For one driven distiller, the ancient peat bogs of the Northwest are the sludgy secret to a locavore single malt.
I’m wearing waterproof snow boots, and I feel like if I lose my footing I might be sucked into something similar to quicksand. Only I’m not in a 1950s sci-fi movie, and the quicksand is actually a fudgy, soil-like muck. It’s a cold and drizzly Pacific Northwest day, and I’m with Matt Hofmann, the 27-year-old master distiller and cofounder of Westland Distillery. We’re slogging through a peat bog near the Puget Sound, an hour and a half south of Seattle.
As we tramp along through this soggy 30-acre expanse by the cedar-and-pine-tree-lined Oyster Bay, our boots make a smacking sound with each step, like my dog’s mouth when I give him peanut butter. Hofmann almost takes a tumble at one point, and I snap a photo of him right after he steadies himself, rosy-cheeked through his enormous ginger beard. He’s generally quite measured and focused, so it’s great to see him laughing. Hofmann, the man responsible for America’s first locally peated single-malt whiskey, is in his element.
Peat is partly decomposed plant material—mosses, shrubs and so on. It’s more porous than soil, but it holds together. Scottish peat harvesters cut it out in blocks with spades; then distillers burn it to smoke the malted barley used for making whiskey. Hofmann says: “It’s not like we’re taking the moss and burning it. We use the stuff underneath the moss that’s decaying. A peat bog is waterlogged, oxygen-starved and acidic—all this decay happens really slowly.”
To read Liz Crain’s entire article, go to Food and Wine Magazine.