Peat is responsible for scotch’s distinct smoky flavor, that palate-tingling fire that drives whisky fanatics to spend ridiculous amounts of money on booze. The Islay region is particularly known for highly-peated scotch, with distilleries like Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin delivering the unbridled flavor of the small Scottish island to drinkers all over the world. But what exactly is peat, and why does it matter?
Where Does Peat Come From?
Before being used in whisky production, peat can be found in a bog. These bogs—also known as peatlands or mires—are massive fields built up over centuries. Bogs grow at about 1 millimeter per year, so an average 3 meter deep bog was created over the course of 3,000 years. The peat itself, a spongy material, is comprised of decayed plant matter—mostly moss.
Peat’s incrementally slow formation ironically contrasts its incredibly fast burn rate. Igniting the dried terf releases an immense amount of heat, something early peoples in the region put to great use to stay warm. The flammable muck is a relative of coal, and while it burns much faster than its more recognizable sibling, it’s still a slow burn compared to wood.