THE MAKING OF WHISKY
Barley, water, yeast and fire !
The making of whisky can be done in different manners, depending in particular to the geographical origin of production. The main differences are related to the raw material, which is always a cereal, and on the type of distillation which may be either "batch" distillation in a pot still, or continuous distillation in column stills.
This allows for the making of different types of whisky corresponding to various definitions, each offering their specific character, the main ones being Blended whisky, Single Malt whisky and Grain whisky.
The most famous whiskies are often issued from the distillation of malted barley in pot stills. Such is the case in particular of Scotch Pure Malts, of which we will follow the main steps of making.
To produce a Malt Whisky, you need barley, water, yeast, heat and (much !) time.
This process can be broken down in five main steps :
1 - Malting
2 - Milling
3 - Mashing
4 - Fermentation
5 - Distillation
6 - Ageing
Many factors have an influence on the quality and character of whisky : characteristics of malt (Origin of barley, malting process), quality of water, type of yeast, shape of stills, conducting of distillation, origin and quality of casks used for ageing, ambient air being "breathed" during many long years by the spirit through the cask's wood. each of theses elements play a role, and if combination of these parameters can vary to infinite, very few are these which allow for a good whisky.
If you ask to a Scottish distiller which, in his opinion, are the most important factors, chances are that he will reply that the key elements are the quality of his water and the shape of his stills. This is effectively true, even if in reality things are much more complex than that. Beyond the experience painstakingly accumulated by generations of distillers and the resulting mastery, the making of whisky still depends to a certain extent of a mysterious alchemy which escapes any analyse or reasoning.
Even if today's distillers benefit from analysing tools which enable them a better understanding and an improved control of the process, achieving the "marvellous" balance in the combination of all the factors being involved remains a particularly delicate art in which Scotsmen and Irishmen are the undisputed masters.
One of the consequences of the complexity of this art is that the variety of characters to be found among whiskies is definitely comparable to the one that can be observed among wines.
This is precisely this richness which makes this spirit so unique and so fascinating !
Malting and milling