Whisk(e)y How To

Getting Past the Peat Smoke in Scotch Whisky

Drinking a peaty whiskey is like kissing a cigar smoking walrus, but your friends seem to love it. What’s the deal?

Let’s start with some reassurances. If sipping on smoky whiskey is as appealing to you as chewing on charcoal briquettes, then you’re not alone. It’s ok if you don’t like that kind of whiskey.

Peat flavor is one of those take it or leave it, love it or hate it kind of things.

It’s not for everyone.

I’m not trying to convince you otherwise.

If you have strong objections to smoky whiskey then you might as well stop reading here. You won’t find much use in this article.

Now, if when you try a smoke laden dram and the smoke is all you can taste, but your friends claim they’re getting sweet cereal notes and floral heather and you’re scratching your head wondering if they’re making stuff up or if there’s something wrong with your sniffer, then read on. There’s nothing wrong with your sniffer. And no, your friends aren’t making stuff up.

Underneath the peat and smoke there’s all the flavors, both delicate and strong, that any other whiskey has. How do you get access to those things? Two easy ways.

Option one, you keep drinking smoky whiskeys until your brain starts to ignore the smoke flavor. This is a real thing. After repeated exposure to any stimulus, your brain will react less and less to that thing. This is why devout coffee drinkers don’t taste the bitterness of black coffee. After you overexpose your senses to peat, your mind will start to ignore it. At that magical moment, all the other flavors and aromatics spring forward to eagerly greet your nose.

Option two, evaporate the smoke and leave the grain and floral aromatics behind. How do you do that? Pour an Islay Scotch into your glass. Gently press your hand over the glass. Tip your glass just enough to splash some whiskey onto the palm of your hand. Rub both of your hands together until dry. Now, cup your hands and bring them up to your nose. Inhale.

What do you smell? The smoke is no longer dominating. You evaporated it. Now your nose has access to all the gentler, delicate aromas.


Your sniffer works just fine.

— Zac Smith