Smoke is a term many whisky drinkers will have become familiar with. Often used to describe the taste sensation that comes when sipping on a fine malt, it has been at the core of whisky production for decades, if not centuries. Our drinks have come along way since their conception, with ever more intricate and complex ways for people to enjoy the delightful beverage. Ardbeg, a popular whisky brand that produces on the Isle of Islay, is working to push the bar even higher for whisky experience. Earlier this year, they announced the Masters of Smoke, a training course for bartenders to learn and improve their abilities using smoke to alter and enhance their drinks. So what is it?
Origin of Smokiness
Smoke is a common flavour to be found within malts. During the production process, the malt is dried using fire which is fuelled partially by peat, creating the smokey flavour we have all come to know and love. This can be affected and changed by reducing or increasing the amount of time that the grain is dried using a peat-heated fire; a longer exposure would lead to a more intense smokey flavour. Malt grains lend a partial flavour of smokiness to the whisky anyway; however, this can be increased with the drying process.
Peat harvesting has become a huge business, with large scale machinery carving the matter out from the earth. The whisky industry is constantly looking for new ways to improve the efficiency of the peat consumption. These innovations range from advanced closed fire systems to using crushed peat powder as opposed to logs or briquettes.
Masters of Smoke
As one of the world’s best-loved brands of Scotch, Ardbeg is looking to cement their position as a favourite with bartenders and whisky drinkers alike through their introduction of the Masters of Smoke training. The bartender education programme is a session that will take place with a duration of roughly two hours with the objective to allow in-trade professionals to advance their knowledge of smoke use.
Combining art with science, the programme will offer insights into how smoke works within the world of whisky and much more. This is supported by the fast-growing nature of the popularity of peaty scotch; as it becomes less of a niche drink and finds its way into a more central place both in whisky bars and people’s home collections. The drink holds a certain intensity which offers a myriad of flavours and experiences for the drinker, both on its own or as part of a cocktail.
Quite often, something can be diluted with science and understanding; the mystery can be revealed when we fully understand it, like a magician explaining his trick. However, the mystery will still remain for the drinkers; the trickery will just be passed down from distillery to bartender, giving them the necessary tools to explore smoke’s full potential.
Islay Whisky is perhaps one of the most divisive drinks in the whisky world. With some relishing its robust flavour and high phenolic content, while others steer well clear for fear of mixology failure. However, it’s worth noting that Ardbeg is not as a heavy of a whisky as it could be. Due to variations in the production process, the final product is a lighter, softer drink than others made on the island. Despite coming with its fair share of smokey flavour, there are also lots of other flavours that can be discovered.
Over the next few weeks, the Masters of Smoke programme will be rolled out by Ardbeg, and you can likely expect to see a range of interesting uses of smoke and its flavour within the whisky world over the coming months. Bartenders who take part in the programme will no doubt be keen to show off their new and inventive beverage combinations, whether as a whisky or a cocktail. If you’re taking part in the course, or see an inventive use of smoke at your favourite whisky bar, make sure to let us know! You can send us a photo on Facebook or Twitter or comment below with your favourite smokey flavour. Or, if you’re looking to create your own perfect drinks, why not check out our range of Scotch, Irish and Japanese whisky for sale!