Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

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Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Jimy Dee » Tue Aug 29, 2017 12:49 pm

Arising out of a thread by Jellybean Corncob entitled "When Irish eyes are Smiling" there was interest in how peat is made , ie the peat for smoking grains for that peaty taste which is a characteristic of Scotch whiskey.

As a result I decided to put up this thread and set out how peat is made herein in Ireland and used in the distilling process.

Firstly, peat grows in a "bog". Bogs are environmental habitats, and we have thousands and thousand of acres of bogs here in Ireland, scattered through out the island. Some if it is a protected habitat/environment and more if it is still harvested each year for domestic fuel.

The peat used for home heating (or smoking when distilling) is called "turf"
The bog is cut into slices of turf, each slice is called a "sod", ie a sod of turf.

This turf bears little or no relation to the "peat" found in bags to grow plants. When turf is dried it is light in weight but rock hard. If you hopped a sod off some one they would know about it :crazy:

This video should make it a bit easier to understand
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufwvFOXUCnc

Now the method of cutting turf in the above video is largely historic as most turf cutting is done by machines now-a-days, however no doubt there are some die-hards that still cut it by hand as their forefathers did in the hard old days.

Of course distillers used this turf to smoke their grains - addressed later in this post.

Once the turf is cut, it is then stacked to allow air flow through it. Putting the turf in little stacks so the wind can dry the freshly cut turf is called "footing" the turf.
This video shows one man drying/footing his turf - this process is know as "saving" turf. This mans turf was cut by a machine, what we call a sausage machine as it squeezes out the peat into long rows of turf resembling sausages
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKxxmq1bvtE

After a few weeks/months (depending on the weather) the turf should be dry, and it is then collected and brought home and put into a shed to stop it getting wet again. Thereafter it is used as fuel for the fire. Even though I do not like the peaty taste in whiskey, the smell of a turf fire is just lovely.

As for distilling, it is this turf that gives the peaty taste to the whiskey. This is a really good utube video and if you skip to 8 minutes and 45 seconds you will see the sods of turf being burned to smoke/dry the grains, as part of the distilling process. Note the man had already lit sods in his bucket (which were more than likely taken out of the fire at home) to start the new turf fire. Also note the heap of turf at the right hand side of the man as he put sods to the turf fire using a tongs.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GM7BnDwk2ak

Hopefully this gives a little background as to where turf comes from, and hopefully distillers will have a greater appreciation of what goes into that peaty taste in whiskey.

If there are other members who have bogs in their part of the world, it would be great to hear from them and how their bogs are harvested, and if they have any traditions combining bogs and distilling.

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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Truckinbutch » Tue Aug 29, 2017 9:03 pm

Thank you for the time you spent compiling this . I would recommend that this becomes a sticky in required reading for all to read .
I was part of the labor force in Appalachia using these same techniques that were carried from Ireland and Scotland to the 'New World' .
A different environment and different resources required some adaptation but , the processes remained the same .
Very dry yellow locust was the preferred heat source for the lack of smoke and heat value . Seed pods added a unique flavor to the ferment . A touch of the metheglin .
Monongahela Rye was flatboated from here to New Orleans or horse packed to Baltimore and was sought after all over the world .
If you ain't the lead dog in the team , the scenery never changes . Ga Flatwoods made my avatar and I want to thank him for that .
Don't drink water , fish fornicate in it .
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Tapeman » Wed Aug 30, 2017 12:33 pm

Here is a picture of some freshly dug peat from Maine. It's very wet and not solid like the banks in Ireland. I pressed into a mold and am drying it.
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Yummyrum » Wed Aug 30, 2017 1:16 pm

A great thread Jimy . Thanks for the write up
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Tapeman » Tue Sep 05, 2017 2:05 pm

I've taken a bit of the dried peat and tried to set fire to it. Not readily burned I guess, but the smoke has an interesting smell.
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Jimy Dee » Wed Sep 06, 2017 11:48 am

Tapeman - Wait until you compare it with turf and you will be able to report on the consistency and smell of both products
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Tapeman » Wed Sep 06, 2017 11:57 am

Jimy Dee wrote:Tapeman - Wait until you compare it with turf and you will be able to report on the consistency and smell of both products
I was hoping you had sent some like you promised. Very much looking forward to the test
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Jimy Dee » Thu Sep 07, 2017 11:41 pm

Tapeman - when it arrives, you might post up a critique of both types of peat please, as other people may have peat near them that might add it own unique flavor. Looking forward to it.
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Shine0n » Sun Sep 10, 2017 11:50 pm

Nice write up Jim, thanks for that knowledge.
I'm headed out of town this am and when I return I'll watch the videos as I'm also interested.

I bought my wife's cousin a 20 year scotch and although I didn't care for it they were very very pleased to have it on their honeymoon.

In return they brought me back a bottle of rum from st. Lucia and is how I kinda got into some funk I'm now obsessed with. lol

Great job!!
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Tapeman » Mon Sep 11, 2017 5:06 am

I wonder if that smokiness could be captured on something like glass marbles and transferred into the drink after the fact? Think I might try it on a small scale.
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Tapeman » Tue Sep 12, 2017 8:42 am

Your turf arrived just now! The piece you sent has the consistency of a brick while the peat I pressed and dried breaks apart much more easily. Probably if I could have cut deeper into the bog it would have been tighter packed. I did a quick smell of the smoke from both and must say they are very similar. I'm fishing with my brothers later this week and think I'll bring them both along to get their opinions. Maybe do a blind test somehow. Going to also smoke some marbles to see if the flavor will carry into the drink as I wrote yesterday.
Thanks a million Jimy Dee, I can send you some from here if you are interested, but initially I'm thinking they are the same except for density. I live at the 45th parallel (half way to the pole or equater) and expect your climate to be perhaps a little colder than ours in summer and warmer in the winter.

