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Peated Irish Whiskey Peated whiskey is the most exciting and under-appreciated opportunity in the Irish whiskey industry at the moment. A rather large statement, you might think, but allow me to explain why. The first peated whisky I ever tasted was the formidable king of Scotch, Johnnie Walker Black Label - not the mildest starting point for a peat novice. In my opinion, smokiness or a peat-like character in a whiskey is a quality similar to marmite. You either love it or you hate it. In most cases, you’re not enamoured by the flavour, but eventually, you grow to both appreciate and enjoy it. When I was first introduced to this flavour I wasn’t massively impressed, but now I’m one of the biggest Octomore fans you’ll ever encounter! It is impossible to discuss peated whiskey without mentioning Scotland. The Scots have earned their well-deserved reputation for perfecting this style of whisky, with a huge proportion of Scotch brands producing the liquid with varying levels of peat intensity such as Ardbeg, Bowmore and Laphroaig. However, Irish peated whiskey does not receive the recognition it deserves, and I believe it is under-appreciated in the Irish whiskey canon. In fact, it wasn’t until I tasted Connemara 22 year old, an Irish variant of the smoky style, that I truly appreciated the complexity and depth this quality can impart to a whiskey. Connemara 22 is an exceptional whiskey, silky smooth and incredibly complex, full of rich fruit and sweetness. In addition to its wonderful flavour, you can also return to non-peated whiskey after a dram of this Connemara, unlike certain smoky whiskies from Scotland, which can often kill off your taste buds for the remainder of an evening. This character traditionally exists in a whiskey because peat is used to dry the barley during the malting process. There are different levels of smoke in whiskey, defined by the total phenol parts per million or ppm of the malted barley. I won’t get into the chemistry of this, but put simply, if the malt is peated for longer it will have a higher ppm, thereby increasing the intensity of the smoke flavour in the final whiskey. However, this isn’t a true prediction of the final expression as the other stages of the production process will impact the final flavour of the liquid. Also, where the peat originates from and what it has been made from will define its character. Ultimately, however, ppm is still used to acknowledge the peatiness of a whiskey, for example, Connemara 12 year old is a mild 13-14 ppm, while Bruichladdich’s Octomore 8.3 (known for its peat intensity) is 309 ppm. For a long time, Connemara was the only peated Irish whiskey brand of note. This was mainly due to the fact that there were so few distilleries in Ireland and one of them was creating Connemara, but also if moving back and forth between peated and unpeated wash in the still, the stills must be cleaned which is an arduous task. Pot still whiskey was long regarded as the quintessential style of the Irish spirit, while peat was associated with Scotland, and no one seems to have been eager to change that. In recent times, however, new distilleries in Ireland have begun to experiment with peat smoke in innovative ways, even using unpeated malt to create the whiskey and then maturing the liquid in peat-charred barrels. I have tasted some very exciting liquid from a few of these distilleries and look forward to discovering how age and patience will impact them. As always, if you taste any of my recommendations below, let me know what you think!     Connemara 12-Year-Old Single Malt While I would just as happily sip on a dram of any member of the Connemara range, the 12-year-old expression from the distillery is a true joy to drink. Sweet and fruity, this single malt whiskey brings flavours of ginger, vanilla, apples and pears, as well as some of the silky smoothness that exists in Connemara 22 year old, and of course, the expected peat smoke which warmly lingers on the finish.   West Cork Glengariff Series While the Connemara range is created with whiskeys that inherit their smoky character from the malting process, this whiskey has a different approach. It is not made from peat-dried malt but instead finished in virgin white oak casks that have been heavily charred using peat smoke and fire. The nose is full of fruit, with some light smoke, but the peat influence really makes an entrance on the palate, along with malt cereal, mild spice, and an oily character.   Dunville's Three Crowns This blend from the Echlinville distillery is comprised of two single malt whiskeys married together with a single grain whiskey in a peated barrel similar to the Glengarriff dram. This whiskey is quite sweet with vanilla, caramel and butterscotch melting into pear and raisin. Slightly spicy, with cinnamon notes, the smoke in this whiskey cannot be ignored when it is introduced on the palate and deliciously lingers on the finish.      
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