One Week All Peat
The new release of Balvenie's Peat Week is upon us. Perfectly timed with the release of another extremely smoky whisky tomorrow (you Ardbeg heads know what I'm talking about), the Balvenie is unique in the Highlands for continuing to hand malted barley in their production process. The standard whiskies do include a tiny amount of peated malt as its subtle influence is key to the ultimate complexity of the Balvenie, but every year for exactly seven days, the distillery reverts to the old ways of doing things. At one point in history is was not possible to get Scotch without some peaty element included in the distillation. Not all of it was gnarly hardcore stuff coming out of Islay, but even the most gentle highlanders had elements of peat smoke in the flavor profile. The unique thing about the Highland peat, as compared to its salty cousin from the sea, is that the organic source of the peat is terrestrial vegetation rather than ocean plants. The chemical composition is rather different from the peat being drawn from the bogs on Islay, which consist of decomposed kelp, algae and other ocean life.
The difference in organic composition creates a completely unique character when burned. This is what regionality was all about back in the day. Distilleries in a particular region had access to the same ingredients, water, wood, climate as well as shared intellectual property with regards to production practices. Now with the industrialization of the process and homogenization of the inputs, the meaning of regionality in Scotch has become more about geography and marketing than actual flavor. But every once in a while some clever distiller gives us a reason to recall the old ways. This whisky isn't just about nostalgia, it's absolutely delicious. Last year’s was cracking, but I think this one might be even better.
-David Othenin Girard