In their neverending quest to destroy the quality of life for as many people as possible, greens have set their sights on one of the tastiest and most enjoyable sips the good Lord put on this planet: Scotch whisky. Along with golf, tartan, and the highland bagpipe, Scotch is Scotland’s great gift to the world. But now, the eco-nags want to remove Scotch’s very essence, the thing that elevates it above plain old whisky into a unique and venerable spirit: its smoky, peaty goodness.
Scotch gets its one-of-a-kind smoky palate from a unique phase of the production process. The malt barley must be dried out and germination halted, which Scotchmakers do by spreading the grain in a kiln, over a peat fire.
We burn locally sourced peat in our kiln fires as we start to dry the malted barley. pic.twitter.com/LesiafMRRr
— Bowmore Whisky (@bowmore) October 21, 2016
Peat is obtained by cutting slabs of ancient, partially decayed organic matter out of bogs and allowing it to dry out before burning it. Dried peat has a density somewhere between wood and coal. Besides being used in Scotchmaking, peat (also called “turf”) traditionally has been burned for heat and light, predominantly in Scotland and Ireland.
But because peat is decaying organic matter that must be burned to obtain energy, it is considered a fossil fuel — and you know what that means:
“I hope the whisky industry will move quickly to more sustainable practices – replacing fossil fuels to power the distilleries, and addressing unsustainable agricultural practices,” dutiful eco-penitent Annabel Thomas tells BBC. Thomas is the founder of Nc’nean distillery on the west coast of Scotland.
“Extracting peat to burn is not sustainable,” she insists. “Peatlands are created over a very long time. They are a great carbon sink and house enormous biodiversity,” Thomas says. “When cut and burned, it impacts both the biodiversity of the peat bog and releases carbon back into the atmosphere.”
But the Scotch industry — which is enormously important to Scotland’s economy and heritage — uses a mere 1% of all harvested peat in the country, according to Scottish Natural Heritage, the government agency that “cares for and improves Scotland’s nature and landscapes.”
Is it so unreasonable an expectation for Ms. Thomas to settle for windmills and unicorn farts to replace the other 99% of the peat harvest, and maybe compromise on the 1% for whisky?
“There is a misconception that all Scotch is peated but there are many unpeated whiskies from Scotland,” says Thomas. (It is if it’s worth drinking; otherwise, it’s just whisky.) “We want to change the way the world thinks about Scottish whisky, to create delicious spirits that exist in harmony with nature – putting planet, people and profit on an equal footing.”
But wait, it gets worse! BBC goes on to profile Peter Bignell, owner and operator of a small distillery on the northeast coast of Tasmania called Belgrove. Bignell uses peat from his family’s farm in his distillery, but he endeavors to use as little as possible. “I love being creative. It’s what drives my experimentation in the distillery,” says Bignell.
“Belgrove uses biofuel made from waste chip [French fry] shop cooking oil,” explains the article. “They grow their own grain and, at the end of the process, the spent mash is fed to the sheep.” The distillery actually tumbles the grain in a modified clothes dryer so it can absorb maximum smokiness from the (used fryer grease and) peat. Belgrove also crushes the grain before smoking it so there’s more surface area to absorb the flavor, and Bignell says he smokes the interior of the barrels in which the whisky will be aged as well.
As a fan of the smokier, peatier Scotch varieties, I can get behind Bignell’s efforts to maximize that note in his whisky, although I’m not sure the used cooking grease wouldn’t add a distinctive new note of its own. But when it comes to Scotch, I’ll try anything once.
Or maybe not: “Mr Bignell has also found a way to eliminate the use of peat completely,” crows the BBC: “by burning sheep dung readily available on his farm.”
(channels Meatloaf) I would do anything for Scotch, but I won’t do that.
Or — here’s an idea — MAYBE WE COULD JUST KEEP USING THE WEE BIT OF PEAT IT TAKES TO KEEP MAKING GOD’S OWN ELIXIR AND LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE TO ENJOY THEIR LIVES?!