Whisky Tastings by Rubright & Hardagain
A different kind of whisky tasting experience...
Taste Whisk(e)y Like A ProWait...why is the 'e' in brackets? The Scots spell it whisky and the Irish spell it whiskey, with an extra 'e'. This difference in the spelling comes from the translations of the word from the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms. Whiskey with the extra 'e' is also used when referring to American whiskies. Okay, where do you start?
How's it even made..?For more than 500 years barley and water have been the basic ingredients for single malt Scotch whisky. Beside their rugged beauty, the Scottish highlands are characterised by the vast grain fields, especially during harvest season. Scotland has unique water. Since there is no limestone, the water is very soft. The rain water flows over hillsides overgrown with heath and through peat meadows, thereby taking up the unique flavour typical for each distillery. Small, well-protected wells provide the water for the single malt whiskies. But also the big rivers are needed for producing whisky. They provide cooling water for the pot stills. The production of whisky is comparably easy. You let the barley germinate until the starch of the grain has become malt sugar. The malt is then dried and coarsely ground. The sugar is extracted by adding hot water, and the resulting liquid is then left to ferment, producing a beer without the addition of hops. This beer is then distilled twice in copper pot stills. The spirit is then matured in oak casks for at least three years. High-class single malt whiskies are sometimes matured for decades. Here's the fundamental process for making Scotch...
Alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar. The barley grain contains primarily starch. In chemical terms, starch is a multiple sugar (single sugar molecules forming chains). In order to release the sugar, the starch must be split into sugars (maltose – malt sugar). Traditionally, the barley is steeped in water and left for germination on malting floors. After steeping, a water content of 45% is ideal for the barley starch to be converted into sugar. The barley must be turned over by hand in carefully timed intervals so that all grains germinate equally. Germination takes about five days.
The dried malt is ground into a coarse flour or grist, which is mixed with hot water in the mash tun. The water is added in 3 stages and gets hotter at each stage, starting around 67°C and rising to almost boiling point. The quality of the pure Scottish water is important. The mash is stirred, helping to convert the starches to sugar. After mashing, the sweet sugary liquid is known as wort. The spent grains - the draff - are processed into cattle feed.
The malt is mashed three times before the sugar solution is cooled in a cooler. In the first run, the water has a temperature of about 65° C; in the second run, the temperature of the fresh water is increased to 80° C. For the final run, the water is heated nearly to the boiling point (95° C). During this third run, only so little sugar is extracted that this weak sugar solution is cooled down and used for the first run of the next batch. The remaining mash is brought to specialised plants where it is dehydrated and the residue is processed into animal feed. The exhaust air of these plants can be smelled for miles. The wort is cooled to 20°C and pumped into washbacks, where yeast is added and fermentation begins.
In distillation, the still is heated to just below the boiling point of water and the alcohol and other compounds vaporise and pass over the neck of the still into either a condenser or a worm - a large copper coil immersed in cold running water where the vapour is condensed into a liquid.
By law, each cask must be marked with a unique number, the name of the distillery and the distillation year.
By law all Scotch whisky must be matured for at least 3 years, but most single malts lie in the wood for 8, 10, 12, 15 years or longer. Customs & Excise allow for a maximum of 2% of the whisky to evaporate from the cask each year - the Angels' Share.