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What happens to peat?

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@Nozinan
Nozinan started a discussion

Recent posts have mentioned increased peat with air time, but l’ve also heard and experienced that it fades with time after the bottle has been opened.

So which is it? Or both?l

11 days ago

26 replies

@PeterG7
PeterG7 replied

@Nozinan Interesting question. Unfortunately, I won't be able to help you. One of my favourite malts is Lagavulin and for some strange reason it seems to evaporate very quickly once it is open. I think the whisky fairy lives at my house.

11 days ago 3Who liked this?

@Nock
Nock replied

@Nozinan As a self-proclaimed peat-head I am always happy to give my own experience with peat. Granted, your experience might differ, so I am always happy to hear of other experiences.

I would say that the vast majority of peated whiskies behave the same. When you first pop open a bottle that is about as smoky and peaty as it is going to be on the nose. Actually, it might take a day or two if the bottle is “tight” or “closed up.” But, typically, after a week it is at full peat-smoke-form. After a few months the smoke is the first thing to begin to slowly fade. After a several more months I start to notice a drop in the peated intensity on the nose. Often the peat can be just as powerful on the palate as before. And then after about a year (with the bottle below the half way mark) I start to notice a faded peat experience on the palate. I find this with the vast majority of peated whiskies – even when rebottled. Once the peat has receded . . . nothing brings it back.

Occasionally the peat and smoke can turn and become bitter or sour. That has happened on occasion with some of my Kilchomans, Laphroaigs, and Caol Ilas. Typically that takes about a year of being open below the half way mark on the bottle.

That said, the fading peat can be a delight if there are other flavors lurking below the peat. I typically find that peated whisky with a portion of sherry casks will benefit from a few weeks to months of air. Often what starts off as a peat monster over soft fruits can turn into a wonderful balance of peat and sherry: most Uigeadails, Bowmore 15yo Darkest, Benromach 10yo 100 Proof, etc. Also Lagavulin 16yo and Laphroiag 18yo can be really nice with some of the peat gone. I prefer them fresh, but I can appreciate them when diminished.

There are a few exceptions I will note: Ardbeg Supernova SN2010, all the Octomores I have tried, and a few of the young Port Charlottes.

The Supernova SN2010 just got bigger and better over the first few years that the bottle was open. Can’t explain it, but it was glorious. Five years open and it still seemed to be at maximum peat. After a few more years the peat seemed to relax into an older (but still very powerful) gentleman.

I believe that extremely heavily peated whiskies (over 100ppm) at high proof (60% and over) are so dense that when you first open the bottle the full power of the peat is actually masked.

For the Bruichladdich (Oct./PC) whiskies I believe the malt really does act to almost over power the peat . . . for a time. I would call it a funky animal or funky malt note. I think other people refer to it as baby vomit. It is strong at first. But after a few months of air I find that this dominating note recedes and allows many other flavors to bloom forth – notably the peat, but also other farm yard notes. I have noticed it with Octomore 1.1, 6.3, 8.3 and PC7. After several years of 1.1 and PC7 being open they really found another gear of dark peat, deep rich forest, and animal farm. I adore that flavor profile.

My bottle of PC7 was opened in 2014. I was mostly scoring it in the high 80’s (87-89) for several years. I rebottled it into a 200mL bottle in 2016 and didn’t touch it until 2018. When I did “BAM” it was huge and amazing. When I look back at my tasting notes for this bottle all through 2014, 2015 and 2016 it is unrecognizable from my notes in 2018 and now. What is my explanation? All my early notes read, “Full on malt. Super sweet malt forward with peat lurking behind” or something to that effect. But then in 2018 it became a peat barn yard with animals, hay and old barn. The only variable? Time. I just tasted this bottle blind the other night. I now have only about 100mL left in a 200mL bottle. One of the noses in my “6-Blind-Port-Charlotte-line-up seemed to be diminished with a receding peat. I guessed that as the PC7. WRONG. This PC7 turned out to be the most intensely peated and vibrant nose of the night. And in the line-up was a freshly opened bottle of Elements of Islay PI4 at 61%. Go figure.

So those are my experiences.

11 days ago 8Who liked this?

@cricklewood
cricklewood replied

I was recently on Reddit (I know...) and someone mentionned that he thought it would be useful when grading whisky from a sample that it was mentioned where in the fill level the bottle was taken.

I thought it was a perfectly reasonable suggestion, I remember the first sample I received from @Nozinan contained so much info I felt was useful (open date, gassed or ungassed etc..) that it had me re-think how I handled them.

