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.

Tiger

 

Comments

  1. It’s not a gratuitous NAS dig, I’m just throwing the thought out, but if phenol rating is affected by the age of the whisky then isn’t giving the consumer information about PPM at the start somewhat undermined by not telling them the age of the whisky?

  2. Gareth – it depends on whether the customer is more interested in the ppm rating as a guide to what the whisky actually tastes like rather than how old it is. I don’t know whether the whisky industry has a line graph plotting ppm of phenols in the spirit against months in cask but I think any correlation is not nearly as significant as an indication of flavour.

    Overall, however, I think your position stems from a belief that the ppm figure quoted is that of the barley used to make the whisky or of the new make – in which case you are absolutely right: what if that rating has altered over time in cask? – while I vaguely remember an anCnoc tweet stating that the ppm rating was related to the final whisky actually in the bottle. If my memory is right then the age is – in the ppm debate, at least – irrelevant.

  3. Gareth and Scotch Cyclist, thanks for your comments.

    SC is right in thinking that the ppm on the bottle is the ppm of the final mature whisky. If it were the ppm of the barley or the new make then indeed it could be quite misleading since the whisky is NAS and, therefore, the consumer won’t know how much phenolic content would have been lost during maturation as they wouldn’t know how long the whisky had been in cask for (indeed, they’d probably also need to have access to the aforementioned phenols-lost-over-time-in-a-cask graph to make any sort of judgement about that).

    Although these bottles do not carry age statements, one can make a rough guess that the whiskies are marriages of casks filled between 2004-2006. The fact that they were deemed a bit too immature in 2008 (at 4yo) suggests to me that these older casks of peated spirit were kept back for longer and are the ones which were ‘ready’ in early 2014 and used for these whiskies.

  4. Hi there,

    Royal Mile Whiskies gives the ppm as ppm in the bottle.

    http://www.royalmilewhiskies.com/product.asp?pf_id=266700002486
    http://www.royalmilewhiskies.com/product.asp?pf_id=266700002487

    That is in contradiction to the notion that less peat was used in creating these malts as not to overwhelm the gentle and soft character of the anCnoc malt.
    A young anCnoc with 11 or even more ppm in the bottle must have had about 20 to 25 ppm in the malt. Approximately one third of the peat is lost in distillation – afaik.
    It is true that one can only roughly calculate the age of a whisky using half-time models of peat decay in the barrel.
    But you surely can nose the difference between both Caol Ila 12 and 18 and Talisker 10 and 18 years of age.

    I tend to think that peating levels of a malt are given for the malt before it enters the whisky making process. You lose peatiness during distillation of course and over the years in the cask.

    Malts with 40ppm in the malt like Caol Ila Talisker Lagavulin Laphroaig and Port Charlotte to name a few come out of their stills with different peating levels and behave differently in the cask over time.
    So it would be hard to guess the age of the whiskies even if the peat levels given were the peat in the bottle after distilling und maturation.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  5. Hi all, thanks for responding.

    The ppm being the ppm in the bottle makes them a lot more peaty than I was thinking so thanks for letting me know and apologies if I missed it somewhere. I was more interested in the flavours than second guessing an age!

    That said, it would be interesting to see Scotch Cyclist’s graph (if it’s ever been created!). I’d be guessing there would be too many variables though, you’d have to put cask size/type etc. in there too. I also wonder how varied that ‘third lost in distillation’ figure is, as kallaskander mentioned that is quite different too from distillery to distillery with still capacity/shape variation.

    I suppose it’s a human instinct to want to quantify these things. Although the ppm figure at whatever point is purely a physical/chemical thing I know a few people who maintain they are not keen on peated whisky go great guns for Octomore. Someone’s always going to be the human spanner in the works!

    Enjoy your weekend drams.

  6. Kallaskander, are you sure Talisker uses 40 ppm malt? That would mean they have one of the biggest losses of them all as the phenol content measured on their 10yo is actually 6.5 ppm, as compared to Laga, which you also mention, which has 19.5 ppm in the bottle at last check. Unless Talisker use only a proportion of the 40 ppm malt, and the rest is unpeated (see HP). Sorry, it’s been a long time since I’ve been there, can’t quite remember what the set-up is and too lazy to go to the next room and check the Malt Whisky Yearbook;P

    As to the age/phenol content issue, of course it would be great to see such graph but one would have to be created for every distillery x every type of cask they fill which creates a large number of permutations. Any ‘average’ just wouldn’t do the complexity of the process justice in my opinion.

    And as to anCnoc specifically, kallaskander is on the money, malt used for peaty runs at Knockdhu is usually between 15-25 ppm and as casks used for Rutter, Flaughter and Tushkar were all laid down between 2004 and 2006, making them 8-10 yo, a loss of somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 between the malt and the finished product gives us some insight into how much roughly was lost.

    Now, while this is completely unfounded in anything I’ve ever heard or read, my intuition would be that the higher the initial phenol content, the greater the rate of its loss would be. Anyone in a position to confirm/disprove?

    Happy Phenol Geeking Day, everyone:D

  7. Hi there,

    years ago I made myself a table of peat contents in the malt used for different whiskies.
    I was wrong with the Talisker as I put it down as 25-30ppm, aim 22-23pmm in the malt whisky.
    So sorry for the 40ppm. That is wrong.
    Whether the aim is 22-23ppm in the new make or in the bottle I can not say at the moment. I would guess it is for the new make considering the numbers you gave. 6.5ppm in the 10yo would still be a high peat level loss in only 10 years – no matter from what point you start.

    But from the table here http://whiskyscience.blogspot.de/2011/02/peat.html

    one can learn some interesting things about ppm and the apparent peatyness of whisky.

    Another interesting thing about peat… our sensory system can detect “peat” or phenol from a threshhold of only 2ppm. From my experience I say there is a “ceiling” as well meaning that the race for the peatiest whisky between Octomore and Ardbeg had to come to an end as our sensory system seems unable to distinguish between peatier and peatiest.
    The difference between 80ppm 100ppm and 160ppm like in some Octomores is translated as very peaty by our brain and another step up to 200ppm is still very peated so for our brain there is no point in increasing the peat level ever more.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  8. Hi there,

    at http://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2014/04/ancnoc-peaty-rutter-flaughter-tushkar/

    they show an interesting table where the peat content of bottled malts is compared.

    “Combine that with the table in Whisky Science’s excellent peat post and we find that anCnoc keeps a lot more of its peat during the production process than the more established smoky bottlings. There will be reasons behind this (the whisky is younger than many of the comparable bottlings; they almost certainly mash, ferment and distil differently to the Islay whiskies, their local microclimate is different, and so on) but it mainly goes to show that barley ppm isn’t that reliable an indicator of final peatiness. From a quick glance over the Whisky Science figures, I’d expect the Rutter and Flaughter to come in at a similar level to Bowmore, but they’re a fair bit peatier than that.”

    What this table does is to amaze me even more that so much peat was used in order NOT to interfere with anCnoc’s more delicate character….

    Greetings
    kallaskander

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