PPM: three letters known to divide the whisky world. They denote parts per million, and what they’re measuring is phenol, an aromatic organic compound that is absorbed by malted barley during drying. When the raw fuel being used is peat, then the phenol levels climb, and if they hit 20PPM, the ensuing whisky qualifies as peaty or smoky — or tasting like iodine or smelling like old sock. Yep, it’s that divisive.
“They are black and white whiskies,” says Dave Gunns from Wild About Whisky. “You love or hate them: there are no grey areas.” Lovers think the tiny Scottish island of Islay is the centre of the universe. It’s home to eight operating distilleries, and is the epicentre of a relentless wave of innovation that honours tradition as easily as it defies it. There are ballsy statements by Bruichladdich, whose Octomore 06.3 clocks in at an astounding 258PPM, and overpowering expressions by upstarts Kilchoman, the newest addition, but quite likely the most revered.