Distilled Spirits - Whiskey (2)
The process of making whiskey is an art that involves a series of detailed steps to create this beloved spirit. Below, I will describe each stage of the process in detail:
- Malting: The process begins with barley. First, high-quality barley is carefully selected and cleaned. It is then subjected to a process called malting. The barley is soaked in water for approximately two days and then placed in a germination room. There, it is provided with a moist and airy environment, which stimulates the germination of the barley. During this process, the starches present in the barley are converted into fermentable sugars. Once germination reaches an optimal point, it is stopped by drying in hot air ovens.
- Milling: After malting, the malted barley is ground to produce a powder called “grist.” Milling is done to release the sugars present in the malted barley, which will allow for further fermentation.
- Mashing: The grist is mixed with hot water in a vessel called a mash tun. Here, the water extracts the sugars and other soluble compounds from the ground barley. This process forms a substance called “wort.” The wort is similar to unhopped beer and has a cloudy appearance.
- Fermentation: The wort is transferred to a fermentation vessel, such as a fermenting tun or a fermenter. Yeast is added, which converts the sugars present in the wort into alcohol through the process of fermentation. During this stage, carbon dioxide and heat are generated as byproducts. Fermentation typically lasts for two to four days and produces a liquid called “wash.” The wash has a low alcohol content, similar to mild beer.
- Distillation: The wash undergoes a distillation process in stills. Distillation is usually done in two stages. In the first distillation, the wash is heated in a still called a “pot still” or “pot alembic.” The evaporated vapors are collected and condensed to produce a liquid called “low wine,” which has an alcohol content of around 25-30%. Then, the low wine undergoes a second distillation in a still called a “spirit still.” During this distillation, the vapors are collected and condensed again to obtain a clear and pure liquid known as “new make spirit” with an alcohol content of around 60-70%.
- Aging: The resulting new make spirit is transferred to oak barrels for aging. The oak barrels can be new or previously used to age other spirits, such as sherry or bourbon. During the aging period, which typically lasts for several years, the whiskey acquires its distinctive flavor, color, and aroma as it interacts with the wood of the barrel. Slow oxidation also occurs, which smoothens and enhances the whiskey’s profile. The aging time varies according to regulations and manufacturer preferences, but many quality whiskies are aged for at least three years.
Bottling: After aging, the whiskey is filtered to remove impurities and unwanted particles. If necessary, it is diluted with pure water to reach the desired alcohol content before being bottled. Some whiskies are bottled without chill filtration, which can retain more of their original characteristics. Once bottled, the whiskey is ready for distribution and sale.
It is important to note that each stage of the whiskey-making process requires skill and knowledge to achieve a high-quality product. Additionally, different whiskey-producing regions such as Scotland, Ireland, the United States, and Japan have their own traditions and specific methods that add variety and distinction to different styles of whiskey.
In summary, the process of whisky production includes malting, grinding, mashing, fermentation, distillation, aging, and bottling. Each step contributes to the creation of a unique whisky with distinct flavors, aromas, and characteristics that make it a cherished drink worldwide.