So much whisky, so little time | Singapore | Tasting Notes


Peat, we hear about it all the time. Often used to describe whiskies with either an effusive joy that stems from true love, sprinkled with terms like ‘ppm’, ‘heavy’, ‘medicinal’, ‘earthy’; or else a disgusted sneer with words like ‘reek’ or ‘taint’, according to your own very personal persuasion.

But what is it? Peat is essentially layers upon layers of slowly decaying vegetation. Peat bogs can be up to 8m deep, though the peat used by the industry typically ranges from a depth of 0.5m – 3m. The composition of peat, and therefore the constituents of the smoke released by its burning, would therefore differ according to geographical location. Terrior?

(Traditional peat cutting by hand)

What is Peat?

(Peat cutting machine, Northern Peat & Moss)

For those who are academically inclined:

Composition of peats used in the preparation of malt for scotch whisky production influence of geographical source and extraction depth.


Differentiation of Peats Used in the Preparation of Malt for Scotch Whisky Production Using Fourier Transfrom Infrared Spectroscopy.


Also see this excellent excellent research and layman-friendly post: http://whiskyscience.blogspot.sg/2011/05/peat-terroir.html

But alas, if only distilleries cut their own peat. From personal experience, the folks at Laphroaig do cut their peat for the portion of barley that is malted in situ at least, but if the Northern Peat & Moss Company (http://peatheat.co.uk/index.html) is to be believed:

The majority of whisky distilled using peated malt in Scotland contains our peat. We also export malting peat worldwide, as far afield as India and Japan who produce some excellent malt whiskies.

Making some assumptions: If the majority of peated whisky is made on Islay, and we know the Port Ellen maltings supplies the local distilleries (plus Jura) with some if not all of their malt, could it be that the peat in your Caol Ila originated from somewhere else via Northern Peat & Moss?

Also, some Indian and Japanese whiskies are peated, but why would the distillers want to rely on Scottish peat and ignore the opportunity to differentiate their product? Could they not try a traditional fuel source? I understand rural Indians use a mixture of dried grass, firewood, hay and livestock dung, and the Japanese use firewood and charcoal. Surely some experimentation is called for, and even if it fails, there’s always local peat.



Um… No. This post barely scratches the moss covered surface of this big peaty question, and leaves so many obvious facts unsaid. So much so I now feel compelled to fill in some blanks.

A better starting point should have been made with the ‘Differentiation of Peats Used in the Preparation of Malt for Scotch WHisky Production Using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy’ by Barry Harrison, Joanne Ellis, David Broadhurst, Ken Reid, Royston Goodacre and Fergus G Priest article above. It notes a large difference between peat samples from the Speyside region (Tomintoul, basin bog), Aberdeenshire (St Fergus, basin bog), and Islands samples from Islay and Orkney.

The study comments on the climate and flora of the Islands north and west of Scotland – being cold-temperate and oceanic, acidic and low nutrient basin bogs having an abundance of Sphagnum, Sedges, Heather, and Cotton Grass.

Tomintoul in Speyside yielded peat that had Sphagnum moss remains, other vegetation from the area: blaeberry and cowberry (shrubs) with heather, bush vetch, wood anemone, violets, chickweed wintergreen, hard fern, oak fern, good shrub layer of juniper. In some areas birch and eared willow occur on gleyed peats with a ground layer of Molinia grass, heather, bog myrtle. Peat from the sample area had low levels of woody material.

St Fergus in Aberdeenshire, (east Scotland) on the other hand had peat samples which were significant in having woody remains.

The study found that peat from different sources may contribute different chemical characteristics to peated malt. Though this study did not include samples from the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands, but we know that the local flora includes Sphagnum mosses, cotton grasses, heather, cross leaved heath and deer grass typical to a waterlogged blanket bog.

But what do the various peated malts get peated with?

Highland Park uses peat from Hobbister Moor at their doorstep, so clearly Orkney peat with lots of heather components typical of Northern peat.

Talisker stopped malting in the early 70s and now gets peated malt from the Glen Ord maltings, peated with peat from Caithness. How similar Caithness peat is to Skye peat is another question left unanswered.

Islay distilleries get their peated malt from Port Ellen maltings of course, and peat from nearby Castlehill peat bog, the official site name should be Kintour Moss. Port Ellen also supplies Tobermory for Ledaig’s spirit.

Springbank/Longrow – uses locally cut peat. Meaning Campbeltown peat. Exact source unspecified.

Ardmore, the peated speysider still gets its peat from New Pitsligo and St Fergus.

Other distilleries producing peated malt include Jura, Edradour/Ballechin, Tomintoul/Old Ballantruan, Arran, Benriach, Benromach, Loch Lomond. The sources of peat for these distilleries are unspecified.





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This entry was posted on January 2, 2014 by in Peat and tagged .
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