Islay Peat Creates Smoky Notes.
Terroir is a French term used to denote the special characteristics that geography and climate can bestow upon food and drink. It can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place”.
Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin, are all distilleries on the Scottish island of Islay, they are famous for smoking their malt. It’s a practice derived from the days when people would dry out their malted barley over a peat-fuelled fire, simply because peat was an easily and locally accessible fuel. Phenolic compounds transfered from the peat give these whiskies their signature smoky flavor.
Barry Harrison, a distillation researcher, has studied different peats and found that the chemical composition of a peat bog depends on its geographical location.
“So I tried to find out if we could match the chemical composition of a peat bog to the chemical fingerprint of the spirit. I smoked malt in a fume cupboard in my lab, then distilled my own spirit with it.”
He dug peat samples from six locations across Scotland – three of which were peat bogs on Islay. Harrison used a combination of analytical techniques to study his peat samples and smoked malt, and even volunteer nosers to test his lab-made spirit. He found not only that peat from different bogs could be distinguished by its chemical fingerprint, but that the chemical fingerprint of a bog was still distinguishable in the final spirit.
A practice steeped in tradition, lends “a sense of place” to the whiskies of Islay, playing an important part in the mysterious chemistry of malt whisky.