The Importance of Scotch Whisky’s Ageing Process
A rich, peaty whisky is the dream of any whisky aficionado and to achieve this, the spirit needs to be aged for months, preferably years. In fact, the longer it is left to mature, the more intense the flavour. Distilleries all over Scotland experiment with different blends that in turn give each liquor its unique body and character. For the connoisseur, the maturation and ageing process is a stepping stone towards obtaining a full-bodied drink with its own unique character.
Scotch whisky gets its distinctive traits from where and how it is made, as the origin of the spirit gives it a regional flavour. The four main whisky producing regions in Scotland are The Highlands, The Lowlands, The Isle of Islay and Campbeltown. Speyside has also come to be known as a distinct region because of the vast number of distilleries present there. Each region boasts of its own distilleries that each take pride in new blends and an adventurous take on flavours.
In order to be able to revel in a good scotch, the liquor needs to be tempered through a distillation and maturation process, both of which significantly influence the body and flavour of the spirit. The peatiness of the malt, the shape and number of pot stills, the cask types used for maturation and the duration and place for storage are four key factors that affect the flavour of the whisky.
What Makes For A Good Scotch
Once the ingredients have been malted, ground, brewed and fermented, there comes an ageing process through which the whisky really takes on body and character making each blend unique. Hundreds of distilleries across Scotland boldly experiment with flavours that turn out unique because of the reactions that take place during the maturation process. This is where the distillation and ageing process are crucial to the flavour of the whisky and are essential stages of the manufacturing process.
There are two types of distillation process-- Pot Still and Patent Still.
Malt whisky is made using the Pot Still process which follows four key stages: malting, mashing, fermentation and distillation.
Grain whiskies are made using the Patent Still process.
Depending on the still used, the end result could vary from being a light and fresh whisky like Glenmorangie to an intense, full-bodied one like Lagavulin. The shape of the pot stills play a significant part in determining the character of the whisky. Another factor affecting the outcome is the intensity of the heat being used. If it is too high it could result in a liquor that is not as smooth as it should be.
Whether it is an American oak or a European one, wooden casks play a crucial role in shaping the character of a whisky. Oak is the only type of wood that is suitable for cask production and whisky maturation. Some woods produce a resin that do not allow the liquor to breathe, while others give off flavours that when blended with the whisky, make it awkward and unpleasant to taste. Since a whisky usually spends at least 10 years in a cask (with some premium liquors maturing for 12 to 21 years), the relationship between cask wall and alcohol is of obvious and crucial importance. During this maturation period, reactions occur between the alcohol and the wood which increase the amount of esters and aldehydes produced. It also extracts tannins, vanillin and caramel from the wood. The size of the casks and how many times they are used also contribute to the final blend. After a cask has been used a few times, the wood gets exhausted and it no longer yields the same results.