Sunday, April 8, 2012

Beginner's Guide to Whisk(e)y part 2 : Peated Whiskies

Peated Whisky...

Amateur peat digger on Islay..

It's whisky with a smoky flavour. Medicinal flavour. It's very different. It's an acquired taste. Some love it, some hate it.

The flavour origins from peat being used as fuel to dry the malted barley. The peatsmoke infuses the barley with these characteristic flavours. The barley is then used to brew a beer which is distilled into what becomes whisky!

Here's a small guide to help you find peaty and smoky whiskies!

There is almost 100 distilleries in Scotland. Of these just 7 distilleries makes a peated whisky as their main product. Yes, just 7!

They are :

Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Kilchoman and Talisker

The first 6 are located on the isle of Islay, Talisker is on the isle of Skye

Islay, Queen of the Hebrides

Kilchoman on Islay started production recently, in 2005.

Port Ellen on Islay closed production in 1983, but whisky from this distillery is still available. It's old by now!

The last two Islay distilleries are traditionally making non-peated whisky. Bruichladdich has a side production of various peated versions (They call it Port Charlotte and Octomore). Bunnahabhain also has made smaller productions of peated whisky. But do assume that Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain is NOT peated unless you can read so on the label.

Two more distilleries could be added to this list. Ardmore, from the East Highlands, is somewhat peated but harder to find. Highland Park is also moderately peated but not much in my opinion. These are not peated on the same scale as the others mentioned here, but occasional you find bottlings from these distilleries where the peat is dominant

A lot of distilleries uses tiny amounts of peat in their production, but if you are searching peaty whiskies this is not really what you are looking for.

Just like Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain, quite a few distilleries have been or is making smaller productions of peated whisky. This has been done both to accomodate blends, but also as a part of a general peated release from the distilleries.

The more well known of these are Tobermory (Ledaig), Springbank (Longrow), Edradour (Ballechin), Tomintoul (Old Ballantruan), Isle of Jura, Arran, Benriach and Benromach.
Harder to find, there are peated versions of Caperdonich, Bladnoch, Glen Garioch, Fettercairn, Glen Scotia, Loch Lomond and probably more. You never know what distilleries have hidden inside their warehouses over the years.

Outside Scotland, you can find peated whiskies from Japan (Hakushu and Yoichi to name a couple, but read labels, these are not peated by default). Cooley from Ireland and Amrut from India has also been making peated versions. McCarthy's from Oregon is a peated american single malt whiskey.

The ones I high-lighted in red should be part of any aspiring whisky entusiasts whisky eduction and if you are really ambitious I would try to source out some Brora from 1970-1972 or so, but it will cost you


PS There's is so much more to be told about peated whiskies, there has been written full books on the subject, I can personally recommend Peat, Smoke and Spirit by Andrew Jefford

PPS Phenols, which is the molecules responsible for the peaty flavours are broken down as a whisky matures. Peaty flavours are slowly lost as a cask matures


  1. A nice introduction to peaty whisky, but I don't quite agree with the number of seven distilleries that have a peaty 'main product'. I certainly would include Ardmore because their Traditional Cask is decidedly peaty, and it definitely is their main product. With Springbank or Highland Park it really is a matter of how you define 'peaty'. It is really hard to draw a ppm line here.

  2. I gave them a mention at least :-)