It all starts with the cereal: barley or grain. These are high in starches, but to make alcohol, they need to be converted into soluble sugars. This happens naturally when the cereal germinates, so hot water is added and the mixture warmed up until it thinks it’s time to grow. This is called malting.
When it’s good and ready, the cereal is dried in a kiln. Peat is sometimes added at this stage, which helps the drying process and gives the finished whisky a smoky flavor. The dried cereal is then ground in a mill, all set for the next stage.
Next, it’s time to draw out those essential sugars by mixing the dried cereal with hot water. It makes a hot, sweet liquid, which is separated off and cooled down. It’s then ready to add the yeast and start fermentation. This creates a kind of beer.
Now it’s all about the liquid. The beer is distilled twice to increase the level of alcohol and make the flavor more intense. This involves boiling it in a large copper container called a still. The more the liquid touches the side of the still, the greater the impact on the taste.
Finally, it’s transferred to oak casks to mature for a minimum of three years. The casks are one of the most important things to affect the color and flavor of the finished whisky. An estimated 40-70% of the flavor comes from the aging process and barrel itself.