Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The art of making a perfect Scotch Whisky

Today, I am taking the liberty to present to readers " The Art of Making a Perfect Scotch Whisky". Originally known as “Aqua vitae” or “water of life” for it's healing properties, the first recorded reference to the ancient equivalent of what is today's Scotch Whisky is found in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls of 1494.A toast to a fine scotch, in the making!!! In a nutshell, the entire process includes the following  viz,. Malting Mashing, Fermentation, Distillation, Maturation (Spirit Safe) Process!

Scotch can be divided into two categories: Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Single Grain Scotch Whisky. From these two types all whiskies are generated including 'Blended Whisky' (over 90% of all Scotch) and includes iconic labels like Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal.

Stitching through the precise process
The lengthy production of quality Scotch whisky begins with malted barley. Steeping the barley in water, the distiller waits for the perfect level of germination to be reached. Starches are released from the grains, creating sugars for fermentation. Once dried, the malt is ground into 'grist', mixed with hot water and steeped once again. This 'mashing' process produces, not surprisingly, the 'mash'. With the introduction of yeast, early fermentation begins creating the 'wash'. Close to the end of the production journey, 'distillation' occurs - purifying the wash and increasing alcohol levels. Most producers distil their whiskies twice, although a third distillation is tradition in the Lowland region. At this time, the distiller chooses the final 'cut' to be matured in casks for a minimum of three years and one day. Finally, bottling occurs when the choice is made to either 'vat' the whisky with others, or to bottle a single cask.

"How Single Malt Scotch Whisky is Made
First is "Malting", during which the best quality barley is first steeped in water and then spread out on malting floors to germinate. It is turned regularly to prevent the build up of heat. Traditionally, this was done by tossing the barley into the air with wooden shovels in a malt barn adjacent to the kiln.Following process is "Mashing", during this  process enzymes are activated which convert the starch into sugar when mashing takes place. After 6 to 7 days of germination the barley, now called green malt, goes to the kiln for drying. This halts the germination. The heat is kept below 70°C so that the enzymes are not destroyed. Peat may be added to the fire to impart flavour from the smoke. Next is "fermentation", where in the wort is cooled to 20°C and pumped into washbacks, where yeast is added and fermentation begins. The living yeast feeds on the sugars, producing alcohol and small quantities of other compounds known as congeners, which contribute to the flavour of the whisky. Carbon dioxide is also produced and the wash froths violently. Revolving switchers cut the head to prevent it overflowing. After about 2 days the fermentation dies down and the wash contains 6-8% alcohol by volume. Next stage is "Pot Stills",affects the character of the individual malt whisky, and each distillery keeps its stills exactly the same over the years.Following stage is "distillation", where in the wash is distilled twice - first in the wash still, to separate the alcohol from the water, yeast and residue called pot ale - the solids of which are also saved for use in animal feeds.During the "spirit safe" process the Stillman uses all his experience  to test and judge the various distillates without being able to come into physical contact with the spirit. The newly distilled, colorless spirit gets reduced to 63% alcohol by volume and is filled into oak casks.
"How Single Grain Scotch Whisky is Made?"

Scotch grain whisky is usually made from 10-20% malted barley and then other unmalted cereals such as maize or wheat. The starch in the non-malted cereals is released by pre-cooking and converted into fermentable sugars. The mashing and fermentation processes are similar to those used for malt whisky. The wash is distilled in a continuous or Coffey still, named after its inventor Aeneas Coffey. It has two tall columns - a rectifier and an analyser. Cold wash is pumped in at the top of the rectifier and meets steam. The columns in fact act like a heat exchanger. The alcohol is cooled, condenses and flows away as Scotch grain spirit at about 94% alcohol by volume. The distilled grain spirit is lighter in character and aroma than most malt whiskies and therefore requires rather less time to mature. The bulk of matured grain whisky is used for blending.

How to best enjoy a good Scotch?
It has been said that Scotch Whisky is best enjoyed pouring a Whisky 'neat' !!!


While the distinctive single malts produced by individual distilleries are becoming increasingly popular, blending creates over 90% of the Scotch whisky enjoyed throughout the world.By nosing samples in tulip-shaped glasses the blender selects from a wide palate - from the numerous Highland and Speyside malts to the strongly flavoured and peaty Island malts, and the softer and lighter Lowland malts. These malts are combined with grain whiskies - usually 60-80% grain whiskies to 20-40% malt whiskies, and are then left to 'marry' in casks before being bottled as one of the world-renowned blended whiskies. 

 A blend of a range of malt whiskies, with no grain whisky included, is known as a vatted malt.
Part of a series prepared for Ginger Claps Blogging experience.
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