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For peat's sake


For peat's sake

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									                                             4th Quarter 2007

For peat’s sake                                                 When wanting to introduce our friends to single malt whisky,
                                                                I think we do them a disservice by pouring something light
                                                                and gentle. Surely something that is rich, full flavoured,
“So who doesn’t like peated whiskies?” It’s a question I ask
                                                                pungent and robust will better demonstrate how a single malt
at most tastings I host. Invariably there is always a show of
                                                                stands out from, say, Johnnie Walker? But I digress…
hands in response, but I’ve noticed that the relative number
of hands going up at each tasting seems to be decreasing.
Granted, heavily peated malts aren’t everyone’s cup of tea,
but then neither are heavily sherried whiskies or old, oaky
numbers. Fortunately, with such a huge range of styles and
flavours, scotch whisky offers something for everyone.

There is a school of thought that says peated whiskies are
an acquired taste. Some presenters or books advise novices
to start with something soft and gentle, say a Lowland or
Speyside malt, and then work up to the peated malts of Islay.
And to this, I say: Nonsense!

It is amazing how many people tell me that their first single
malt was a peated whisky. After several years of drinking
blends, it was actually a Lagavulin 16yo that opened my eyes    It’s no secret that peaty drams from Islay are the darlings
to the world of single malts. It was precisely that smoky,      of the whisky world at present. The likes of Lavagulin,
pungent and seaweedy flavour that grabbed my attention          Laphroaig, and Ardbeg (often termed “the Kildalton three”)
(and my breath) and made me want to explore further. Had        simply cannot produce enough to meet demand at present.
I been handed a Glenfiddich or Glenlivet, I would probably      Lagavulin now operates non-stop around the clock, seven
have dismissed the experience and stuck with my humble          days a week to utterly maximise output. However, in terms
bottle of Black Douglas.                                        of output, Caol Ila is the real workhorse of the island. In
                                                                addition to its own modest place in the single malt market,
Ironically, I actually believe you need to have quite an        Caol Ila chiefly feeds the blenders, and its six stills churn
experienced palate to fully appreciate the likes of Glenlivet   out more spirit than any other distillery on Islay. Bowmore,
or Glenkinchie. They are light, soft, subtle and certainly      which is slightly less peaty than the Kildalton three, is always
unchallenging on the surface, and they require a good nose      a favourite with the Society, and it has its own huge market,
and some alert tastebuds to pick out the complex undertones.    particularly in Asia.
Up until a few years ago, those five distilleries were our chief    / Speyside distilleries use malt peated to 2-3ppm, and some,
sources of peaty perfection, at least from Islay. Port Ellen,       e.g. Glengoyne, make a point of using entirely unpeated malt.
which closed in 1983 is becoming increasingly scarce (and           The bottling of Ardmore on our current Bottling List comes
expensive), while both Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain were          in at a very pleasant 10ppm).
traditionally unpeated whiskies. However, Bruichladdich was
acquired by new owners in 2000, and with former Bowmore             If we relied purely on the numbers, we’d assume then that
master distiller Jim McEwan at the helm, Bruichladdich is now       Ardbeg is the peatiest of the above available whiskies. But this
producing a variety of highly peated malts for bottling under       is where the magic of distilling comes in. As we’ve explored
the names Octomore, Port Charlotte, and Lochindaal. And,            previously, there are simply too many other factors that all
perhaps most excitingly, Kilchoman, the first new distillery to     contribute to the final character of a whisky, and the final
be built on Islay in 124 years, is now in production and plans      peatiness – at least as our tastebuds perceive it – is another
to release its first whisky as a 5yo in 2011.                       story.

