Wednesday, 8 December 2010

To Peat or not to Peat?

The title may look like a setup to a tired, tired, “Irish vs Scotch, which is better?” rant, but in this case it’s not, especially given the recent release of Cooley’s new Connemara bottling named “Turf Mor” which comes in at a smouldering 57ppm. This whiskey will be reviewed before the end of the week (hopefully).

The peating of whiskey / whisky has always been a bit of a weird thing for me. At worst it’s a way of covering up a bad bit of new make spirit, but at best it can be a splendiferous (yes, it is actually a word) triumph like Ardbeg Uigeadail or any of the brilliant Highland Park releases.

Whiskey in Ireland has been about barley and wood, rather than peat, for hundreds of years due to the closed kilns for barley. Since Ireland is basically a blob of granite, covered with peat, I find it hard to believe that Irish whiskey in the main has never been peated before the advent of Connemara.

In Scotland the half smiling folksy theory runs that whisky spread eastwards from the malt Mecca that is Islay, again a piece of granite covered with peat. Islay is the by word for peated whisky and uses it the great effect. I feckin LOVE Islay whiskies (with the oft noted exception of the tramps piss, cheap vodka and fag butts that present themselves as the Laphroaig standard releases), but when I think of a whiskey, the flavours that spring to mind don’t involve smoke.

I drink more Scotch whisky than I do Irish whiskey, that’s a side effect of living in Edinburgh and having the occasional privilege of sitting in on tasting panels for Scotch bottling companies. I have found that the vast majority of Scotch’s peating levels (at least the ones I have tried) don’t impart any discernable smoke to the actual finished product.

Is the default for Scotch drinkers that they expect smoke in a whisky? Or is it considered, as I consider it, an occasionally pleasant additive?

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