Where Does the Smoky Flavor Come From in Scotch Whisky?


Mmm. Smoky Scotch. Perfect on a cold, rainy day, or any day for that matter, weather be damned—let’s not limit ourselves. But where does that smoky flavor come from?

Peat.

Wait—what’s peat?

Basically, it’s bog soil, but more accurately, peat is an accumulation of dead organic matter, moss, and decaying vegetation. Now, nobody was sitting around hundreds of years ago saying to themselves, “boy, this dirt would sure make our whiskey taste better!” but it was put to use nevertheless as a fuel.

In order to make Scotch whiskey properly, barley, which is being malted, must be heated to stop the germination process (which itself was initiated to convert starches into sugars—those sugars are then converted to alcohol by yeast during the fermentation process). The most abundant fuel source for starting a fire to complete that task was peat, and as it burned, its signature smoky embrace washed over the barley, imparting those flavors straight into the grains.


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