11 Jun The Big Whisky Debate: Peated or Unpeated?
The Big Whisky Debate
As Scotland’s Oldest Working distillery, Glenturret Distillery knows a thing or two about the world of fine drams. Our Drammolier, Lucy Whitehall, knows plenty about whisky too and is here to share her dram good expertise on some of whisky’s most talked about debates.
Peated Vs Un-peated
“There isn’t a spirit in the entire world more flavoursome and diverse than our Scotch whisky. There are literally thousands of flavours out there in our drams and, I believe, something to cater for every taste. Many malts and blends offer subtle hints of different characteristics to detect and debate when nosing and tasting, but, then there are those big, spectacular, punchy flavours that are unmistakable in a whisky.
One of those punchy and truly unmistakable flavours is peat. And, yet again, whether you prefer peated or un-peated whisky undoubtedly comes down to personal preference. However, I think it’s safe to say that more heavily peated whiskies tend to be more of an acquired taste than some of our other lighter flavoured creations. Some people describe peated whiskies as having a medicinal flavour. But, like all our delectable drams, they bring enjoyment to many, many whisky drinkers out there.
The way that peat can influence the final flavours in whisky is fascinating. Whether a whisky obtains a smokier character or a heavier peated aroma is reliant on one main factor – the peat source.
So, what is peat? Peat is effectively a young version of coal. The peat that is used in the production of Scotch whisky is usually around 3,500 years old. It is formed from the breakdown of vegetation such as plants and trees that have decayed and compacted over this time. Peat formed the basis of many a fire in Scotland and it was widely used across distilleries as a heat source to dry malted barley. Not really something you would expect to find in whisky, but it adds some serious flavour to our drams!
The type of peaty character that you can achieve in a dram is not just determined by factors such as how much peat you use or whether you burn it for longer, but, most importantly, where you source it from in Scotland. There are many peat bog locations and each has been formed with its own unique type of vegetation from the landscape that surrounds it.
Orkney peat tends to reflect a heathery, mossy character determined by the island’s abundance of heather and lack of trees. Islay peat often brings you down to the seashore with a marine and sometimes medicinal character influenced by its coastal location and Highland or mainland peat frequently displays wood smoke aromas from its woodland landscape. Each region reflects something different in the final whisky.
If a distillery is looking to create a light peated flavour or, alternatively, make it more intense, they can dial down or enhance the phenols through careful cask selection. For example, sherry seasoned casks tend to add depth and sweetness which reduces the phenolic character of a distillery’s new make spirit whereas bourbon barrels tend to develop lighter characteristics through time which retains more of the peated flavours in the whisky.
We have been creating our very own special style of peated whisky here at Glenturret since 2009, called Ruadh Maor. This precious spirit is made from malt that has been dried using mainland peat which gives the spirit its distinctive heavily peated style. We are very excited to showcase The Glenturret Peated Edition as the first of our distillery expressions to feature Ruadh Maor. Through a careful combination of un-peated and peated Glenturret whisky we have been able to achieve a dram that celebrates our light, aperitif signature Glenturret style with a delicate smokey flavour…the perfect introduction to peat!
The peated Vs un-peated debate is a brilliant example of how complex and unique our world of whisky is. The options and variations that are available to us are endless. The best bit of advice I can give to address this is to get tasting! The best way to learn in the whisky world is to taste, nose and debate!
Here at Glenturret Distillery, we have a range of peated whiskies to suit any level of peat enthusiast or indeed also for the peat novice. Our Glenturret Peated Edition is a great introduction into the smokier side of Scotch whisky. It combines subtle sweetness with a lingering soft peaty finish. The Black Grouse celebrates Scotland’s favourite whisky flavours with a rich, spicy and smokey character and its distinctive cousin The Black Grouse Alpha Edition delivers an overall richer, smokier expression with higher aged malts included in this special blend.
If peat is not quite for you then don’t worry as we also have a fantastic range of un-peated whiskies, our classic Glenturret 10 years old single malt is a great example of a light, delicate un-peated dram.
Our exclusive Stillman Experience is an ideal way to learn more about the fascinating process behind producing whisky. During the experience, you spend the morning with our head still man, immersing yourself in the production process. Then you would spend time with me, or another whisky expert from our team, to learn the art of blending including the creation of your very own blend to take home – which you can make as peated as you like! You also receive a personalised bottle of The Glenturret Highland Single Malt. If you’re struggling to come up with an extra special Father’s Day gift this year then look no further!”
Taste the Whiskies mentioned by Lucy:
Learn more about the Stillman Experience at our Distillery: