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

 

Comments

  1. A lovely article, Chris, and I look forward to the other team members’ contributions (a bit of an ambitious interpretation for Jason to pull off, that one).

    I’d be interested to know whether peated whiskies have any traction nowadays in those far-flung parts you travelled through. I think smoke has a role in people’s assumptions of the Scotch whisky flavour profile but maybe the reality is a bit chastening. I know it was for me. Starting out at The Glenlivet distillery I wanted to try more and more whiskies. My mum’s favourite has always been Laphroaig, there was a bottle at home so naturally I gave it a try. It scared me.

    Fortunately, via a couple of Bunnahabhains and, yes, Caol Ilas, I came to acquire the taste for peat and I couldn’t do without it now. Kilchoman is one new smoky spirit that I love, but I’ve also discovered Yoichi from Japan recently and what an involving dram that is. I look forward to trying these peaty anCnocs tomorrow.

  2. Good examples, James. At SWE people sometimes used to say that you either love the peat or you hate it, which I suppose was an echo of Laphroaig’s famous tag line. But that’s actually bullshit. You can love it and then hate it, hate it and then love it and you can even love it and hate it at the same time. Everybody’s peat story is different but one thing is for sure…

    If you’ve ever tried a peaty whisky, you have an opinion about it:D

  3. It’s interesting working with people from other countries, talking to people from other countries (as the EWB team did when we worked at the Scotch Whisky Experience) and travelling to other countries.

    From people I have spoken to (rather than doing extensive research), I would suggest that peaty whisky has less appeal in hot countries, just as neat whisky has less appeal in comparison to long, refreshing mixed drinks. The story goes that when Kavalan set up, they did extensive research into what the local palate would find appealing (fruity and lighter, rather than smoky)

    When I went to Sweden, they were peat and smoke mad. I had a cracking dinner at the Ardbeg Restaurant Embassy in the centre of Stockholm (including Ardbeg Venison and Ardbeg ice cream). and I considered buying a dram of Ancient Ardbeg (1897) at a great bar in Stockholm.

    But like you say James, it does scare people off too. I suppose people will always remember tasting their first big smoky, but does it leave bad memories in many peoples mind.

    To echo Lucas; Smoky whisky will always cause opinion. If you mention peat to non whisky fans, they do tend to think of Scotland, so maybe it is good to have this as our iconic, well known flavour profile, whether people like it or not.

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