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For Peat Sake!  

因泥煤之名

You may question my sanity but I genuinely enjoy the winter in China! My desire to eat hot pot & Sichuan dishes increases whilst my Hakushu hiball is firmly replaced with heavily smoked whiskies such as Laphroaig and Lagavulin! The desire for such rich distinct pungent character derives from a fuel called peat used to heat homes, cook food and of course produce whisky in Scotland for over 500 years. Even with a growing global demand for peated whisky, the industry accounts for just 0.5% of peat use in the UK! So what is peat, what is its purpose in whisky and why do we use it?

Peat first and foremost is simply vegetative matter/ immature coal that is easily accessible without having to dig deep. It is made from compressed carbon rich remains of plants and moss preserved in lightly acidic waterlogged conditions that form peat bogs. The peat vegetative and moss make up varies on where geographic location. If one looks at Islay peat (coastal peat) the makeup comprises of pine trees, grasses, heather along with a significant level of seaweed and sea spray.  Peat closer to the coast also contains a higher level of sand which provides a looser texture whist adding further saltiness. These components combine and impart iodine, black tar, medicinal and salty notes into the final product. If one however examines inland peat where there is a significant amount more forestation and bracken compared to windswept Islay or Orkney, the peat vegetative content is pine, roots, heather and sphagnum moss dominant is far greater. The BenRiach Curiositas peated Speyside malt & the Old Ballantruan released by Tomintoul enjoy dry wood smoke and heather without sea salty notes.

Unlike barley and water, the use of peat is an optional extra in whisky production. Peat is used to provide a unique aroma and flavour during the malting process. Similar to a wet t-shirt over a BBQ, the barley that contains typically 40% moisture absorbs the peat smoke first before it starts to dry with the heat. Such desire to create a ‘peat reek’ requires a balanced ratio of peat cut from the top layer (near the surface) containing living plant material and further underlying layers to generate heat. To also add to the varying peat moisture levels varying from 10 -45% balancing and sustaining a constant level is a remarkable skill. Such smoke reek exposure levels are measured in phenolic parts per million (PPM.) This ranges from a lightly peat 0 – 10 PPM such as Bunnahabhain; 10 -30 PPM medium peat such as Bowmore and 30+ heavily peating levels such as Laphroaig and Ardbeg. For those that are looking for heaviest peat experience, the Bruichladdich’s Octomore bottled at cask strength kicks in at 168PPM! 

During maturation the peating level can also affect the influence of the cask. Usually this maturation is said to account for 60% of the flavour, though with a heavily peated malt, phenols mask the oak influence reducing this to approximately 40%. The oak type also leads to further debate. Today more and more distillers are opting to use ex bourbon barrels to promote phenols and distillery character compared to sherry butt maturation that can work exceptionally well or but also can mask the phenols.

Peating levels are rarely affected during the first twenty years of maturation. The level can actually rise during this period due to similar compounds and polyphenols found in the carbon charring of the barrel. After this duration the flavour derived from the cask becomes more prevalent with the phenols beginning to fade.

Peated whiskies have a seductive charm to them. Whilst they are a challenge for new whisky drinkers there is a global army of loyal followers growing day by day who love it. For those whom have drank peated malts for many a year, fear not, we have enough peat in Scotland for the next 5,000 years!   

 

你可能會質疑我的理智,但我真的享受中國的冬天!當我身邊的白州 hiball漸漸被Laphroaig和Lagavulin等煙熏威士忌取代,你會知道我有多渴望吃四川火鍋!這些威士忌的刺鼻特質源於一種稱為泥煤的燃料。它被廣泛用於日常家居、煮食,還有生產威士忌。即使全球對泥煤風味的威士忌需求不斷增長,整個威士忌行業佔英國泥煤耗用量僅0.5%。 那甚麼是泥煤?它在威士忌中產生甚麼作用呢?為什麼非用泥煤不可?

首先,泥煤只是埋在地底的植物,是未達到成熟階段的煤,一般不會藏得很深,因此不需深入挖掘就可獲取。富含碳的植物和苔蘚殘渣,在微酸性的沼澤環境受壓力而成泥煤。在不同地理環境,植被和苔蘚的組成有所不同。例如艾雷島的泥煤,主要由松樹、草、石南花以及大量海藻和海水組成。靠近海岸的泥煤沙含量較多,因此較為鬆散,而鹹味也較重。這些成份為威士忌帶來類似碘、黑焦油、藥和鹹味等。內陸由於樹和蕨類比艾雷或奧克尼多,泥煤帶較多的松、樹根、石南花和苔。 BenRiach 的Curiositas Peated Speyside和Tomintoul的Old Ballantruan就具有乾木煙及石南花的味道,卻沒有那股海水的鹹味。

與大麥跟水不同,泥煤只是威士忌的一種選擇。泥煤在發麥過程中賦予獨特的香氣和味道。與燒烤時濕T恤相似,含約40%水分的大麥在開始乾燥之前吸收泥煤煙。我們需要若干泥煤表層含植物的部分以及一部分較深層的泥煤,維持泥煤水分含量於10%-45%範圍需要一定技術。大麥暴露於泥煤煙所吸收的酚的濃度以百萬分率(PPM)計算, 0-10PPM屬輕度泥煤,如Bunnahabhain;10-30 PPM屬中等泥炭,如Bowmore;30以上是重度泥煤,如Laphroaig和Ardbeg。對於那些正在尋找最重泥煤經驗的人來說,168PPM 的Bruichladdich Octomore必會讓他們驚嘆!

在威士忌熟成期間,泥煤濃度對於木桶所產生的作用也有一定影響。一般認為,木桶在熟成中對風味的影響約佔60%;而重度泥煤可掩蓋橡木對威士忌的影響力,將其降低至約40%。當然橡木的類型也有關係。今天越來越多酒廠選用波本桶,籍此促進酚類和酒廠風格,相對來說雪利桶會掩蓋酚類的影響。

在熟成期的頭二十年,酒中泥煤水平的變化並不顯著。事實上,部分木桶由於經過烤烘,當中的碳化合物和酚類其實頗為相似,因此「泥煤」水平可能不跌反升。 在這段時間之後,從桶中得到的其他風味會更為顯著,相反酚類的影響開始褪色。

泥煤威士忌對於威士忌迷來說擁有迷人的特質,儘管初嚐威士忌者不易接受,但喜歡它的人卻與日俱增。對於那些泥煤愛好者,不要害怕,在接下來的5,000年裡,我們在蘇格蘭仍有足夠的泥煤!