                                                                    This is best demonstrated with Caol Ila and Lagavulin. Sister
                                                                    distilleries under common ownership, they use identical
                                                                    malt from the one source, all peated to 35ppm. And yet
                                                                    the difference in the final spirit that runs off the stills is
                                                                    extraordinary. The reasons for this are numerous but tangible:
                                                                    Lagavulin ferments for 55 hours, Caol Ila for 80; Caol Ila’s
                                                                    stills are tall and plain, Lagavulin’s are described as “plump”;
                                                                    the stills at Lagavulin are charged to 85-95% capacity, Caol
                                                                    Ila to 50%; Lagavulin takes a wider cut of the spirit run, from
                                                                    72% ABV down to 59%, Caol Ila collects just from 75%
                                                                    down to 65%. I appreciate these are dry statistics that may
                                                                    not interest all readers, but they go a long way to explaining
But please don’t think that peated whiskies are made only on        why the flavours and textures from each distillery are so
Islay. Brora (Highlands), Benriach (Speyside), Loch Lomond          markedly different and why one is peatier than the other.
(Highlands), and Springbank (Campbeltown) are just some
of the distilleries on the mainland that produce – at times         The mashing, fermenting and distilling processes greatly
– heavily peated malts. As it’s not their usual house style, it’s   affect the final phenol levels in the finished spirit, as much
common (although not universal) practice for them to bottle         of the phenol content is lost along the way. Despite both
their peated product under a different name. For example,           starting with dry malt peated to 35ppm, Lagavulin’s finished
Loch Lomond’s peated malt is known as Croftengea, while             spirit phenols emerge at 16-18ppm, whereas Caol Ila finishes
Springbank bottles its peated make under the name of                up at 12-13ppm.
Longrow. (A sensational example of Longrow graces our
current Bottling List). And just across the Irish Sea, Cooley       [Technical aside: The above details for Lagavulin apply from
Distillery in County Louth makes a deliciously peaty malt           1994 onwards. Prior to this, Lagavulin’s peat specification
under the name Connemara.                                           was for 50ppm, explaining why OB Lagavulin 16yo is one
                                                                    of the peatiest drams going around. It reverted to 35ppm in
It would be remiss of me not to state that peated whiskies are      1994, and fans of Lagavulin can expect a slightly less smoky
also made much closer to home. Well, at home, to be precise.        experience from 2010 onwards when this lighter-peated malt
Bakery Hill in Victoria and Hellyers Road in Tasmania both          finds its way into the OB 16yo release].
offer peated versions of their malts, and both are excellent
whiskies.                                                           However, again, we must not rely entirely on the numbers,
                                                                    particularly when unique and individual single casks are
Chemically speaking, the peatiness of a whisky is measured          involved. Some of the smokiest drams we’ve featured on our
by its phenol content, expressed in parts per million. When         Bottling Lists over the years have come from Caol Ila, and
ordering their malt from the maltsters, each distillery has its     this quarter’s list is no exception.
own peating specification. Notwithstanding the occasional
and unusual one-off releases that emerge from time to time,         So next time you pour yourself something smoky, take the
Ardbeg’s average peating specification is 50ppm, Laphroaig          time to contemplate your dram and unravel all that’s in it.
weighs in at 40ppm, Lagavulin and Caol Ila share 35ppm,             Consider its texture, complexity, and strength and look for
and Bowmore comes in at 25ppm. Bruichladdich’s variations           those other traits that peaty whiskies offer – iodine, meatiness,
of Port Charlotte, Lochindaal, and Octomore (the last of            charcoal, brine and so on. Do it for peat’s sake!
which has yet to be released) come in at 40, 50, and 80             Andrew Derbidge
respectively. (To put these figures in context, most Highland       Director & Cellarmaster, & NSW Manager
  Australian Malt Whisky                                            An Exclusive Tour to
  Tasting Championship                                               Scotland - with SMWS
                                                                    The Society is considering organising a 10-day guided tour to
                                                                    Scotland in 2009 - date to be finalised - for a small group of
                                                                    Scotch Malt Whisky Society members/whisky tragics. This would
                                                                    be a luxury tour with accommodation and land travel, taking
                                                                    in a range of distilleries around Scotland, a visit to the SMWS
                                                                    Head office and warehouses in Edinburgh and, of course, one (or
                                                                    more!) visits to the Society’s Members Rooms. Tour guides will
                                                                    be organised from within the industry’s key personnel, and of
                                                                    course, our own Society crew will be onboard. The tour itself will
                                                                    be organised by a specialist travel agency and will be available as a
                                                                    land package with assistance with flights if you wish.
How good is your palate? Can you pick the difference
between a Glenlivet and a Talisker? How about a Laphroaig           At this stage, we are asking for expressions of interest. Please
from a Lagavulin? The Society is delighted to announce              contact our office if you would like to put your name down for
the resurrection of the Australian Malt Whisky Tasting              this fabulous opportunity to visit the whisky mecca in the safe and
Championship.                                                       capable hands of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society!
The Championship was an annual national event that ran
out of Adelaide from 1989 to 2002 (although it was in recess
for three years in the late nineties). Keen tasters from all over
                                                                          Happy 5th Birthday!
the country, and indeed internationally, gathered to compete        The Society celebrates five years of dramming in Australia
in a blind tasting to identify which whisky was which and be        this month. The first official event was a promotional tasting
crowned Australian champion!                                        put on for the press on 29/10/02. 30 journalists were invited
Now under the banner of the SMWS, the Championship will             to the tasting and just four turned up! However, the Society
be based on a similar format. At the time of registration,          then launched successfully in November 2002 with a series of
entrants will receive a list of commercially available whiskies     three complimentary tastings in Sydney (attended by 40, 26,
from which the competition malts will be selected. On the           and 48 people respectively), before taking the show around
day of the competition, entrants will receive a short-list of       the country in mid-2003 to establish itself in the other states.
malts and have eight drams before them which they must              By the end of 2003, the Society had launched in all the cities
subsequently correctly identify from the short list, (e.g.          in which we now hold tastings.
Whisky “A” = Glenmorangie 18yo). The person with the
highest number of correct answers wins the title!                   I recall attending the second of the three complimentary
                                                                    Sydney launch evenings as a punter and being amazed at the
The Championship is being planned for April next year and
                                                                    quality and diversity of the drams on offer. Cask strength,
will be held in Sydney. Entry is open to all and sundry, although
                                                                    single cask bottlings were a very rare breed in Australia in
Society members will receive a discount on registration. And
                                                                    those days, (and indeed, still are) and there was a sense of
yes, needless to say, some very special prizes are on offer!
                                                                    genuine excitement and discovery in the room as many tasted
More details will be released in the coming months.                 these luxuries for the first time. I also remember sitting not
                                                                    far from a gent who was particularly concerned that there was
                                                                    no cola for him to mix his drams with! (I noted he was not
   Last orders date for                                             present at subsequent Sydney tastings!)

