Making Whisky

Making whisky is a long hard process that is difficult to summarise. Whisky takes at least 3 years to make, if the grain (malted or not) spirit doesn’t stay in oak cask for at least 3 years it can’t have the name whisky. Generally, the whiskies marketed as single malt are aged for a minimum of 8 to 10 years. In basic terms whisky is made like this: 

Ingredients

Whisky is made up of 3 base ingredients: barley, water and yeast.

Malting

Malt is the result of the malting process. The barley is made wet and spread on the malting floor to allow the germination process to start. A succession of chemical reactions change the starch contained in the barley in sugar. Later sugar will change into spirit.
The malting art consist of finding the right moment to stop the germination process: not too late but not too early.

Grinding

When the malt is dry, it is grinded to make a course flour, called grist.

Brewing

The grist is then mixed with hot water a mash tun. Generally one volume of grist is mixed up with 4 volumes of water. This turns into what is called wort

Fermentation

Yeast is added to wort to start the fermentation process, resulting in a kind of beer with 8% alcohol. Up until now there has been little difference between whisky and beer making.

Distillation

This is the process used to separate alcohol from water and other substances contained in the wash. This is a classical operation, and it is the base of each spirit round the world. In Scotland, distillation is done in copper potstills, which sizes are fixed by law. Scotch whisky is usually distilled twice, where Irish whiskey is usually distilled three times.

 

 

 

Maturation in Casks

This is the most important stage of  making whisky, as when the product at the end of the distillation process is pure alcohol. The cask gives the whisky its unique taste and characteristics.

A whisky cask is always a second hand cask, usually American Oak that contained bourbon. Sherry is also very popular in the whisky industry.

The amount of time a whisky stays in the cask determines it’s age, which is why older whiskies are so much more expensive.

Blending and Bottling

Whisky doesn’t mature anymore in the bottle. So a 12 years old whisky stays a 12 years old.

When bottling, some residues are left in the whisky, which is removed by using “chill filtering”. The downside of this is that is also removes some of the flavours of the whisky. With the rise in popularity of single malts, a number of distilleries have stopped “chill filtering” to keep the whisky as true as can be.

During bottling, the alcohol percentage is reduced using water. The quality of water has a great influence on the taste of whisky. The minimum percentage of alcohol for whisky is 40%.

When whisky is not diluted during bottling it’s called cask strength whisky.

When the whisky comes from just one cask, it is called single cask.