A Very Simple Guide to Peated Whiskies

Smokiness is not limited to just barbeques, or in the case of unfortunate house fires. In everyday terminology, smoked or peated whiskies are very much real, not to mention, they taste & feel incredible — leaving an enticing aftertaste.

So, What Is a Peated Whisky After All?

To accurately comprehend what “peated” means, we first need to get insights into what peat is in the first place.

What Is a “Peat” When It Comes to Whiskies

According to Men’s Journal, peat is basically a decomposed plant matter, and is in abundance in Scotland. So much so, that roughly 23% of the country is covered in it.

Peat is often referred to as a peat bog, because all the accumulation of the matter and materials ends up forming layers. This process is extremely slow and takes years. For context, Flaviar reports that a bog grows by about 1mm per year, so going with that math, it will take one thousand years to reach one meter.

It should be noted though, that the presence of peat isn’t limited to just Scotland. Countries like Canada, and even U.S.A, as examples, have peats. Although, if you’re drinking a peaty whisky, and you aren’t sure of its origin, it’ll likely be from Scotland.

At first, peat was used as a domestic fuel because of its widespread availability and accessibility. Also, peat is often likened to coal as it burns very similarly.

Over time, peat started to gain prominence in whisky making, and hence the phrase Peated or peaty whisky begun to spread around.

Defining Peated Whisky

Without technical jargon, and how an average consumer can understand, a peated whisky can be defined as one where peat fire was applied in the whisky-making, more precisely during the malting process. Thus, peat fire is exactly how it sounds like — fire from burning peat.

The smokiness in the whisky is directly proportional to how long it has been exposed to a peat-fire during the drying phase or, precisely put, drying a damp malt.

What Does Peated Whisky Taste Like?

There are a few renowned peated whiskies out there, and each taste very unique from one another. And while a regular drinker who merely dabbles can feel the difference, a pronounced drinker can point out the exact notes.

Generally speaking, a peated whisky can have the following taste notes (definitely not limited to) and or in the combination of:

  • Citrusy
  • Nutty
  • Grassy
  • Fruity
  • Spicy
  • Herbal
  • Iodine
  • Salt
  • And obviously, smoke.

This list doesn’t do quite the justification on the actual taste characteristics, as it’s more nuanced than that. You’d be better off by evaluating flavor notes from the professionals — before trying out a peated whisky. However, this should still provide you an aerial view of what to expect or what you would be walking into — even before you check out the critic reviews. Essentially, you’re not going in blind, and this knowledge beforehand can paint a better picture.

How Is the Smokiness in Whisky Measured?

The standard unit for gauging the smokiness in a whisky is Phenol Parts Per Million or PPM.

Phenol is a substance present in smoke, so the higher the phenol content, the higher the smokiness.

For a better sense of what can be considered on the very high end of the spectrum, the Octomore Masterclass_08.3 is clocked at 309 PPM.

Octomore 08.3 Peated Whisky
Octomore 08.3 Peated Whisky. Screenshot captured from Bruichladdich Distillery Website.

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Summary & Closing Thoughts

A Peated whisky certainly possesses that smokiness it is usually associated with, but it has to offer a lot more than just that type of sensation.

And if you’re looking to try one but aren’t sure which one exactly, keep the taste considerations listed here while checking out some of the critic reviews, as well as how it would feel on the nose.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a bit of guidance even to begin your research, check out a few of the following resources below:

Expert Sources and Citations