat with iodine, medicinal, salty and even tarry notes (which can be readily identified in Islay malts).

Extracting peat is obviously eco...

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