The making of Scotch Whisky is an ancient craft that has been developed and refined over time from a cottage industry into a precision process.
Many things affect the final flavour and character of a whisky, from the type of grains and yeast used, to the shape of the still, to the cask and length of time the liquid is matured in it.
This is how Scotland has come to produce such variety in its national drink, from the bold power of the West Coast and Islands to the gentler subtlety of the East.
Here is a simple walk through the basics of making a true Scotch Whisky.
The whisky making process starts with cereal. Cereals are high in starches which need to be converted into soluble sugars in order to make alcohol. This happens naturally during germination, so hot water is added and the mixture warmed until the cereal thinks it is time to grow. This is called molting.
The growing process is halted by drying the cereal in a kiln. Peat smoke is sometimes used to aid the drying and impart flavour. The cereal is then ground in a mill so that it can be mixed with water.
Heated water is mixed in to extract the soluble sugars, after which the resulting hot, sweet liquid is drawn off and allowed to cool. Yeast is added and fermentation begins, creating a kind of beer.
This beer is then distilled twice to lower the water content and increase the concentration of alcohol and flavour. Distillation involves boiling the liquid in a large container called a still, which is usually made of copper. It is said that the “conversation between the copper and the liquid is the catalyst of flavour”.
The product of the distillation process is transferred to specially treated oak casks to mature for a minimum of three years before it can legally be called Scotch Whisky.
The fascinating story of one of the world’s favourite drinks.More