The anCnoc Peaty Collection: Rutter, Flaughter & Tushkar

AnCnoc Peaty Range

What a difference a week makes. This time last week I had no idea how sensitive a soul Hoban is (well, actually, I’ve always known he’s a romantic at heart), what with his love-hate-love relationship with peat over the years. I had no idea Graeme was a culinary genius when it came to pairing peated whiskies with food and I certainly had no idea someone had let Turbo loose with a blowtorch, albeit under the careful supervision of our good friend and master mixologist Martin Duffy. Most of all, I had no idea how each of us would interpret Peat Week in our own individual way. Staying true to form, I’m sticking with the science.

The formation of peat

It’s actually quite simple, so bear with me. Peat is formed in wetlands from partially decomposed vegetation, which in Scotland, is mainly Sphagnum moss as well as some heathers and grasses. The moss on the surface will have access to oxygen and sunlight and so will grow quite happily. However, the layers underneath become waterlogged and start to decompose, which happens slowly and incompletely, due to the poor availability of oxygen. All the while, the surface moss continues to grow and the sheer weight of this moss puts pressure on the decomposing stuff underneath causing it to become quite solid. Fast forward many, many years and we have the peat which can be cut, dried and used as fuel.

Aromas and flavours

It’s all very easy to simply judge how smoky a whisky is by its ppm (parts per million) phenols, but a) where do phenols come from and b) what does this phrase even mean? Again, it’s all quite simple. Sphagnum moss is filled with phenols, all usually joined together and called polyphenols. Burning breaks these polyphenols up into their simple phenol subunits and it’s these molecules which embed themselves into the malted barley during the kilning process. Alongside these phenols, and their alcohol derivatives, there are also compounds called guaiacols and carbonyls. These are also extremely important because, without these guys, the phenols would come across as harsh, ashy notes. In the presence of guaiacols and carbonyl-compounds, the phenols take on a much more rounded personality – bonfire smoke, BBQ’d meat, smoky bacon crisps and the like.

Measuring peatiness

These phenols embed themselves into the barley during kilning, however the husk tends to take up more of the phenols than any other part of the barley grain. Remember that further on in the production process, the husks are removed and this is the reason why phenolic levels are approximately halved when going from the malted barley to new make spirit. In addition, phenols also tend to be lost during maturation, which is also why there’s a reduction in ppm phenols in mature spirit compared to new make spirit.

Ppm phenols is a term we’ve all heard being banded about when people attempt to define how smoky a whisky is. Ppm stands for ‘parts per million’ and therefore phenols are quantified by how many phenol molecules there are for every one million molecules in a liquid. In other words, if we had a tiny amount of Ardbeg new make spirit in front of us which contained only one million molecules (it sounds a lot but it’s actually infinitesimally tiny) then approximately 25 of those molecules will be phenols. Still following me? Good. Phenolic content is measured using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). An HPLC machine essentially pressurises the new make spirit and forces it through a series of filters. The bigger the molecule, the slower it will pass through these filters. As such, we are essentially separating out all the molecules in the new make based on size. Because we know the sizes of all the phenolic compounds present in whisky, we can therefore quantify them and work out how many phenol molecules there are per million. This is how we get our ppm phenols.

The humble little phenol molecule

This week’s tribute to peat was inspired by the release of the anCnoc Peaty Collection, a limited edition series of three new peated anCnoc whiskies. These whiskies are named after traditional peat cutting tools, Rutter, Flaughter and Tushkar, and come with the ppm level on the side of the bottle to help consumers make an informed decision on what level of smokiness they’d like. Peated spirit has been produced for several months each year at Knockdhu distillery ever since 2004. The first casks to be filled were evaluated in 2008 but were deemed to be not quite ready so they were tucked back up in the warehouse until earlier this year. So here we are, at the end of Peat Week on EWB. What could be a more fitting way to end this week than with a review of all three whiskies?

AnCnoc Rutter
11 ppm phenol
American oak hogsheads
46% ABV
£51.25 here

Nose: Bubblegum, honey, apple chews, vanilla icing and candied pineapple are enveloped by a subtle sweet smoke and faint germoline.

Palate: Fresh green apples, white chocolate, banana chews, vanilla fudge and gentle sweet peat smoke.

Finish: Wispy peat smoke and a touch of wood.

AnCnoc Flaughter
14.8 ppm phenol
A variety of American oak casks
46% ABV
£51.25 here

Nose: Vanilla cheesecake, apple strudel, wood chips, brown sugar and lime peel are all in a peat hearth in a carpenter’s workshop.

Palate: Thick peat, some elastoplast notes, burnt twigs, cinder toffee, toasted almonds and warm cinnamon spice. Really full flavour.

Finish: Long, rich peat smoke and some unlit cigar notes.

AnCnoc Tushkar
15 ppm phenol
1st fill American oak barrels
46% ABV
449SEK (available only in Sweden)

Nose: Caramel barrels, toasted teacakes, lemon meringue, apricot jam, faint oyster shells and bonfire embers.

Palate: A lightly peppered steak, singed orange peel, vanilla, coconut, lavender, charred oak and earthy smoke.

Finish: Lingering earthy smoke and some dusty oak.

Well there we have it. Three cracking new peaty anCnoc whiskies. I’m hard pushed to choose a favourite but if you twisted my arm I’d probably go for Flaughter. The peatiness really shines and there’s such a full bodied flavour to it. The Rutter is a great introduction to those dipping their toes into the world of peat, but if you’ve already got your budgie smugglers on and want to dive in then I’d go for the Flaughter, or if you happen to be in Sweden, give the Tushkar a go – I loved the darker earthier character which came through with this one. If you fancy winning all three bottles and a VIP trip for two to Knockdhu distillery then click here and answer a ludicrously simple question!

What a week. It’s been emotional, gastronomical and, at times, downright frightening. We’ve loved every moment of it and we hope you have to. Next time you have a peaty whisky maybe you’ll look at it in a new way – whether it’s understanding what molecules make it smell and taste peaty, whether it’s deciding what cheese would go well with it, or whether it’s blowtorching the shit out of it we hope you’ve gained new insights into the mysterious ways of our old friend.



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