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Issue 44 - Thirst for knowledge

Whisky Magazine Issue 44
November 2004


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Thirst for knowledge

Guest writer Andrew Jefford smokes out the truth on the issue of peat in whisky

When I was a lad, I used to look at the books on my parents' shelves with a sense of wonder. I loved both reading and writing; books were the unhidden treasure of my childhood. The desire to write one, naturally, became an ambition.

There was only one problem. How would I ever know enough? The process, I assumed, required the acquisition of compendious knowledge which was then distilled (a word whose full implications remained sketchy back then) into one intense volume.

No one told me the truth, which is that this is not how it happens at all.

The most common starting point is the combination of at least partial ignorance with raging curiosity. The acquisition of knowledge is an adventure the writer can then share with the reader; while the raging curiosity ensures that the hapless and self-doubting author doesn't give up when the going gets tough and the money runs out.

Back in 1999, when I decided that a book devoted to Islay and its whiskies would be a great idea, I had little other than enthusiasm. Now it's written and published, there's still much that I don't know. But I have, along the way, discovered a lot.

Including a lot that I didn't expect. The book is about much more than whisky, of course, but let's just concentrate on just one aspect of the whisky side of things for the purpose of this brief excursion: peatiness.

Islay, of course, means peaty whisky for most drinkers; that's what it meant to me in 1999.

I knew about ppm (or ‘parts per million') phenols...

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