Ever wonder what that potent smoky smell/flavor that accompanies some whiskies?
The culprit is peat.
Peat? That stuff we use for gardening?
Indeed. It’s great for gardening (holds water in soil). In other countries, where peat is abundant (say Ireland and Scotland), it’s also a great source of fuel for heating homes.
So, what is peat?
Peat is partially decayed vegetation or organic matter that occurs in such natural areas as peatlands, bogs, and moors.
Since the peat is submerged in water, it slowly decays and accumulates over time. Thousands of years of layers are possible! William Wallace’s leftover potato soup is likely decaying in a bog today!
Back to whiskey.
As mentioned, it is a great source of fuel. Distilleries that want a smoky peat flavor in its whiskey will slowly burn peat in a kiln to dry the malted barley. This smoke engulfs the malt and embeds the aroma into the grain. The more potent the finished, the greater quantity of compounds that bind to malt.
This process occurs before the grains are cooked, fermented, distilled, and aged. The finished product is bottled as is: a possible Mouthful of Peat Smoke. Or, more commonly, blended with non-peat malts and single grain whiskies to scale back the smoky flavor.
Smile on this…your next glass of Scotch may have the campfire remnants of Middle Age Popes, Game of Thrones-like heroes, and above all William Wallace. FREEDOM!!!