Making Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky history

The ingredients

  1. Grain      Malt Whisky only uses barley. Strangely the barley does not  necessarily have to be from Scotland
  2. Water     Distilleries need a lot of water, and often there is not enough, and they have to stop working. Water is used for the production of wort, the wash, as a coolant and to dilute the product before bottling.
  3. Peat       After germination, the grain is traditionally dried over a peat fire.  The heat and smoke from the peat fire rises up through holes in the drying floor. After being dried in this way, the grain is called "malt" and is ready to be ground in a mill (after which it is called grist).
  4. Yeast      The grist it is mixed with water and yeast in the washback. The liquid is called wash at this stage and is basically a kind of beer, albeit a very strong one (up till now, the production is very similar to that of normal beer).
  5. Wood      The casks that the whisky matures in for many years are very important. Sometimes used bourbon or sherry casks are employed for ageing because they impart their own special flavour to the whisky. For scotch malt whisky, nothing else but oak casks will do.

The Method

  1. The grain is left in water to germinate
  2. It is dried over peat fires to make the malt
  3. The malt is milled to make grist
  4. The grist is mixed with hot water, cooled and filtered to make wort
  5. Yeast is added to the wort to make the wash
  6. The wash is distilled twice in potstills
  7. The final distillate, the raw malt whisky, is colourless and high in alcohol.
  8. Whisky is usually about 70% alcohol by volume when distilled
  9. The raw whisky is filled into oak casks and aged. This mellows the malt and gives it colour
  10. Before bottling it is diluted to around 40%

Ageing Whisky

  1. It only be legally described as Scotch whisky if it has matured in an oak cask in Scotland for a minimum of three years.
  2. Originally Scotch was aged in used Bourbon or Sherry casks, companies are now experimenting with whiskies aged in oak casks that have previously held Port, Brandy and Rum.
  3. Sometimes whiskies are filled in one type of cask, e.g. Bourbon, and then "finished" for their last few months or so of maturation in another, e.g. Sherry.
  4. The age of a whisky, if given on a bottle, must be that of the youngest whisky contained in that particular bottling
  5. A whisky matures and changes in cask, the spirit leeching out tannins and other flavours from the oak cask, and absorbing notes from the air passing through the porous wood
  6. The location at which the cask is keep during maturation also effects the finished whisky. A cask of Islay malt, maturing in a warehouse next to the Atlantic Ocean, for example, will give a very different whisky to a similar cask maturing in a cask Edinburgh.
  7. The longer a whisky remains in cask, the more flavour it will acquire and the less spirit will remain. A 21-year-old whisky, for example, will therefore usually have more complex flavours than a 12-year old whisky. It will certainly be more expensive.
  8. Some whiskies a mature more quickly than others, Lowland whiskies generally being the quickest maturing, while others age such as the Speyside malts require more ageing.
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