Exploring the world of peated whiskies is like embarking on a journey through a landscape rich in tradition, flavour, and aroma. So let’s go on one together. Whether you’re new to the style, or a seasoned veteran of the superb and smoky, we think you’ll find something in this article you like. Mostly because there’s some great peated whisky in it. 

What is peat?

This is peat.

Exploring the world of peated whiskies: a smoky and flavorful journey

What is peat?

Peat is a natural substance that forms in wetlands, bogs, and moors over thousands of years through the partial decomposition of organic material, primarily plant matter. This process occurs in a waterlogged, anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, which slows down the decomposition rate and allows layers of dead plants and other organic matter such as sphagnum moss, grasses, and heather to accumulate. Over time, this accumulation compresses and gradually turns into peat, the composition of which will vary significantly depending on the type of vegetation that predominates in the area where it forms, as well as the specific environmental conditions.

How is peated whisky made?

Peated whisky’s smoky characteristics are imparted through the process of using peat smoke to dry malted barley. During malting, where barley grains are soaked in water to germinate and convert its stored starches into fermentable sugars, the germination reaches the desired stage, so the process needs to be halted. This is done by drying the barley.

Originally peat would have been used out of necessity, on islands where other fuels like coal or wood weren’t available. But burning peat produces a dense, aromatic smoke that infuses the malt with phenolic compounds. This infuses the grain with the unique flavours and aromas of the peat, which carries through the finished whisky. Hence why peated whisky became so popular. The amount of time the malt is exposed to peat smoke and the peat’s characteristics (which can vary by region) influence the intensity and specific flavor profile of the whisky.

The peating level of whisky is measured in phenol parts per million (ppm) in the malt, which can range from lightly peated with subtle smoky notes to heavily peated expressions that are intensely smoky and rich. The choice of peat, which varies in composition from region to region, along with the duration of exposure to peat smoke, allows distillers to create a wide spectrum of flavors and aromas, from medicinal and iodine notes to sweeter, earthy undertones.

Peat bogs on Orkney

Peat being cut on Orkney

Why do we love peated whisky?

Peated whisky appeals to us whisky enthusiasts because its flavour is so distinctive and unique. Yes, you get smoky, charred food. Drinks like mezcal can have a beautiful smoky quality. But there’s something about that marriage of peat and grain that is so pure and primal, when you taste peated whisky your soul soars. Whether it’s earthy, sweet, floral, rich, autumnal, medicinal, or coastal in profile, a good peated whisky always delivers a complex, intense, and rewarding experience.

One that is so sensory it will evoke memories of images. Maybe you drink it and see rugged Scottish landscapes. I think of my gran’s house in Moate, Co. Westmeath in Ireland, growing up in a house heated by peat, gathering around a fireplace filled with black bricks, your clothes smelling of it the next day… This sensory connection can enhance the enjoyment of the whisky, making it more than just a drink but an experience that engages multiple senses.

We also appreciate the tradition and craftsmanship that goes into peated whisky, from the cutting of peat from the bogs to the careful control of the drying process. We like the community of peated whisky, a strange but wonderful cult that forms itself and connects those who share similar tastes. Plus, it’s just cool isn’t it? We all kinda love that it’s an outsider’s whisky, if we’re honest with ourselves… 

Examples of peated whisky

Peated whiskies are most commonly associated with Scotland, particularly the islands and coastal regions where peat is plentiful. The Islay region, for example, is renowned for its peated whiskies, with distilleries like Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg producing some of the most intensely peated expressions.

Deals of the day

Ardbeg whisky is among the most popular peated whisky in the world

Peated Scotch whiskies

Ardbeg Uigeadail Whisky 70cl – From Islay’s Ardbeg distillery, Uigeadail (pronounced “Oog-a-dal”) brings sweet and savoury together beautifully here thanks to its time spent in sherry casks.

Laphroaig 16 Year Old Whisky 70cl – The legendary Laphroaig Distillery does smoke like nobody else. This is massive, maritime, medicinal whisky not for the fainthearted.

