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Peat, the Marmite of whisky tasting, merits another try

By Matt MacPherson

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There are literally hundreds of flavours and whacky tasting notes in the whisky world.

Some I totally get. Vanilla, oak, spice and fruit I resonate with. But I struggle to place 'cardboard shavings' or 'enamel paint' which I've come across in the past.

The flavour of smoke and peat tends to divide whisky fans.

The peaty flavour comes from the malted grain- dried by a peat-fired kiln.
The peaty flavour comes from the malted grain- dried by a peat-fired kiln.

I'm very much for a peaty whisky (I wasn't always) but do believe there is a misunderstanding in what makes a whisky taste this way.

"It's the peaty water in Scotland" or "It comes from the charring of the casks" are two things I often hear.

Yes, water can run over peat bogs and distilleries do char the casks, but that is not where the majority of this flavour comes from if any.

So where does this immense flavour come from? Peat is an organic matter that has decomposed over thousands of years.

In the Highlands, this will be made up of heather and other plantation whereas the famous Islay peat is made up of seaweed and ocean minerals.

As part of the whisky-making process, you need to dry out the malt and fuelling the kiln with peat is the secret to these flavours.

Imagine being at a bonfire and smelling your jacket the next day. That's exactly what's happening to the malt.

I'll admit if you smell a bottle of Laphroaig it does smell very medicinal and somewhat off-putting to many.

But peaty whisky comes in different levels of intensity.

Think of coffee, most people don't start with a double espresso right?

To completely disagree with my own paraphrasing above I have also witnessed many people who said they didn't like whisky but had never tried a peaty dram. When they did – they instantly fell in love.

Go and try some out for yourself, love it or hate it, you won't forget the peat experience!

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