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Thread: Peated Whisky and Scotch Culture

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    Senior Member blabbermouth ChrisL's Avatar
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    Default Peated Whisky and Scotch Culture

    Scotch whisky culture, that is:

    I'm pretty new to Scotch whisky. It's generally accepted that peated whisky is an acquired taste. Smoked meats, smoked fish...smoked whisky.

    Being fairly new to this, in Scotch whisky "culture" it seems that peated single malts from the islands such as Islay are regarded as a pinnacle of sorts. If that's the case, that implies that non-peated whisky is to a degree, inferior.

    Maybe my perception is not correct?

    ChrisL
    Last edited by ChrisL; 08-01-2015 at 09:04 PM.

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    illegitimum non carborundum Utopian's Avatar
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    Hi Chris!

    I have no idea if peated Scotches are considered to be a pinnacle or not. I consider all of this stuff to be a matter of personal taste and since not all Scotches are peaty, I would assume that many distillers are not making the attempt for good reason--not everyone wants that flavor.

    Regardless, in my opinion the pinnacle of peated Scotch, or any Scotch, is Lagavulin. It has ruined every other Scotch for me.

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    Senior Member blabbermouth Thug's Avatar
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    I agree with Utopian in that whisky drinking and taste is a entirely personal matter. Very similar to how wetshavers find various soaps iow YMMV.

    I enjoy a wee dram now and again and by far my favourite was a bottle of Bruichladdich Rocks from a distillery on Islay, one of their un-peated whisky's. Simply superb!!
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    Senior Member blabbermouth Leatherstockiings's Avatar
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    I like both peated and non-peated Scotches. I appreciate the smoky goodness from Islay, a sherried Speyside, or the light fruitiness of a Highland dram for what they each have to offer.
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    I'm not much after whiskey. On those rare circumstances i take hard ones i rather choose herb liquers from eastern Europe or Finnish noble spirit.
    However, whenever i decide to take whiskey, my choice is Irish Redbreast. Smooth as a mothers milk.
    'That is what i do. I drink and i know things'
    -Tyrion Lannister.

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    I pretty much agree with everyone else so far, what's good or not is down to personal taste, but you're right that in the scotch drinking culture the more peated whiskies are often considered to be for the more experienced whisky drinker. I think it's a fairly common misconception, which I guess arose because the flavours you get in peated whiskies are more challenging to some people. Smoke, disinfectant, burnt rubber, road tar, furniture polish etc. are often more acquired tastes and some people need to work up to them, but some people will love them immediately like I did. Peated whiskies could be thought of as more "advanced" in that regard perhaps, but aren't necessarily better. They're not even more advanced in my opinion. Personally I think a suitable beginners whisky should have several distinct but quite easily recognizable flavours, and a more advanced one would have more complexity and subtlety that might be lost on an inexperienced palate. To consider certain smells or flavours to be not for beginners is a mistake in my opinion. It's almost like saying someone new to fruit will like apples but not pears. How pleasurable flavours are is entirely subjective and doesn't necessarily depend on how often you've tasted them before. As far as quality goes you can get some poor quality peated whiskies and great quality non-peated ones and vice versa.

    There are certain things that can tell you about the quality of a whisky. For example a long complex finish indicates quality maturation, but if the taste just dies off at the end it can indicate a rather poor quality maturation. Chill filtration tends to remove complexity too, especially in the finish, so generally a non-chill filtered whisky will be better quality, but not always. Usually better quality whiskies are bottle at slightly higher alcohol strength too. Again not always, and really it indicates what the distiller thinks of the whisky and their marketing strategy more than it does quality. 46% alcohol is supposed to be the minimum if you're aiming for a really tasty whisky, and the higher the alcohol strength the more flavour compounds can be held in the whisky. (Adding the water releases them and the flavours and aromas genuinely change over time after you've added it. Water is essential to whisky tasting if you ask me.) If a whisky is bottled at 46% or more it shows that the distiller wants to keep more of the flavours, and that they're marketing it as a craft whisky. It could still be poor quality. An interesting thing to look for is how the flavour changes over the first few days. If you open a bottle and it tates a bit bland or has a generic kind of whisky taste, but has a lot more flavour and character a day or two later it shows that the barrel it was aged in wasn't great. If it tastes really good after a few days it's probably a good spirit and a poor barrel. Again, the quality of the whisky doesn't necessarily mean it'll be enjoyable to you. I've had some whiskies that are clearly good quality that I've enjoyed less than poorer quality whiskers that happen to have flavours that appeal to me more. Or even enjoyed poorer quality whiskies more because of who i was drinking with. It's all part of the experience.

