A relationship with peat

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When we discussed this “celebration of peat” week as a team, we each looked at what we would contribute. We didn’t discuss too much what we would actually write (a nice surprise for the rest of the team) just an idea of what topic we would each visit.

(Celebrating the release of these beauties with a bit of focus on peat) 

I imagine Tiger, with his scientific mind, will talk about the chemical makeup of peat, and its influence on whisky (probably with a couple of references to ladies and nights out, knowing him). I wouldn’t claim to have a scientific mind (my science teachers at school would question whether I had a mind at all), so I sidestepped any opportunity to write a scientific article. Graeme will probably talk about drinking smoky whisky in some fancy bar in London with all sorts of glitterati (I’m imagining him sitting having a dram with an entourage including Paris Hilton, Jeff Stelling, Davina McCall and Billy from The Whisky Exchange). Jason will probably start talking about unicorns, Nick Cage and peat as a link between the two.

As the emotional one, the romantic if you will, I had a good think about my relationship with peat during the beginning of my whisky obsession years. I had never really drunk Scotch in my first drinking years (from 18 to 22); I was a beer and bourbon drinker. It was really my love of bourbon that prepared my palate for Scotch. By that I mean I didn’t find it harsh or strong in the beginning, I was used to neat strong liquor.

(Before booze knowledge: look how happy I am. Ignorance was bliss) 

When I went travelling, at the ripe old age of 22, I started getting into my national drink in a big way. I was in New Zealand, and my Uncle Pete (coincidence) opened up a bottle of Caol Ila 12 to help me get over my jetlag, and over the week, me, him and my cousin Nick finished the bottle. Such a delicate, easy drinking, smoky dram; it was the perfect introduction to peat and single malt whisky. Throughout my travels, I got asked lots about whisky/Scotland by the people I met in New Zealand, Hong Kong and Thailand, and I really didn’t know much about either. So when I got back here, I got a job at the Scotch Whisky Experience (to try and repair this lack of knowledge), and the rest is history.

(The Scotch Whisky Experience Days. Look how much hair Lucas has!)

I fell in love with scotch and for the first 2 years at the Whisky Experience, I was addicted to peat. I relished the complexities of Lagavulin, the upfront nature of Laphroaig, the heather notes of Highland Park, and the fruity smokiness of Bowmore. And then my love started to slip away…

The love started to slip away for a combination of reasons (all relationships are complicated). I found the peat arms race between Ardbeg Supernova and Bruichladdich Octomore expensive/frustrating, and I really didn’t like Supernova 2 (in fact, Supernova 2 on the palate damaged my feelings for peat). Coupled with repeated failed trips to Islay (family reasons, problems in my lovelife and more), and the discovery of other styles of whisky… for a while I just went off peat. I found what I had loved before, tasted harsh to me for a while.  The earthiness and peat reek started to taste foul. I really went off it in a big way.

I think it’s the emergence of Kilchoman, peated BenRiach, Port Charlotte, Ardmore, peated Pultney and now these anCnocs that have really reinvigorated my taste for peat. That and some of the unusual stuff like Balcones and Mackmyra that have returned my love for smoke. Oh, and since leaving the Whisky Experience, my discovery of Springbank, and the lovely oiliness there.

I suppose the point I’m making, is that your palate changes. When I was a child, I hated cheese. It was only when I got in to my early 20′s that I started liking fish. I’m still not really into cigars, although as I get older, I suspect I’ll start to get into the habit. Peat was my first single malt love, and then it went away. Now it is back again.

So if you are reading this and you are a peat hater, persevere. Hopefully, one day you will get it, and then you will feel the joy and passion I feel when trying a new dram of the smoky stuff.

Chris Hoban