What Does “Peated” Mean in the World of Whisky?

Have you ever heard of a liquor, particularly a whisky, referred to as “peated” and found yourself wondering what exactly that means? If you don’t know, don’t worry; there are many people who enjoy sipping whisky on a regular basis without ever really understanding the meaning of “peat” or what goes into the process, either. But if you want to learn a little bit more about this element of whisky production, check out the information below to help you get started. You just might learn a thing or two about your favourite type of liquor!

What is Peat in General?

If you’ve ever been to the garden centre in your local home improvement store, you may have seen bags of something labelled “peat” or “peat moss” on the shelves. Believe it or not, this is actually (more or less) the same substance that is used in the production of peat whisky.

Peat is called moss, although it’s not actually the same thing as a moss when you get down to the specifics. In reality, it’s a combination of dirt or mud and decomposing plant life that’s usually found in very moist areas, and it can often be found abundantly in these locations. For use in gardening situations, peat is cut out and then dried before being bagged and sold to customers. This dried version of peat is used as planting material for many different species of flowers and other plants. It’s particularly useful for growing plants that live in boggy climates naturally.

In the past, peat was used as a type of fuel in Scotland. Since it was easy to find and grew in the marshes and bogs of Scotland without much human interference at all, it became widely regarded as a useful type of fuel before it was ever incorporated into whisky production. Eventually, peat was used to keep whisky distilleries in operation, too.

How is Peat Used in Whisky Production?

The simple answer to this question is that peat gives the whisky a specific smell and flavour when it’s used to heat the kiln during the distillation process. But of course, there’s a little more to the process than just that!

Part of the process of distilling whisky involves malting barley. Although modern distilleries don’t usually malt their own, distilleries of the past did. The process of malting barley helped start the conversion of sugars in the barley, turning them into alcohol and moving them toward the finished product. When the malting process is finished, barley is put into a kiln and heated.
In the old days of whisky production, this kiln was operated with peat as the source of heat and energy. This burning, drying peat gave off a distinct smoke with a noticeable smell that seeped into the barley as it was cooking inside. From there, the barley carried this taste and aroma into the finished liquor, making the final product taste quite a lot different than it would have without the kiln-dried peat.

Why was Peat Originally Used in Whisky Production?

Peat was used mostly because it was easily accessible. Scottish whisky distilleries had plenty of peat to use in the operation of their kilns, and so they used it. They may not have realized at the time what a distinct impact they were having on the world of whisky, but over time, the unique flavour of peated whisky solidified itself among the liquor market.

Why did Peat Go Out of Fashion in Whisky?

There’s no big, sweeping, dramatic reason why peated whisky eventually fell out of fashion. It can simply be boiled down to consumer preferences, in the end. Many whisky fans didn’t like the taste of the smoky, tar-like peated whisky and, therefore, began shifting toward the consumption of other types of whisky instead.

When coal became a more viable source of heat and power for the distilleries and their kilns, peat was all but forgotten. Today, the vast majority of whisky is not distilled with peat as part of the process, and it can be difficult to find peated whisky.

Where is Peated Whisky Still Made?

If you want to try peated whisky, you may have to get a little creative with where you look for it. However, it’s not impossible to find, and some regions of Scotland still make peated whisky the same way they did long ago. Not every distillery made the switch to other types of fuel, and some have been using peat the whole time.

Orkney, Islay, and Speyside are three regions of Scotland where peated whisky is still produced. These liquors are often made in small batches, but they are readily available from these locations. It is also possible to find peated whisky from some other countries, including Japan and India.

What does Peated Whisky Taste Like?

Peated whiskey has a very distinct flavour that many whisky fans just don’t enjoy. However, some love the unique and slightly bizarre taste and find themselves wanting more after sampling it for the first time.

The strongest note on the front of a peat whisky is its smoky flavour. From there, it’s also described as nutty, herbal, grassy, earthy, or even like saline or iodine. It has a dark, robust and rugged taste that is sure to call to mind feelings of misty bogs and Scottish landscapes from a time gone by.

Conclusion

If you ever find yourself faced with the opportunity to try peated whisky, give it a sip or two. You may find you truly enjoy the distinct flavours associated with the dying art of using peat in whisky production. But if you find you aren’t impressed by it, don’t worry; you’re not alone in that, either.
At the end of the day, peated whisky isn’t for everyone. But its history and impact on the world of whisky as a whole is something that should not be glossed over, and the process should not be totally forgotten.

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