    I think there's a certain level of machismo associated with peated whisky. Like you're more of a man if you can drink liquid smoke than you are if you prefer something more floral or fruity. It's kind of the same with stong whiskies, it's more manly to drink something that's 60% than it is to drink something at 40%, especially if you drink it neat. It's pretty silly really, especially when you realize that the stronger the alcohol the greater it's anaesthetic affect on your taste buds, another reason to add a little water. Even whisky knowledge is sometimes seen as an indicator or manliness in some circles, which again is stupid. Imagine two men. One is hard working, honest, humble, generous, a great husband and father but drinks poor quality unpeated whisky and doesn't know much about it. The other drinks cask strength peated whiskies and knows all about them, but is lazy, a liar, arrogant, stingy, cheats on his wife and beats up his kids. Which one seems more manly now?

    In summary:
    Your perception of the whisky culture is accurate, the culture's perception of the whisky often isn't.

    ps. I've seen a couple of your posts in other threads, I think you have good taste in whisky, Chris.

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    Incidere in dimidium Cangooner's Avatar
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    I agree with what the others have said too.

    Much of what is presented as fact in the whisky world is nothing more than marketing, posing, and folks trying to make a name for themselves as "experts". The most important factor is what *you* enjoy.

    Personally, I have pretty broad taste and will not run down any of the regions or styles. Right now my favourite is probably Highland Park 18yo which is a very balanced whisky that presents many of the characteristics that make whisky so interesting. But ask me on another day and it could be Lagavulin, Ardbeg, or Laphroaig, all of which are peaty as hell. Part of the reason I love them is that they bring back beautiful memories of time spent in the Hebrides. But the main reason is that *I* think they taste fantastic. Or it could be my first love Dalwhinnie which is not peated and is smooth as silk. Or A'Bunadh, one of the sherried Speysides Leatherstocking mentioned. It too is not peated, but is possibly one of the most interesting and complex malts that I have tried. (the addition of a splash of water and a bit of time completely changes it - more than any other I have tried)

    So in a nutshell, non-peated whisky is not at all "inferior". It is just different. You may like peated malts. You may not. Give them a try sometime and really don't worry about what you discover. If you like them, great. Enjoy them in good health! If you don't, relax! Stick to the ones *you* like. And if anyone tells you that you're not a 'real' whisky drinker because you don't like, say, Ardbeg, please feel free to call them on their bullshit. For that is what it is.

    After six years grad school in Scotland, I have to admit that for a few years I was a terrible whisky snob who tried to tell people how to drink the stuff. Charlie MacLean sums up nicely how I try to approach these questions now: enjoy it how you enjoy it. By all means try different whiskies in different ways, but don't worry about how someone says you should drink it.

    Last edited by Cangooner; 08-03-2015 at 01:38 AM. Reason: typo
    It was in original condition, faded red, well-worn, but nice.
    This was and still is my favorite combination; beautiful, original, and worn.
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    Incidere in dimidium Cangooner's Avatar
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    This one's for Utopian. I spotted it last summer at the Dalwhinnie distillery.

    Attachment 208284
    It was in original condition, faded red, well-worn, but nice.
    This was and still is my favorite combination; beautiful, original, and worn.
    -Neil Young

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    Senior Member blabbermouth Leatherstockiings's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cangooner View Post
    This one's for Utopian. I spotted it last summer at the Dalwhinnie distillery.

    Attachment 208284
    The link doesn't seem to be working.

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    Incidere in dimidium Cangooner's Avatar
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    Hmm... let's try this again. Maybe resizing it will help? I'm not sure why it made an attachment link rather than show a pic. Fingers crossed...

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    It was in original condition, faded red, well-worn, but nice.
    This was and still is my favorite combination; beautiful, original, and worn.
    -Neil Young

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