Oban 14 Year Old Whisky 70cl – A classic whisky from a fishing village that brings all the coastal smoke you want and pairs it with notes of marmalade, toffee apples and pear cider. 

Benromach Contrasts Peat Smoke Whisky 70cl – A peated single malt not from Islay, or indeed any island. Benromach is bringing the tradition of Speyside smoke in style.

Loch Lomond Peated Single Grain Whisky 70cl – Peated single grain Scotch whisky here from Loch Lomond for those who want something different. That creamy sweetness goes beautifully with the big, rich smoke. 

The delicious Teeling Blackpitts Peated Single Malt Whiskey

Peated whiskies outside of Scotland

However, peated whiskies are not exclusive to Scotland; they are also produced in other countries, including Ireland, Japan, and the United States, each bringing its own unique terroir and traditions to the process. Here’s some examples. 

Peated Irish whiskies

Connemara Peated Whiskey 70cl – A hugely important peated Irish whiskey, Connemara reminds people that Irish whiskey can be smoky too and has done so with aplomb.

Teeling Blackpitts Peated Single Malt Whiskey 70cl – The first peated single malt from Dublin distillery Teeling, which is triple distilled to let the barbeque smoke elements from the whiskey’s flavour profile stand out.

Peated Japanese whiskies

Yoichi Single Malt Whisky 70cl This special distillery’s direct-coal-heated, peated yet fruity style is an unmistakable single malt from Yoichi. 

Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve Whisky 70cl – Hakushu Distillery makes whisky like no other. It’s so green with fruit, and herbs, and even the smoke is quite floral, which comes from lightly-peated and heavily-peated malts. 

Peated American whiskies

Kings County Peated Bourbon Whiskey 70cl – American peated whiskey doesn’t happen all that often, but here we have a peated bourbon, made by including malted barley exposed to peat smoke in the mashbill.

Westland Peated Whiskey 70cl – American single malt here made with a proportion of very heavily-peated whisky to bring some to the States. 

Peated world whiskies

Stauning Smoke Whisky Design Edition 70cl – A mildly smoked single malt whisky from Denmark which demonstrates that beautiful peated whisky doesn’t just belong to the islands of Scotland, Stauning Smoke is made from local ingredients and aged for five to six years in a mix of first-fill bourbon casks, first-fill Madeira casks, first-fill Jamaican rum casks, and virgin American oak casks.

Cotswolds Peated Cask Single Malt Whisky 70cl – The Cotswolds Distillery in England created this expression with peated whisky quarter casks, so it has a lovely delicate smokiness.

Amrut Peated Single Malt Whisky 70cl – A smoky Indian single malt, peated to 24ppm but still with lots of beautiful fruity and malty elements. 

This week we're making the amazing Penicillin cocktail!

The Penicillin cocktail

Tasting and enjoyment

Tasting peated whisky is an experience that engages all the senses. The aroma is the first encounter and will often reveal the smoke first. Take your time and approach the glass gently, allowing the smoke to waft out and not billow like a great fire. You should be able to recognise the smoke type as we so often encounter these aromas in our lives. Is it bonfire smoke? Or BBQ. Maybe it’s ashy. Perhaps there’s a coastal element in there. Keep taking in the aromas and the whisky will reveal more: fruit, spice, floral notes, seaweed, leather… Depending on the dram, of course. 

Then, it’s time to taste. Again, the smoke will often lead the way with other flavours backing it up. Give it time and pick out the other elements among the peatiness, like its sweetness, spice, fruit, or maritime qualities. Add water if you need to calm things down a notch and want to appreciate the other flavours in your glass. Then take a moment to notice the way the smoke interacts with them. Peated whisky shines when the smokiness doesn’t dominate the spirit, but gives it a complex, savoury, and warming backbone. 

Don’t be afraid to play with peated whisky either. The Penicillin is a superb cocktail that requires smoky whisky, while a good peated Highball is a thing of beauty. Peated whisky can also be paired with food to enhance your experience. Rich, fatty foods like smoked salmon, blue cheese, or dark chocolate can complement the intensity of the whisky, while its smoky notes can provide a delightful contrast to sweeter desserts.