We are delighted to be named as the 2023 DISTILLERY OF THE YEAR!

The Smoky Depths of Peated Whisky

14 Mar 2024

From the lowlands to the Highlands to the over 790 isles that pepper the waters around the mainland, Scotland is a varied and vibrant country. And in no more spectacular manner is this demonstrated than in the wide array of single malt whiskies produced in the country. 

The Speyside region of Scotland, an area in the Highlands stretching from Elgin to Dufftown and Keith to Granton on-Spey, produces whisky that is usually unpeated and incorporates softer sweeter notes like vanilla, toffee and apple. Whisky made in the Lowlands often has a lighter body especially when compared to Highlands expressions which can be characterised as fruity, spicy and malty.

The large islands around Scotland such as Arran, Islay, Mull and Skye are all hotspots for whisky production but it is the Isle of Arran that stands out as home to the Distillery of the Year. 

Lagg Distillery on the Isle of Arran, Distillery of the Year 2023

At Lagg Distillery, we continue a centuries-old tradition of using peat in the kilning part of the whisky-making process to create single malt whiskies with rich, deep phenolic flavours - a character demonstrated in our LAGG Single Malt Core Range, the Corriecravie Edition and the Kilmory Edition. An acquired taste? Peated malts can certainly be a divisive topic between friends who enjoy a visit to a whisky bar, but some say that all whisky drinkers eventually become peated whisky drinkers. 

Made of decomposed vegetation, peat is commonly discovered in damp habitats like swamps and bogs, areas that Scotland abounds with. These bogs form gradually over millennia. Taking on a brick-like appearance and possessing a texture akin to a sponge, peat's significance as a resource stems from its high carbon content. Essentially a highly concentrated source of energy, peatlands harbour more carbon than all other forms of vegetation combined, historically rendering it a valuable fossil fuel. This is why, centuries ago, the inhabitants of Arran used this readily available fuel source for all kinds of industry, including whisky-making.

Peat cutters use shovels which cut down through layers of bog and cut out large ‘bricks’ of peat, which are then left in stacks to dry.

When used to dry malted barley, the peat smoke which contains aromatic compounds including phenols, guaiacols, and syringols infuse into the grain. The malted barley then goes through milling, mashing, fermentation and distillation process to create new make spirit, the character of which will be distinctive and unique to that distillery, depending on a number of decisions made by the distillery manager. The flavours intensify during maturation to create a whisky with a bold, yet nuanced and layered, flavour profile.

The two biggest regions for producing peat and peated single malt are the Highlands and Islay, and each has its own unique flavour profile associated. Islay, with its rugged coastline, sea-based vegetation such as seaweed, and fresh sea air, tends to produce peat with more of a maritime, ocean-kissed quality. Highland peat, on the other hand, tends to be intensely early and rich because it’s found inland. At Lagg Distillery, we use Highland peat to produce LAGG Single Malt, which carries a soft, heathery array of flavours on the nose and palate. 

The use of peat in whisky production is not universal. Some distilleries prefer to lean towards non-peated expressions when developing their whisky, using fuel sources such as coal and coke led some distilleries to abandon peat in favour of a milder taste. Regions like the Lowlands and Speyside generally continue to embraceun-peated whisky, drawn by the even burning and reduced smoke of coke.

Despite the divergence in preferences, peated whisky remains a cornerstone of Scotch whisky heritage. Its allure lies not only in its smoky flavours but also in its authenticity and connection to whisky's storied past of smuggling, piracy and illicit stills - lore particularly relevant to the Isle of Arran, home of our peated malt distillery, Lagg.

For many people, whisky, or scotch as it can be called (but only if it is distilled and aged in Scotland, of course!), embodies a rich tapestry of tradition, heritage, and unrivalled craftsmanship and this is never truer than with LAGG’s peated whisky. At Lagg Distillery, Distillery of the Year 2023, we offer a fantastic tour called ‘Arran Water: Tours, Tales and Drams’ that gives you the opportunity to deep-dive into the Isle of Arran’s rich history of illicit distilling and whisky smuggling. Follow it up with a tasting and lunch in our incredible cafe or whisky bar, which looks out over the sea to Ailsa Craig. Book your Lagg Distillery experience here.

The LAGG Single Malt Core Range - Kilmory and Corriecravie.Or - if you can’t make it over to the Isle of Arran any time soon - you can order a bottle of our Core Range peated whiskies and  embrace the complexities with each sip. Explore the Lagg Single Malt Core Range, the Corriecravie Edition and the Kilmory Edition.

Slàinte Mhath!