Scotch whiskey making is a relatively simple process but steeped in history. Scotch malt is quite simply made from three ingredients, barley, water and yeast.
The first stage of whiskey making production is the malting of the barley. What this means is that the barley is steeped in tanks of water for 2 or 3 days, before being spread out on the floors of the malting house to germinate. This germination process is then promptly stopped by drying the barley in a kiln. The kilns are easily identified as a real characteristic of all distilleries as they are identified by their large pagoda shaped chimneys.
In Scottish Whiskey making, peat, a natural fuel cut from the moors of Scotland, is used to fire the kilns. Smoke from the fire drifts upwards through a wire mesh floor to dry out the barley.
It is the distinctive smell of the smoke that contributes to the character of the spirit.
The malted barley is then roughly ground and mixed with hot water. This converts the starch in the barley into a sugary liquid called wort. This is then transferred to a fermenting vat, where yeast is added. This converts the sugary wort into a crude alcohol, a bit like a sour beer. This is known as wash.
The next stage in the Whiskey making process is the most crucial. It involves the famous swan necked copper pot stills. This is where distillation seperates the alcohol from the wash. Malt Whiskey is distilled twice.
The stillman raises the temperature within the wash still and gradually, the fermented liquid is heated and the alcohol vaporises. The vapours rise up the swan neck and pass over the head of the still, before being routed through condensers where they revert to liquid.
The liquid is collected in a receiver before going into the second still where the process is repeated. During the second distillation only the "middle cut" of the spirit flow is collected. This is where the stillman demonstrates his art, because he collects only what he is personally satisfied that it is of the required standard. The rest goes through the process again.
Grain whiskey as found in America, or Canada is made from wheat or maize which is first cooked under pressure in order that the cereal starches can be broken down into fermentable sugars.
The cereals can then be combined with a proportion of malted barley, and mixed with boiling water to produce the sugary liquid called wort.
This wort is then fermented to produce the wash, which then passes into the massive, continuously operating, two columbed Coffey, or patent still.
One of the most important elements in Whiskey making is the skills of the stillman. He is required to judge the moment at which the Scotch malt and the Scotch grain spirit is ready to be collected, are crucial to the art of distilling.
Once the quality has been reached, the malt and grain spirit is ready to be filled into a variety of specially selected oak casks for the long period of maturation in cool, dark warehouses.
Some of the Whiskey making casks or barrels will have been previously been used to mature sherries, some will have contained bourbon. The type of cask is decided by the master blender who is looking for a particular type and character in the whiskey he is making.
Only after a minimum of three years maturation can the spirit be legally called Scotch Whisky
In practice, most Scotch Whisky matures for periods of between five, and up to periods in excess of twenty-five years.
It is this time during which Scotland's cool, clean air contributes to the overall taste and character of the Whisky.
From here, it depends on the type of Whiskey, whether Single Malt or blend as to how the process is completed.
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