The process of whisky-making is an art which has gradually evolved through centuries. Today, technology plays a crucial role in simplifying the process. However, the basics still remain the same.
From the shape of the still to the type of grain and yeast used – each stage of the process helps in shaping the final flavour and character of the whisky. Here is an overview of the process of making whisky:
Malting converts the starch content of the cereals into soluble sugars. In this phase, the cereals are soaked in warm water for two to three days and then spread on the floor for germination. Once they sprout, they are dried in kilns and ground in mills, while husks and other debris are removed.
The ground malt or ‘grist’ is mixed with pure warm water to enable extraction of the soluble sugars. The blend of water and malt is called ‘mash’ and is stirred for several hours. The process forces the malt sugars to dissolve and the resulting liquid (‘wort’) is drawn off and allowed to cool.
The cooled wort is placed in large stainless steel tanks or washbacks. Yeast is added to initiate fermentation. Yeast feeds on the sugar to produce alcohol and other compounds called congeners, which impart flavour to the whisky.
The fermented liquid is distilled twice in a large container or ‘still,’ in order to reduce the water content and enhance concentration of flavours and alcohol. The stills (made of copper) absorb all impurities from the liquid during the process.
Freshly distilled whisky is stored in charred oak barrels and matured. During maturation, natural compounds of the wooden cask combine with the spirit’s flavours to give the whisky its own unique aroma and flavor