In this episode of our whisky club meet up, we were learning about peated whiskies at Sip&Share session #3. This would be the very first class where whiskies from multiple countries were presented together. Hosted by Reece at @reecesims aka @whiskeymuse, a whisky brand ambassador and expert.
As with the other sessions in the past, this class was split into 3 sections. The first is where we learned about peated whisky in general, and what we are looking for as we sip and tasted. Including notes on identifying the 8 varieties we were trying today. The second part is where we try to identify each sip blind and unlabeled, based on the above notes and hints provided. And finally, the last portion is the reveal, where we see if what we guessed was what was expected. A conclusion that typically has the room cheering or jeering.
But first we learned what exactly is Peated Whisky. Simply put, it is when whisky has a smoky flavour induced by the compounds that are released into by way of peat fires. This is used to dry malted barley during the fermentation process. The length and exposure affects the depth of smoke and ultimately the taste of the whisky.
As a beginner to the world of whisky, we were told to simply observe how smokey the peated each whisky is. And if it can be classified as light, moderate, or heavy. If you want to thread into intermediate territory, you are then looking at the 5 key ways, the flavour of peated whiskey is described a as: Medicinal, Savoury, Smokey, Fungal, or Spicy.
At the expert level you break down what goes into cultivating said flavour profiles. A multi-leveled process that includes examiningthe peat that gets set on fire, and reviewing what is being used to dry out the grains. For example, considering how the bacteria and fungi in the peat changes the flavour, as well as the surrounding woodland decomposition. There is essentially 100’s of compounds that need to be considered in the composition of peated whisky. Another example is considering floral notes from wild flowers found in the peat, or honey from shrubs and heather.
I was astonished to learn all this and immediately grew a new appreciation for peated whisky. Flavour-wise I already liked it more than other whiskies and can now explain why.
The following are a few notes of the bottles made available for us to try today.
During the time of the event, we were one of the firsts to try Shinobu a Japanese peated whisky, as it just arrived in BC and would only be available at the Legacy Liquor store. It was lightly peated with the scent of vanilla and coconut, smoked with Japanese oak from a Japanese temple.
Boulder is an American single malt that is darker in hue. It is smoked light in new oak barrels and has a woodier flavour with cloves and baking spices. It gives you honey in the nose, thanks the new wood and how well the charred notes transferred over.
Amrut is moderately peated Indian whisky. Being produced in a hotter climate allows it to age more rapidly, giving it better integration and a more balanced profile.
Highland Park is also moderately peated, a Scottish whiskey with a more floral overture.
Bowmore is another Scottish peated whisky, but with more citrus forward with medical notes.
Compass Box was fun with its promise of being a “Peat Monster”. A heavily peated Scottish whisky with plenty of smoky savoury and salty notes.
Ardbeg was another heavily peated Scottish whisky. It was robust for only being aged 5 years. It was described as having lots of spice with hints of bacon and notes of a sweaty horse. How interestingly not so appealing
And Kilchoman was the smokiest and heaviest of the lot, although had plenty of light flavours like fruits, florals, and citrus.
This was such an eye opener and it really helped elevate my appreciation of whisky. Already looking forward to the next one as we continue to learn as taste and toast.