  pre-Christmas delivery                                            I also recall that the room had been prepared for about 50
                                                                    people, and only 26 of us turned up, leaving 24 unused
                             To ensure your Society bottling        settings, each with five drams sitting forlorn and untouched.
                             arrives in time for Christmas,         Several of us volunteered to ensure those extra drams didn’t
                             please place your order by Friday      go to waste. I’m afraid the rest of the evening is a bit of a
                             December 7th 2007. Any                 blur……
                             orders placed after that date cannot
                             be guaranteed to arrive before         Andrew Derbidge
                             Santa, unless sent by courier.         Director & Cellarmaster, & NSW Manager
A very special Macallan                                             Our good friend had brought the next bottle from a trip to
                                                                    Scotland to celebrate my husband’s 50th. It was a recreation
Whisky Dinner                                                       of the Macallan Fifties. It did not disappoint and a few felt
                                                                    this was their favourite of the night – except for the SMWS
                                                                    Cask 24.97…or Cask 24.92! It was extremely drinkable,
We recently held a Macallan tasting night in Sydney for our
                                                                    featuring rich, resinous dried fruits, spiced ginger and cloves
members, where we enjoyed a mixture of both SMWS and OB
                                                                    with good wood on the nose. Subtle toffee sweetness and rich
Macallans. Jenny Forrest, our State Manager for South Australia,
                                                                    citrus aromas with a hint of peat smoke were also present.
was a little envious so she organised her own Macallan tasting
                                                                    Wonderful! It’s a pity it isn’t available in Australia.
and invited some friends! Jenny reports as follows:
                                                                    Our first SMWS whisky was from Cask 24.97 Twinkling
                                                    From left:
                                                                    lights in smiling eyes 16yo, a sublime first fill sherry butt
                                                    Alan Forrest,
                                                                    of brown gold colour. Aaahh! One of our favourites! The
                                                    Jo Bourchier,
                                                                    palate is rich, smooth, complex, creamy, with sweet dried
                                                                    fruits and apricots. It’s nutty and oily. And superb! It also
                                                                    has an extremely long finish. This was the best of the night
                                                    & Mark
                                                                    as far as I was concerned.
                                                    Photographer    We moved to the OB Macallan Fine Oak 18yo which was
                                                    - Jenny         matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry oak casks.
                                                    Forrest         The orange zest we associate with Macallan was more obvious
                                                                    with this whisky, but its lighter style possibly struggled to
While perusing our home whisky collection, we decided               stand up against its heavily sherried predecessors.
the time had come to try the six Macallan whiskies we
                                                                    We finished with Cask 24.92 Blowing bubbles and spun
had gathered. At our regular SMWS tasting evenings we
                                                                    sugar 15yo as the final whisky of the evening. It was yellow
experience and enjoy a range of distilleries. An evening such
                                                                    gold from a refill hogshead with good oak on the nose, with
as ours meant that we could experience a range of different
                                                                    a touch of pine and some vanilla notes. Then treacle and
bottlings from a single distillery. The guest list was easy –
                                                                    sticky date pudding. Sweet resin and dried apricot, orange
limited to a few who enjoyed and appreciated single malts
                                                                    zest and some more fresh pine followed. It was sweet, smooth
– our good friends from next door and a special long term
                                                                    and gorgeously drinkable and a great partner with our dark
friend – all of whom are regulars at the Adelaide SMWS
                                                                    chocolate and blueberries.
tastings. I wanted the food to complement the whiskies and
ended up choosing to enjoy a range of crusty breads with a          The evening was indulgent and decadent – and great fun.
cheese platter, with White pearl Tasmanian camembert, Adel          The OB Macallan whiskies were excellent, very drinkable
blue from the Adelaide Hills, King Island naturally smoked          and are very much part of our whisky experiences. But the
cheddar and vegetable croutons. Whole Smoked Ocean Trout            non-chillfiltered single casks, chosen by the SMWS, offer
with Lime & Chilli cream dressing, Smoked Salmon pate and           us a different level of pleasure in their unique and amazing
my Smoked oyster creamed cheese log followed. To finish we          treatment of malted barley, yeast and water. The Macallan is
enjoyed blueberries, dark chocolate and coffee.                     a distillery deserving of its fine reputation.

