Beer Bon Blog
How Whisky Distillers use Peat Bogs to Create Unforgettable Flavors
Many Scottish distilleries utilize peat bogs to create whiskies with very distinctive flavors. Learn how “peaty whiskies” are made in this blog post.
Similar to our local regulations regarding the production of Tennessee whiskey, Scotland has legal requirements regarding the production methodology and labeling requirements for the country’s world famous style of the spirit. The Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009 (an update to the Scotch Whisky Act of 1988) outline everything a distiller needs to know if they’re producing Scotch whisky. Like Tennessee’s House Bill 1084, Scotland’s production guidelines grant enough leeway for distillers to create Scotch whiskies with a wide variety of flavor profiles – several of which have intense smoky/umami/medicinal-tasting characteristics. While that type of bouquet is certainly a signature of the Scotch style, the unique method by which the flavor is achieved it is not actually required by the Scotch Whisky Regulations.
Large parts of Scottish land are covered in peat bogs. Peat forms when plant matter starts to decay, then stops due to specific environmental conditions. For centuries, the Scots have cut slices of peat out of the bogs, dried them, and used them as an energy source – like coal briquettes but faster-burning. Peat is also what gives certain Scotch whiskies (especially those from the Islay region) the unique flavor profile mentioned above. Once the grains are malted, they are dried over the smoke of a peat fire for about 30 hours.
Since bogs only accumulate peat at a rate of about 1 millimeter per year, it’s a semi-non-renewable resource. I’m not familiar with the laws protecting the peatlands, but I do know that many Scottish distilleries use methods to reduce their peat consumption. For example, instead of using whole briquettes, the Bowmore distillery grinds their peat into powder that is gradually added to a fire to produce just the right amount of peat smoke. Several of the more modern and industrialized distilleries use closed systems that pass the same smoke over the malted grains multiple times to ensure none of it is wasted.
So even though it’s not a legal requirement, many distilleries make their Scotch whisky by literally incorporating the country’s land into the process. Perhaps Tennessee’s distilleries could take inspiration from Scotland and incorporate wood from the tulip-poplar tree to put a little more “Tennessee” in Tennessee whiskey.