Islay scotch, famously potent and smoky, is at the global nexus of both tradition and evolution.
When peat is used as the fossil fuel to dry malted barley, the resulting whisky is infused with phenolic smoke. This Islay-born peated approach is expanding out from Scotland to other world producers, including Indian, Japanese and even American distilleries.
Wood, however, is an import. The oak used to age scotch comes to Scotland from France, Spain, the United States and a range of other countries. The wood is what transforms a whisky, over years, to become less harsh and more complex, adding tannins, vanilla and spice.
It can be difficult to taste anything beyond in-your-face smokiness in a typical Islay peat cannon such as whiskys from Laphroaig or Ardbeg distilleries. Ardbeg peat, though, is much less phenolic and medicinal than Laphroaig, and while the spirit remains quite powerful, this subtlety enables other characteristics of Ardbeg to shine through, particularly the wood used for maturation. In effect, sourcing oak from novel worldwide regions has a profound effect on an Ardbeg expression.
Kelpie Single-Malt Scotch whisky, named after a mythical Scottish sea beast, is the latest wide-release limited edition from Ardbeg. For this one, about 40 percent of the oak is from the Black Sea Russian Republic of Adygea, — the wood is rarely used to age whisky.