What Is Peat And What Does It Have To Do With Scotch?

You may have heard the term peat to describe a smoky flavor in liquor, but just what exactly is the stuff? Peat is essentially a surface layer of soil that is made up of decaying or partially decomposed organic matter. It's primarily composed of plant matter, found in moist, acidic conditions such as swamps where the soil is largely deprived of oxygen. If the word conjures up images of a boggy moor in Scotland, it's probably peat's association with Scotch whisky, and the fact more than half of the 2.7 million hectares of peatland in the United Kingdom are found there.

When cultivated and dried, it can be burned as fuel, and peat has been utilized for heating and cooking purposes for thousands of years. Yet its characteristic smoky qualities have also been used in crafting peated whiskies, according to Whisky Advocate. They note that peat is used during the kilning of the malt in the whisky-making process to imbue the end product with smokiness.

A bouquet of rubber tire

Peat can also have different smoky flavor and aroma profiles depending on the country or region from which the soil derives. An organic compound found in peat called phenols lends the whisky distinctive fragrances. Montpelier Liquors describes peated whiskies from the Islay region of Scotland as hitting the palate with essences of seaweed, brine, iodine, and even rubber tire. Whereas the Highlands of Scotland produces peated whiskies with a smokiness redolent of tobacco and barbecuing meat.

Although Scotch whisky is the alcohol most associated with incorporating peat smoke, it's not the only type of liquor to do so. Buffalo Trace, a popular bourbon brand based in Kentucky, has introduced its Experimental Peated Bourbon, which infuses its bourbon with peat smoke. Additionally, there are some Irish and English whiskey distillers that offer peated versions of whiskey. McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt Whiskey offers aged varieties made with hints of peat as well, boasting a "robust and smoky nose." The smokiness of peat might not appeal to everyone, but with all the contrasting styles available out there you might just find a peated liquor that's perfect for you.