Yet the general reaction of people was pretty devisive, with a lot of folks leaning on the air open or fill level having little to do with the spirit changing that it was all just the perception of the drinker that day that changed. I wasn't expecting so many people to react that way.

I know from just the postings on this group that most here agree that time open and fill level has an impact.

10 days ago 7Who liked this?

@RianC
RianC replied

@cricklewood - I definitely think our perception of the spirit changes on a day to day, or mood to mood, basis due to a variety of factors; but I am also pretty certain that all whiskys change as they get more air over time. I'm gonna stick my neck out and say anyone doubting that is either inexperienced or simply wanting to buck the conventional view.

@Nozinan - In my experience, peated whiskys generally lose that initial sharpness or peaty clarity, if you will, relatively quickly but then, as @Nock intricately points out, the peat starts to integrate itself with the other flavours more holistically. It's one of the pleasures of a heavily peated whisky for me - seeing how it will change over time.

My last bottle of Oogy would be a great example. The peat changed more than it faded but it certainly became less intense and more rounded with more smoke.

10 days ago 6Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt

Dang, after closely studying Professor @Nock's senior-level seminar on peat development, I'm really wishing I had kept my open bottle of PC7 going for a few years.

10 days ago 5Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge replied

@cricklewood, who cares about fill level and air exposure on Reddit?!...how many points did you get for your post? wink

10 days ago 4Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor replied

PC7 was one of the ones that got away from me. I tasted it and loved it 6 years ago. I thought it nearly as good or sometimes even better than the best Octomore X.1 releases. It was one I might well have stockpiled as a gold standard peated whisky if I had seen any of it for sale.

In the contrary to pattern category, the 40% full bottle of Jura Prophecy I was gifted 6 years ago left me indifferent at first, but it has just gotten peatier and more flavourful over the years. I am quite enthusiastic about it now.

9 days ago 2Who liked this?

@OdysseusUnbound

@paddockjudge @cricklewood I thought the only thing that mattered on reddit whisky reviews was showing how unimpressed you are with pretty much everything. I’ve seen so many people over there post a fairly positive review and then score a whisky 72 points stating “I’m very hard to impress. This is an above average mark for me.” Reddit is way too pretentious, even for me.

9 days ago 1Who liked this?

@Nock
Nock replied

@cricklewood @RianC I totally agree with those who say that mood, climate, time of day, and food you have eaten all contribute to different tasting experiences with a bottle.

A good bottle of whisky opened with good friends can become legendary. The same bottle opened on a Tuesday after spicy vindaloo for dinner can seem off.

I would argue that the idea that fill level and open air exposure don’t affect the whisky is only true if you finish off a bottle within a month. If you drink down a bottle that fast I could understand the person not having the time to notice much change. However, there are many of us on Connosr who have dozens if not hundreds of bottles currently open. Many of those bottles have been open for years if not approaching a decade (I’m look at you @Victor). So, we tend to notice those tectonic-plate-slow-movement-changes if we are tuned into the nuisances and minutia of the individual bottle. I happen to pay an inordinate amount attention to my peated whiskies. Probably half of my open bottles are peated in some form or another. In my experience they will all eventually lose that peaty punch if not become out right bitter, stale, or caustic. For me it is all about riding that line and trying to prolong the journey.

Mood is a big deal. I once wasted two small samples of Port Ellen. I was nosing them and was just not into them. In particular on the 30yo (9th Release) all I was getting was bourbon notes. Clearly, I was not dialed in. I knew it. And I still drank my precious samples. Foolish. I should have put them back into their sample bottles and waited. I have small samples of Lagavulin 52yo and 36yo that I want to taste. I have tried to taste them on two occasions. Both times while nosing the liquid in glass I realized I wasn’t in the right space to taste the liquid. So back in the sample bottles they go. This is the problem with samples: you really only get one go at it. So, it takes mindfulness and self-awareness of your own mental space to really get the most out of a sample – if that is what you want to do.

Opening a bottle of whiskey begins a journey that will go on as long as you have the discipline to allow liquid to remain in the bottle. The only constant is that it will change. Granted, it likely won’t be huge dramatic changes (for the most part), but change will occur none the less. Hopefully the change you perceive is for the better. Eventually, you will get to a point of diminishing returns. So, I want to drink whisky and appreciate it during that optimal stage.

