Whisky for Girls Presents Whisky Fashion ~ Peat is the new black
Each distillery has a house style. This house style has its foundation in the water supply and the still shape.
Laphroaig’s water comes to them through the peat moss; the water which goes into the making of their spirit is as brown as their dram which takes 10 years to mature!In the case of Kilchoman, their house style has its foundation in economics.
Anthony decided to make a fine, light spirit to sell quickly, a spirit that would taste good while still young, and so the Kilchoman stills were designed accordingly.
A dram is made from two things ~ the spirit and the maturation.
According to Paul Hughes, director at International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt University, the most important flavours in a whisky come from ‘the raw materials, the distillation process, the maturation’. So, basically the whole thing!
Bruichladdich has very tall, narrow stills, this allows their spirit to have fruity and fragrant notes, as the esters, which is the name for these compounds, are lighter, and they rise up easily and flow along the lyne arm to be condensed. The Bruichladdich spirit cut is only 8 % points of alcohol.
At Laphroaig they have one of the longest and latest spirit cuts in the industry. Their spirit cut takes 2hours and 15 minutes, and is cut between 72 – 60.5 %. Their dram contains heavy, peaty and iodine notes. The heavier notes, the phenols, which are the wood smoke and medicinal notes and the feints which are the leathery tobacco notes take longer to rise up. Sometimes they condense and fall back down as they are unable to travel along the lyne arm if it is angled upwards. This process is called reflux.
Unless Bruichladdich are making their Octomore or Port Charlotte spirit, they don’t smoke their barley in peat to a very high ppm (ppm means ‘parts per million’). They mainly dry their barley in hot air. Therefore, Bruichladdich spirit doesn’t have many peat flavour molecules per million flavour molecules, it has about 3 ppm. It is regarded as unpeated.
Octomore is dried in peat for days, having 167ppm and is touted as being the most heavily peated whisky in the world!
Previously, Bruichladdich didn’t tend to use many sherry casks in their maturation. The creamy, nuttiness of Bruichladdich was achieved from the Bourbon casks. It is since Jim McEwan et al took over that the experimenting with different casks in maturation began. They had to create something for people to buy whilst waiting for their core 10 year old to mature.
Islay is famed for producing heavily peated whisky. This is because of the abundance of peat available for fuel in the past. Peat was used to fire the kilns that dried the barley. There were no coal mines; however, there were numerous coal mines in Campbeltown. The glow from the coal fires of the Campbeltown whisky producing region could be seen from a hundred miles out in the Atlantic. As times changed and new methods of drying barley became available Islay was no longer peat dependent, and early in the 20th century, Bunnahabhain decided to start producing peat free whisky.
The peated Islays gained their fame, and notoriety, during prohibition in America. Laphroaig was permitted to be drunk as a medicine, as was White Horse, a blend from Lagavulin. When other whiskies were not known, advertised or drunk, these hefty, peaty Islay whiskies gained a strong hold in the public consciousness. As these whiskies became well known long before any other, it could be argued that the outside world’s perception of Islay only producing peated whisky arose from this circumstance.
Recently, the whisky tastes have come full circle. Bruichladdich has brought out Octomore and the PC series. Bunnahabhain has remade its 12 year old to fit better with the new young, testosterone fuelled markets. Everyone is pleased when a whisky is not chill filtered and is created with less ‘interference’; chemical or otherwise, but, even on Islay we are becoming as homogenised as the high street. Peat is the new black.
This peat fashion feeds the new markets; the 27 year old European guy who demonstrates the present whisky drinking demographic. The fashion will last for 10 to 15 years or so, then, the craving will be for a more subtle, ethereal flavour. The fashion will change. The Latin countries will be unlikely to crave the peat. Brazil will probably want a more fruity, sweet whisky ~ like the Bunnahabhains and Bruichladdichs of old. So, by the time the South American taste has acclimatised to the whisky we are sending her now, and, developing a more sophisticated palate, craves the unusual, distinct flavours of the single malts, the 10 years of peat fashion will be up. We will then produce new (old) fruity, sweet, yet subtle and complex drams ~ and the big wheel will turn again.
Out will go Peat and in will come Ester!
Uisge Beatha ~ the water of life ~ always changing, always the same.
Written by Rachel MacNeill www.whiskyforgirls.com November 2012
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