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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby JellybeanCorncob » Wed Sep 13, 2017 5:17 am

Tapeman wrote:I wonder if that smokiness could be captured on something like glass marbles and transferred into the drink after the fact? Think I might try it on a small scale.
:sick:

Like smoking resins from your bong? :mrgreen:
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby der wo » Wed Sep 13, 2017 5:39 am

JellybeanCorncob wrote:Like smoking resins from your bong? :mrgreen:

I had an idea a long time ago. I never build it. Basically to add peat or other smoke directly to a mash. Basically a plastic fermenter rebuilt like a thumper: A fire place with a copper pipe into almost the bottom of the fermenter, perhaps something like a shower head at the end, and a plastic tube from the top of the fermenter to an air pump. When the fermenter is sealed, the pump sucks the smoke into the mash.
In general to smoke the mash instead of smoking the peat would be way more effective. Everyone who has mashed and fermented heavily peated malt Whisky knows that you loose much peat during mashing and fermenting. Perhaps something like Octomore is possible for us this way. But probably it's not only more efficient, but also different. Smoking the low wines would also possible when you use a ss bucket instead of a plastic one. Perhaps the low wines shouldn't be over 40%abv.
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Tapeman » Wed Sep 13, 2017 4:26 pm

JellybeanCorncob wrote:
Tapeman wrote:I wonder if that smokiness could be captured on something like glass marbles and transferred into the drink after the fact? Think I might try it on a small scale.
:sick:

Like smoking resins from your bong? :mrgreen:
Haven't done a bong in decades, but that's the same principle. Although I do think Der Wo may be onto a decent idea with adding smoke to the low wines. The resulting product would be less harsh yet still impart a great deal of smokiness. Rock maple that has been toasted and charred imparts a strong smokiness in a few hours. I like it very much but not until it's had about 6 months to become part of the drink rather than overpower it.
Jellybean, you say :sick: and I'm wondering if you mean good or bad idea?? Depending on your age it could mean either!

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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby JellybeanCorncob » Wed Sep 13, 2017 8:00 pm

Tapeman wrote:
JellybeanCorncob wrote:
Tapeman wrote:I wonder if that smokiness could be captured on something like glass marbles and transferred into the drink after the fact? Think I might try it on a small scale.
:sick:

Like smoking resins from your bong? :mrgreen:
Haven't done a bong in decades, but that's the same principle. Although I do think Der Wo may be onto a decent idea with adding smoke to the low wines. The resulting product would be less harsh yet still impart a great deal of smokiness. Rock maple that has been toasted and charred imparts a strong smokiness in a few hours. I like it very much but not until it's had about 6 months to become part of the drink rather than overpower it.
Jellybean, you say :sick: and I'm wondering if you mean good or bad idea?? Depending on your age it could mean either!

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Yes I mean both. If you are going to drop the marbles in then drink it, I think it may be quite harsh. But if you are saying put the smoke coated marbles in your aging liquor and wait 6 months it may be worth a try. This smoking grains is new to me. I feel more comfortable trying to copy what others have done. I made the comparison because as a poor college student we scraped the resins off the bong once to smoke. It wasn't a good idea although it did work. That was a long time ago and my drug of choice is now whiskey.
I'm sorry if I was misinterpreted.
I am interested in the difference in the US peat and the Irish peat. Come to any conclusions?
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Jimy Dee » Thu Sep 14, 2017 7:24 am

Tapeman
No need to send any to me thanks, but nice thought. Keep in mind that what you got from Ireland was squeezed by a machine and this resulted in a more dense product than what you picked up by hand. The picture you put up of your stuff looks identical to what we have. The bottom line is that if it smells the same well then why not go with your own stuff? One presumes that if it looks like peat, smells like peat, burns like peat, well then it should impart a peaty taste to your whiskey. Go for it and let us know the outcome please.
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Tapeman » Wed Oct 04, 2017 5:43 pm

I've had several people take a whiff test on the smoke produced from the turf Jimy sent from Ireland and the peat I dug here in Maine. Nobody discerned any significant difference between the two. I intend to dry some malt one day with it, but don't have any immediate plans for bourbon or whiskey right now. (Thinking about a sweetfeed wash). Even my mentor, who I respect greatly thought they were very close except the turf had a faintly spicier aroma which I could detect too after he mentioned it.

Jimy, thanks again for sending the turf. It's great to have distilling brothers who stand ready to answer my questions. This forum has taught me a lot and I continue to learn with every read. There is so much to know, so little time, and so many recipes I want to try.
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Jimy Dee » Thu Oct 05, 2017 11:57 am

Tapeman
I am really pleased that the turf near you is a good match. You will be able to make your own Maine Scotch for the rest of your days with the full knowledge that you have the same peat available to you as we do in Ireland and Scotland.
Well done, I think we can call it a success arising out of a team effort.
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby Tapeman » Thu Oct 05, 2017 11:59 am

[VICTORY HAND]️
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Re: Where peat comes from - to smoke grains

Postby kiwi Bruce » Thu Oct 05, 2017 2:23 pm

Here's an interesting read for anyone living in this neck of the woods...Peat in Pennsylvania

https://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/1317a/report.pdf
I'll just sit quietly in the corner over here, with a tall glass of something special.
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