Correction to the Whiskey Portion of MY Last Blog

Posted: September 24, 2011 in Uncategorized
Originally posted 4/25/11
In the interest of accuracy in whiskey lore,  I offer the following corrections to the whiskey portion of my last blog.  I sent the text of my last blog to the friend I mentioned and he promptly sent some corrections.  In hindsight, I should have done more research or at least waited until I got his comments before publishing that portion of the blog.  As always, I have included a bit of religion at the end of this blog, even though it is just a correction.
“Yes, peaty is a word.  So is “peatreek”, the nature or degree to which something smells peaty.  Though perhaps counterintuitive at first blush (or should I say “sniff”?), a good reek (of peat) is something to treasure.  For some of us.
(I can see the approach of a little investigation into the history and usage of the word “reek”.)
However, I must correct your understanding of peat and how it flavors scotch.  Peat is not dirt.  It is vegetation, mostly moss, that one author has described as partly “fossilized”.  I’ve long thought it was partly decomposed.  I will look into this further.  But it is certainly not dirt.  It is burned for fuel where it is abundant and where other fuels are not.
Conversely, it’s difficult to burn dirt – not that I’ve put a lot of effort into trying.  In fact, no effort at all has gone that direction.
Scotch whisky gets its flavor from several features and ingredients:  The yeast used; the nature and quality of source water; the proximity to salty ocean air; the barrels used for aging; and, in the case of peat, the fuel used to dry the green malt in the kiln.  Some of the peatiest, Laphroaig and Lagavulin, say their source water picks up flavor by flowing through peat (just as other distillers say theirs picks up heathery notes by flowing across the moors), but most of smokey flavor in scotch whisky comes from the smoke generated by the drying fire in the kiln.  Apparently, peat fires are kept at a relatively low heat:  enough to dry the germ and stop internal consumption of sugars, but intentionally smoldering and smokey for the flavor it imparts.
Interestingly, the Islay Islands are an area where peat was historically (and still is) abundant and other fuels had to be imported, and to this day the peatiest scotches are distilled there.  In other areas of Scotland, other fuels were more readily available and used for drying heat; and hence those areas of Scotland produce whiskys that are less smokey than those of Islay.
I’ve never been to Scotland; I’ve never smelled peat smoke; I’ve never distilled anything.  This all comes from reading, and I trust it is correct.
Apparently peat smoke smells quite good – heather and grass.  At the very least, it smells good to a peat lover.
I can distinguish smoke from wood fires of Doug-fir, pine, oak, alder, juniper, pinon pine.  So I can easily imagine peat smoke has characteristic aroma.  I hope I get a chance to smell it some day; I think then I could more precisely say “That is the peat smoke flavor”, and distinguish it from other complexities of scotch flavor.  In the meantime, “smokey” will have to do, and “smokey” and “peaty” are synonymous.
In looking into the definition of peat, I learned that Kentucky (or U.S.?) law limits the use of bourbon barrels to one time only (or at least that was true at one time).  Thus, there are a lot of oak barrels for sale that scotch distillers snap up.  Other barrels are sometimes used for scotch, but they are not as plentiful, and thus the associated scotches are specialty items.
“Consequently, when you do luck onto a bottle, you savor it and make it last.”
Yes and no.  Yes, it is wonderful good fortune to have a bottle of good single-malt, and Yes it is to be savored.  Unfortunately, a wee dram each evening means that the bottle doesn’t last as long as one might like.  But it still is made to last a lot longer than a bottle of wine or a bottle of orange juice!!  So I guess you are correct on all counts.  haha!
I found an article written by someone who likes the smokey flavor given by peat fires as much as I do.  He said he brought home from Scotland some cookies and breads in a tin that also held some peat-dried barley malt.  He took the cookies and breads out and found they smelled smokey, and long afterward he continued to open the tin occasionally to get a whiff of the wonderful peatreek.  He must be my long-lost brother, because I have several empty Laphroag cans that I occasionally open just to get a whiff; they have been empty for many years.  They never contained dried grain, so perhaps my case is one of wishful thinking and fond memory.
Though it didn’t come in a tin container, I did just now discover that my relatively new Lagavulin bottle had a drop remaining.  Thank you again.
That author also said one should never put ice in a glass of single
malt:  ice deadens the tongue, and prevents the enjoyment of the subtleties and nuances of the whisky.  He said one can put all the ice desired into a glass of blended scotch!! haha!”
I stand corrected, and gratefully so.  Thank you Bill. The next time I buy you a bottle of Single Malt, I will make certain it comes in a tin canister.  I may even drop in a few grains of aged barley for your future enjoyment.  The obvious reference to my fondness of ice in my cheap blended scotch was uncalled for, but I suppose I had it coming as punishment for my woefully inaccurate ramblings about a subject, which is obviously near and dear to your heart.
And now to answer some of my well meaning Christian Brothers and Sisters who think I talk too much about whiskey when Christians are not even supposed to drink.  In truth I have spent considerable time talking about Scotch lately, and I will attempt to avoid the subject for a while, but I offer the following quote from one of my favorite Christians of all time and arguably one of the most often quoted Christians of all time.

“Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism… [In the past,] temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotalers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion.
Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

—C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity, p. 78-79


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