Smokey Winter Nights – Glenglassaugh, Kilchoman, Bunnahabhain

Delhi in winter has a smokey quality from the stubble in fields surrounding the city being burned to little roadside fires to keep warm.

While it has been years since I lived through a Delhi winter, I was reminded of those chilled evenings with smoke in the air during our recent Whisky Ladies evening which featured Smokey Whiskies!

What did we try?

So let’s talk a bit about peat with its PPM or Peaty “Phenol Parts Per Million”….

Once upon a time, peat was the norm to dry malted barley. Then enter this new fangled alternative called coal… or more precisely coke… made readily accessible by the 1960s via rail. Coke burns more evenly, more consistently and with less smoke than peat. The Lowlands and Speyside regions jumped on the unpeated bandwagon early.

Yet most of Islay kept to using peat. As do other distilleries – some craft both unpeated and peated variants – occasionally under different brand names.

Glenglassaugh, for example, have two versions of their port wood finish – the peated one we tried and one without peat.

Whereas Bunnahabhain from Islay, once known for eschewing peat,  has more recently been flirting more openly with peat. Today approx 25% of their whisky has varying degrees of peat.

Kilchoman, by contrast, has from the start kept peat as part of its consistent style, playing instead with the casks with a gradation from none to full sherry.

And PPM? It is measured at the point of the dried barley… typically using UV spectroscopy or High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). However where the PPM level starts is NOT where it finishes.

Throughout the whisky making process, phenols are lost. How much depends on a range of different factors from what is left behind in the draft at the end of mashing to how they are changed during fermentation with the type of still changing the character and intensity and most importantly how it is impacted during the second distillation.

So while Kilchoman may consistently START at 50 PPM, where it end up may differ significantly… Just check out what we found with the Port Charlotte 10 year MP5 series!

There are those that suggest that given PPM can bear such little relation to actual “smoke” strength, why not drop using PPM completely and instead define the peat as light, medium or heavily peated?

Want to know more? Don’t listen to me, check out an expert like Dave Broom on Whisky.com.

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