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Some days the internet is more useful that others

When maps merge . . .

Good analysis may follow.

Now, just on the basis of this — ignoring all the other evidence, ignoring that the industrial revolution started in Scotland, ignoring that many of these breweries are nearer to sources of coal than sources of peat, ignoring that we know for a fact that several of the largest breweries made their own malt on site, ignoring that they used a lot of imported malt anyway … just on the basis of this map, exactly how likely do you think it would be that the beer from these breweries would have a peaty influence?

Of course this doesn’t happen if Ron Pattinson doesn’t compile the list of Scottish breweries in 1837 and build a map. Allowing Bam to take it a step further.

It starts with good, old-fashioned research. Often involving information you can’t just Google (or couldn’t until these guys did the work).

12 Responses to Some days the internet is more useful that others

  1. Bill September 28, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    On the other hand, I have never ever ever heard that Scottish beers taste of peat.

  2. dave September 28, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    Though the book with the brewery information is available via google if people want to dig in further: also at the Internet Archives:

  3. dave September 28, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    Great work by Ron and Bam!

  4. Stan Hieronymus September 28, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Bill – From the BA guidelines (page 7):

    “Though there is little evidence suggesting that traditionally made Scottish-style heavy ales exhibited peat smoke character, the current marketplace offers many Scottish-style heavy ales with peat or smoke character present at low to medium levels.”

    Make of it what you will.

  5. Mike September 29, 2011 at 3:26 am #

    Let’s not forget the fantasists at the BJCP. Their bible of misinformation (BJCP Style Guide) repeats this claim.

  6. Jeff September 29, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    The thing is, the coal the early Scots brewers would have been using isn’t the hard anthracite coal that has to be mined from the ground. They would have been using the top coal which is ‘younger’, and not metamorphisized into the hard anthracite.

    This means it was likely to still have a significant amount of plant material still embedded within it. That plant material was almost exclusively peat in Scotland. It seems to me that using coal for kilning the malt would still have given them the same characteristics as using straight peat, just at a more reduced level. At some later time, as they began to use anthracite coal (or gas), it would be necessary to add peat to get that same character.

    Just a thought.

  7. Mike September 29, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    @Jeff, I guess you didn’t look at the peat map then. Odd, as that was rather the point of the post.

  8. Jeff September 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm #


    I did indeed see the peat map. My point is that Scottish coal comes from peat, and young coal has more of that peat. Where peat is currently located has no material bearing on my point. Perhaps an open mind, would have served you better than a snarky reply. Odd, that.

  9. Ron Pattinson September 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Coal isn’t used as is for kilning malt. It’s turned into coke first. So no peat type fumes.

    Why does this total fantasy of peaty Scottish beer refuse to die? How can anyone still believe it

  10. Jeff September 29, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    @Ron Pattinson

    That’s an interesting point. Did the Scott’s not kiln malt before 1642? I know that’s when the practice of turning coal to coke began to be used (Derbyshire, I believe). Every thing I’ve seen says that all early malts were smoky due to the material used in the kilning process, before other techniques were invented.

    I have no idea one way or the other whether Scottish beers were ‘peaty’, you are much more knowledgeable about beer history then me. I do know, though, that Scottish coal is made from peat — just like all the rest of the world’s coal — and I can see where the flavor of the coal would have had an influence on the malt taste, before they started using coke.

  11. Barm September 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    What is English coal made of? Why does nobody suggest English beer should be peaty? Or German beer for that matter?

    This stuff is surely all a retro-rationalisation. Someone got it into his head that Scotch whisky is peaty, therefore Scottish beer must/should be peaty too. I am in no doubt that it all derives from that.

  12. Jeff September 29, 2011 at 7:03 pm #


    All coal is made of peat, but of course peat is made of different plants depending on the region. So if lignite coal was used, it would certainly have characteristics of the region in which it was found (most likely by surface mining) ((Less so with bituminous, though still notable, even less with anthracite)).

    Somebody told me you can’t actually use coal at all. You have to convert it to coke first. If that’s the case (I have some serious doubts), then nobody used coal until 1642 when the production of coke occurred. Before that, I would think all beers had some character from what ever was being burned to kiln the malt. A lot of places used wood. What did the Scotts use? I have no idea what they used. I don’t know that much history. It seems to me, however, that whoever knows the answer to that probably can mount a convincing argument one way or the other.

    As for ‘peaty’ British beers, did the Brits use coal? Or did they use wood? I would think the character of early British malts would be influenced by what they burned during kilning.

    I have no opinion one way or the other on whether Scottish beers were peaty. I’m way to uneducated on that subject. I’m just pointing out that the pictures, while interesting, don’t settle the argument by themselves.

    (BTW: Discussions like this are why I really like reading you guys blogs! Keep up the good, thought-provoking work!)

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