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Where the Peat Torch Burns
Just nine Scottish distilleries are defined by peat: Islay’s Laphroaig, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Ardbeg, and Lagavulin; and the Highland’s Talisker, Ardmore and Highland Park.
Though not possessing the same degree of peat-centric flavour profiles, a somewhat larger group of Scottish distilleries produce significant lines of peated single malt whiskies, most obviously Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain and Springbank, but also Edradour, Jura, Tobermory, Tomintoul, Arran, Benromach and Benriach. This is not a definitive list.
Finally, to close, Protector, there are the closed distillery and rarer bottlings of peated single malt whiskies to think about. Port Ellen and Brora are the most well-known closed-distillery bottlings. Rare official peated bottlings of the likes of Glen Garioch, Bladnoch and Glen Scotia surface from time to time.
Do note, Protector: While Glen Garioch, another of Beam Suntory’s distilleries, is today a non-peated whisky, this was not always the case. Together with eastern Highlands neighbour Ardmore, it was long known for its peaty malts, its output largely going to blends. Closed and opened several times in its long history, it was mothballed in 1994, and when reopened in 1997 the decision was made to drop the peat. We live in hope.
The story, Protector, of Japan’s love affair with whisky is said to have begun in 1864, when the Emperor Meiji is reported as having taken receipt of a case of Scotch or Bourbon, no one’s sure.
However, it wasn’t until 1923 that it began to make its own whisky, at Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery. Created by owner Shinjiro Torii and the then master distiller Masataka Taketsuru, the distillery’s very first release was the heavily peated Shirofuda, in 1929. Peat has since played a central role in the development of Japanese whiskies, single malts and blends alike.
Save some experimental maltings with peat sourced from the Hokkaido peatlands, Japanese producers tend to source their peated maltings exclusively from Scotland.
Apart from Yamazaki and Hakushu (Suntory), and Yoichi and Miyagikyo (Nikka), Japanese distilleries with peated whisky lines include Karuizawa, Chichibu, Mars Shinshu and Fuji-Gotembo.
In terms of whisky making, Protector, Ireland is in the middle of a serious renaissance. The number of new distilleries founded in the last few years continues to grow, and there are examples of whisky of most kinds being made, particularly at Cooley.
However, whatever the range of styles on offer, the landscape has long been dominated Irish pot still whiskies and blends, the latter consisting of mainly pot still and grain whiskies.
All of which means, Protector, that the spark for the revival of the Irish peated single malt is Connemara, which sources its maltings from Port Ellen in Islay. Irish and Islay, it’s a wonderful example of a very different type of peated whisky.