The whiskies were a combination of SMWS and OB Macallan             Jenny Forrest, SA Manager -
bottlings. The influence of wood in the Macallan range has
a significant role, giving rise to diverse flavours and aromas
of the whiskies.
                                                                    When is your next Event?
We started with a personal favourite, the OB Macallan 12yo,         Sydney Tasting              Friday 16th November
a whisky matured in sherry oak casks from Jerez, Spain. Its         Brisbane Tasting            Friday 16th November
rich gold colour and nose of vanilla, with a hint of ginger,        Perth Dinner                Thursday 22nd November
dried fruit, sherry and wood smoke give rise to a palate that       Wollongong Tasting          Friday 23rd November
is deliciously smooth and rich with dried fruit and sherry. It      Adelaide Tasting            Friday 23rd November
is certainly a whisky that should be an introductory must for       Canberra Tasting            Monday 26th November
beginners.                                                          Melbourne Tasting           Wednesday 28th November
                                                                    Melbourne Dinner            Thursday 29th November
The Macallan 13yo Single Cask Bottling (from an                     Hobart Tasting              Wednesday 5th December
independent bottler) was golden honey brown in colour,
with a nose that hinted at light honey and vanilla tones, with      Please visit our website for the latest information.
toasted oats. We really enjoyed the honey, dried fruit and
citrus with a smooth, sweet and smoky finish.             

                            The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Pty Limited ABN 33 101 905 560
                                             PO Box 1113 Newport NSW 2106
           Telephone: 02 9974 3046 • Facsimile: 02 9999 5610 • Email: • Web:

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