For peated whisky I believe that the optimal drinking experience typically beings one week after it is opened until it reaches the half-way mark on the bottle. I often try to prolong that period for between 6 months and a year. Occasionally, with a new “good” batch of Corryvreckan or Laphroaig 10yo CS I only make it for a few weeks. After that half-way mark is reached the journey will begin to change. I typically don’t enjoy the second half as well as the first. But that is me and “most” peated whiskey. There are some bottles that are the exception.

@MadSingleMalt if you enjoyed your experience and journey with the PC7 then don’t regret it. My issue is that I didn’t appreciate or enjoy the first 550mL as much as I have enjoyed the last 200mL. Thankfully, I have a second bottle in my bunker. Now I know how to best enjoy it for my taste – namely, give it plenty of air time. For me this is one of the exceptions to my rule.

9 days ago 4Who liked this?

@Nock
Nock replied

@Victor I have a picture of a bottle of Jura Prophecy you let me taste on March 10th, 2014. Is this the same bottle? Here is the picture. Notice the fill level! I remember being totally unimpressed with it.

9 days ago 1Who liked this?

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@OdysseusUnbound

@Nock You hit the nail on the head with the sample comment. I have a large collection of samples because I don’t open one unless I’ve got at least an hour to spend with it, as well as being in the right frame of mind...

9 days ago 0

@RianC
RianC replied

@Nock - Yes, that's a very good point about finishing a bottle off quickly!

As is your comment about drinking in the 'wrong mood'. I try to be quite strict with myself and either pour back, choose a relatively simple whisky, or leave well alone if I feel my senses are a bit off. There are those times though (like last night) when I simply want to enjoy a dram and so force things a little bit, even though I know I'm not really getting the most out of it.

9 days ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

I think how mood affects whisky could be a whole other thread...

9 days ago 0

@MadSingleMalt

@OdysseusUnbound, really? Are you referring to Reddit's scotch board? I've always found Reddit to be the home of the whisky web's most fun reviews with great banter invariably following.

9 days ago 1Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt

@Victor, maybe the changes you enjoyed in your Jura are due not to the peat growing over time but to the sweaty gym sock fading. :)

9 days ago 1Who liked this?

@OdysseusUnbound

@MadSingleMalt There is occasionally some entertaining banter, but the stench of pretentiousness is hard to ignore. In order to find more ennui and lack of enjoyment in a whisky review, you’d have to read Serge’s reviews. And he doesn’t like anything that isn’t unobtainable for the other 99.9% of humanity.

Edit: perhaps I just haven’t found the right reddit reviewers to follow. TOModera is entertaining at times, but his tasting notes on Glendronach 18 Single Cask 5959 Tawny Port Finish are so different from mine that I can only assume our palates are diametrically opposed. Reading his tasting notes, I would never have believed we were tasting the same whisky.

9 days ago 1Who liked this?

@OdysseusUnbound

@Nozinan My review was from a sample given to me by a friend. Do you have a bottle of that particular Glendro? I think you’d like it.

9 days ago 0

@Victor
Victor replied

@Nock, yes, same bottle of Jura Prophecy. It left me indifferent early, viz in early years, but I like it better now. Hitting the ideal mood for Prophecy may be a big part of the equation too.

9 days ago 2Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@OdysseusUnbound

Sadly no. But I’ve resigned myself to not being able to taste every whisky that people say is good...

9 days ago 3Who liked this?

@Hewie
Hewie replied

@Nock I've enjoyed reading your perceptive insights based on your substantial experience - thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts down. My own much more limited experience is very similar to yours.

9 days ago 3Who liked this?

@Nock
Nock replied

@Hewie thanks for the kind words. I am always interested to hear other people's experience whether they are comparable to my own or not. Of course, it is always encouraging to hear that people can relate.

8 days ago 1Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge replied

@Nock, you have done a good job describing the life cycle of a peated/smokey whisky. Yes, there are exceptions, but I am in agreement with your findings in general.


"...it might take a day or two if the bottle is “tight” or “closed up.” But, typically, after a week it is at full peat-smoke-form. After a few months the smoke is the first thing to begin to slowly fade. After a several more months I start to notice a drop in the peated intensity on the nose. Often the peat can be just as powerful on the palate as before. And then after about a year (with the bottle below the half way mark) I start to notice a faded peat experience on the palate."

@Nock 9 August 2019


8 days ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

@BlueNote But the FOMO, it remains strong with many expressions...

7 days ago 1Who liked this?

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