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.

Upright whisky cask
  • I

    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 malting.

Cereal drying in a kiln


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 being mixed with the


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.

Copper stills


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. This is usually made of copper. It is said that the “conversation between the copper and the liquid is the catalyst of flavour”.

Whisky in a measuring jug
  • V

    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

Today, Johnnie Walker makes more Scotch Whisky than any other whisky house in the world. We also hold the largest reserves, including exceptionally rare whiskies from famous but now silent distilleries like Port Ellen and Brora.

John Walker & Sons whisky glass

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