Either you love it, or hate it, there is usually no middle ground tolerance. Peat is a topic I love. A LOT! I have a few personal anecdotes, but before we jump into reminiscing, let’s make sure we are on the same page as to how this truly unique flavour gets “in” to the whisky.

Peat Bog on the Orkney Islands

It’s big, it’s bold and it’s rather distinct…

To get the sugars out of the Barley, (essential process to allow the yeast to perform its all-important task of creating alcohol) the barley (traditionally) was steeped in water for a few days, and then laid out onto malting floors (picture a large warehouse with a layer of damp, evenly spread-out barley). Here, each individual barley grain is being “tricked” into sprouting, as it slowly starts to germinate, in the process “breaking” open the starch cell, allowing “sugar” to be released. Now we don’t want a warehouse full of barley plants, we want whisky. So, traditionally here is where the fun part comes in.

Germination needs to be halted; this is done by placing the wet barley on a perforated floor in a kiln. Before electricity was invented, most distilleries used what they had on hand to create fire, to create heat. And that was Peat. Peat is decomposed plant vegetation and depending on where the peat is dug up/harvested, and what vegetation its composed of, once harvested and dried, when lit in the kiln, it will create a) Fire and b) Smokiness. Depending on the composition of decomposed plants making up the respective peat, a unique “peat-reek” will be created. After several hours drying the barley in the kiln, the germination process has been halted, and now you have barley that is ready for milling, and mashing.

The kiln at Highland Park

The unique flavour profile, straight from mother earth!

Know your roots…..

Those avid peat fans will know that peat from Orkney Islands, creates a very different smokiness to that of its rather famous Island sibling, Islay.

Islay is infamous for its peaty whiskies, and it has a touch more of a “medical” undertone. If you research vegetation on Islay, you’ll see its more lushes, big trees plants etc. Then Orkney, the windswept archipelago of islands, is rather unique in its natural vegetation, due to the high volume of wind, you’ll find far fewer trees, and more classic, Scottish Heather.

I have visited both Islay and Orkney. I have a square foot of a peat bog at Laphroaig which has a little South African flag on it, this flag was planted by me (as a “Friend of Laphroaig). I have harvested peat on the Orcadian Peat Bogs. I have sipped Laphroaig on a solo walk from distillery to distillery on Islay. I have toasted fellow colleagues with some rather epic Highland Parks on the wind-swept, awe evoking Cliffs of Yesnaby. Peated drams have found their way into my heart (and onto my palette) and our portfolio holds a variety of spectacular drams which are in all honesty, my go to whiskies.

Including Caol Ila Cask Strength, Very Cloudy Bunnahabhain Staoiosha, and the beauty from the mainland, Ballechin.

If you want to explore some interesting peated expressions, look no further than www.SpiritsSouthAfrica.co.za

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