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Peated whiskies

Many enthusiasts worship the single malts made by distilleries located on the island of Islay. It is on this island in the South West of Scotland that the most typical peated whiskies in the world are produced. However, peat is also expressed in other distilleries than those of Islay. On other islands, in other parts of Scotland and even in other Whiskies countries. The combustion of peat gives rise to phenols. The intensity of the aromas conveyed by peated smoke depends on the amount of peat used to dry the malt and the burning temperature. The most distinctive aromas are those of licorice, chimney fire, ash, but also cloves, camphor and eucalyptus.

    Peated whisky


    "Smoky", "iodized", "peated"... In the vast world of whisky and its many variations, peated whisky has a place of its own. Known and recognised, loved - and sometimes loathed - for its smoky, marine, herbaceous, medicinal and sometimes camphor notes, peated whisky is a category in itself, with its aficionados who sometimes swear by it. But where do its special characteristics come from?


    Flavours born of necessity


    At the origin lies peat (peat in English, which gives rise to the adjective peated). Widely found in Scottish soil, peat is formed by the long, slow decomposition of organic matter, mainly plant matter, in a very humid environment. Cut into lengths and then dried, it has long been used as fuel and even as a means of heating in a country where wood can be scarce and expensive.


    The production process for peated whisky is exactly the same as for unpeated whisky. The only difference is when the malted barley is dried. This is traditionally done in the famous kilns. These are tall, pagoda-shaped chimneys rising above the distilleries, in which the wet, germinated barley is dried. To obtain a peated malt, the barley is dried over a peat fire. This produces a thick, black, acrid smoke, rich in phenols and aromatic compounds that impregnate the grain. Peat releases less heat than coal, for example, which is used for unpeated whiskies. The longer the drying time, the more peat markers will be present.


    The Isle of Islay, emblematic of peated whiskies


    The Isle of Islay, in south-west Scotland, is particularly emblematic of this type of whisky. There are many deep peat bogs, and wood is scarce. Peat has long been the island's main fuel (and sometimes even a building material!). Its use in whisky-making has become a necessity, since distillation is one of the island's main economic activities and resources. Islay whiskies (Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Port Charlotte, Kilchoman...) became the benchmark for intense, smoky and generous peated whiskies.


    The same happened on the Isle of Skye, with the Talisker distillery, and on the Isle of Mull with Ledaig. But it also happened on the mainland, in remote regions where wood was a rare and expensive commodity and transporting coal was complicated. As a result, some distilleries on the mainland continue to use peat to perpetuate this ancient, smoky style. These include Benromach, Ardmore, some Benriachs and Longrow.


    Depending on the origin of the peat, the aromas will vary. While the smoky aroma is generally a constant, it can be expressed as dry smoke, or notes of soot and extinguished fire. Island peat produces marine, saline, iodine, herbaceous and sometimes even medicinal notes, whereas mainland peat is more earthy. But the fermentation and distillation secrets of each distillery will bring an infinite variety of different compounds to these peat aromas. They will become more intense or, on the contrary, more delicate and fine, particularly with time, contributing to the decomposition of the phenolic compounds characteristic of peat.




    The same happened on the Isle of Skye, with the Talisker distillery, and on the Isle of Mull with Ledaig. Scotland and Islay produce the most iconic peated whiskies, but it is no longer possible to ignore the excellence of Japanese peated whiskies. The island of Japan is rich in peat bogs. The largest of its distilleries, Hakushu in the Suntory group, and Yoichi and Myagikyo at Nikka, produce peated malts. Yoichi proudly displays its heavy, heady, smoky notes, backed by a silky texture, while Myagikyo plays a finer role, with more delicate peat. Hakushu is characterised by a very fresh, herbaceous and light peat. For peat lovers, these malts have become must-haves!



    Peat comes in an infinite number of styles, depending on the distillery and the age of the whisky. Older whiskies will have smoky, iodine notes that become more refined and blend inextricably with the other aromas.


    FAQ :

    • What is the difference between a peated whisky and a non-peated whisky?

    Peat comes into play when the malted barley is dried. The peat is burnt to dry the grain, releasing a thick, highly aromatic smoke rich in phenols, which permeates the barley and imparts its peaty aromas. For non-peated malt, the drying process is traditionally carried out using charcoal, or with hot air using new, more ecological and practical techniques.


    • How do you taste a peated whisky for the first time?

    The first encounter with a peated whisky can be surprising. Take the time to smell its smoky notes, to familiarise yourself with them. Break them down according to whether they are ashy or oily, iodized or earthy, animal or herbaceous. Don't hesitate to add a few drops of water to your glass. This will allow the aromas to open up and unfold.