Smoke Gets in Your Scotch

Smoke Gets in Your Scotch

Food & Drink

Smoke Gets in Your Scotch


Smoky flavors have captured our fancy it seems. Bacon has never been more popular. Southern barbecue is a trending taste. Smoked paprika and sea salt are hot now, too.

The latest item to get the smoky treatment is Scotch Whiskey. According to a report in The Globe and Mail by Beppi Crosariol, distillers have been competing with each other to see which brands can claim to be the smokiest.

The distilleries are emphasizing the age-old tradition of drying barley malt over peat-fueled fires, anointing their bottled spirits with names such as Smokehead Islay Single Malt, Blackadder Peat Reek, Bruichladdich Peat and, with a nod to the creature from Loch Ness, the Peat Monster.

In a precursor to the trend, Ardbeg, makers of the smokiest widely available single malt scotch, came out with a limited edition a couple years ago called Supernova, said to deliver twice the amount of smoke of the brand’s regular scotch.

Later another brand, Bruichladdich Octomore, stepped up with its own limited edition that called itself the peatiest whiskey on Earth.

Today an array of scotches have joined the movement, among them are Lagavulin and Laphroaig, both from Islay, the whisky region best known for smoky spirits, as well as such major brand blends as the Black Grouse and Cutty Sark Black.

The trend is, in many ways, a return to old traditions, when peat was commonly used across Scotland. The decomposed vegetation is especially abundant on the island of Islay, off the southwest coast of Scotland. As sphagnum and other mosses decompose in watery bogs, the anaerobic conditions trap carbon rather than releasing it as carbon dioxide, creating a combustible fuel.

Nowadays, many distilleries use fuel coke instead, but some are using classic methods, either buying peated malt (the precursor in barley distillation) or sourcing already-distilled casks from Islay to be used in blends.

These smoky libations don’t come cheap by the way. If you’re thinking they might be a nice holiday stocking stuffer, be warned. Depending on how long they’ve been aged, these smoky liquors can be priced anywhere from $30 on up to well over $100 per bottle.

Photo: Fernando Morales, The Globe and Mail

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