In very simple terms, whiskey is actually made from just 3 components – malt, yeast and water. It is unlikely that we will ever find out the name of the person who invented the whiskey. Scots and Irish both claim it as their invention, and the production process is similar in all whisky producing countries.
The Irish claim that St. Patrick himself gave the monks a recipe for whiskey. The Scots refer to the first documented mention of whiskey in their sources and insist that for the first time this strong alcohol could have appeared only then in Scotland.
The funny thing that these disputants forget is that in those days they were a single people – the ancient Celts, living on two neighboring islands. Nowadays, it does not matter who first started making whiskey, the main thing is that the drink exists, is successfully distributed around the world and is gaining more and more new fans.
Whiskey is made in many places around the world
Whiskey is produced in most countries that do not have legislative restrictions on the methods of production and release of the drink. Manufacturers can conditionally be divided into two groups. Scotland leads the list of leading manufacturers, followed by Ireland, the USA, Canada and Japan. Tightly competing with the leaders are India, Australia, France and Taiwan.
The above list is far from complete. For example, the cheapest whiskey in the world is made in Laos – the cost of a bottle here is less than one dollar. Of course, there is no economic sense in such production – they are mainly made to attract backpacking tourists or local populace that cannot afford good whiskey brands.
Many manufacturers adhere to the Scottish recipe. An example is the Japanese, who have been using it for almost a hundred years, copying original recipes in detail. Production in Japan did not stop even during the war. The demand for whiskey is very large, the output lags behind domestic demand, so local whiskey is almost not exported.
Often, manufacturers bring their own nuances to classical production technology. As a rule, this applies to raw materials. For example, the French make whiskey from buckwheat, the Germans from corn, and in Austria they prefer rye and oats.
The Scottish are the undisputed leaders in the production of scotch whiskey. Today in this small nation there are more than a hundred factories producing about two thousand varieties of this strong alcohol. Most of them produce alcohols from malt, and only eight distilleries product whisky from grains. At the same time, no more than 8% of single malt whisky is produced, the rest is blended varieties.
How to make whiskey the Scottish way
The technological scheme consists of several stages that have specifics depending on the manufacturer’s formula. A brief and general description of the process follows.
Step 1: Malt preparation
At this stage, barley decomposed and soaked in a container is germinated, maintaining a certain temperature and humidity. The grain is constantly turned over – this is required for the uniformity of the process.
Step 2: Drying malt
Scots dry malt with heat from burning peat. The “fumigation” of malt, which gives the whiskey a smack of smoke, is an important feature of the product.
Step 3: Wort making
The dried malt is coarsely ground, poured with hot water and mixed thoroughly. Wort (mash) for distillation is a thick cloudy liquid with the smell of malt.
Step 4: Wort fermentation
After adding yeast and mixing, the wort ferments in special containers for 2 to 7 days. Ready for distillation, the mash contains up to 6% alcohol.
Step 5: Distillation
The fermented wort is distilled in copper still (pot still). Copper conducts heat well and is well processed by forging, which makes it possible to make apparatuses of any shape and complexity from it. After distillation in the apparatus of the first stage (wash still), a “weak whisky” with an alcohol content of 25-30% is obtained.
In the second distillation apparatus (spirits still), the initial and final fractions containing many fusel oils, ketones and aldehydes are separated. They are returned to the “weak whisky” and distilled repeatedly.
In addition to two-stage installations, patent still continuous apparatuses are used. The process in them is much faster, and this equipment is used to distill blended whiskey from grain.
The alcohol obtained after the second distillation is diluted with spring water to 50-63.5% by volume and poured into wooden barrels for aging.
Step 6: Aging
The distillate is matured in oak barrels. Usually barrels from the Spanish sherry Oloroso are better suited. One can use barrels of bourbon, cognac, wine, rum etc as well.
During aging, the whisky gains the necessary properties: it darkens, acquires a saturated color, aroma, taste, softness.
Part of the alcohol evaporates through the pores of the wood, and the strength of the product decreases slightly. This is colloquially referred to as the “Share of Angels”. Such a romantic name was given by manufacturers of whiskey to this process.
The capacity of the barrels does not exceed 700 liters. Usually the minimum aging period is 3 years – but it depends on the recipe and the region.
Step 7: Blending
Blended whiskey is obtained by mixing up to 50 types of malt and up to 5 types of grain alcohols. Blend Master combines whiskey to create a unique taste of the drink and maintain its constancy for many years. Barrels with blends are aged for about six months for thorough mixing. This is called a “married whiskey”. The aging time of the blended product is the age of the youngest single malt component in the blend.
Step 8: Spill
Before bottling, whiskey is filtered at a temperature of 2-10 o C and diluted with spring water to the desired strength.
For the domestic market, Scottish manufacturers dilute the drink to a fortress of 40%, and export a slightly stronger product – up to 43%.
Differences between Irish and Scotch whiskey
The raw materials and recipes for the production of Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey have their own characteristics, which makes the taste quite different.
- Rye, barley, oats and wheat can serve as raw materials for Irish whiskey, but rye is the basis.
- In Scotland, whiskey is boiled from barley malt. For this, selective barley of special varieties is used. Additionally, other types of whole grain cereals specially processed and fermented can be used.
- Barley malt after germination is dried by heat from burning peat – this is a very important feature of Scottish technology. “Smoked” malt gives a special smoky aroma and a light taste, which is considered the main feature of the product.
- According to Irish technology, malt is germinated and dried in vats, and the product smells and tastes of malt.
- Scots use two distillations, therefore their product is more rigid, tart and sharp in taste, with a characteristic smoky shade.
- The Scots consider barrels of Spanish sherry the best for aging, the Irish prefer to use barrels of American bourbon.
- Scots often experiment with aging, Irish are more conservative and adhere to traditional recipes.
- The Irish place barrels vertically, believing that in this way it is possible to more rationally use the area of the room.
What about American and Japanese whiskey
The main agrarian culture of the USA is corn from which the Americans make their famous bourbon. Moreover, corn in grain raw materials should be at least 51%. Rye, wheat and barley can also be used in the production of wort.
The recipe for making the drink is simple: the raw materials are ground and boiled, then saccharified with malt, yeast is added and distilled. Bourbon is aged for at least two years exclusively in new American oak barrels, and they never indicate the aging time. The barrels are charred from the inside, so that the drink acquires a special rich amber or dark golden color and aroma.
The Japanese have been brewing whiskey for a hundred years and are largely repeating the British recipe. Even peat for fumigation of malt is brought to Japan from Europe. Despite the borrowed production process, Japanese whiskey has its own unique features. This is due to the use of softer water, the use of distillation cubes of different shapes and volumes, and climatic features of the country.
Like the British, the Japanese have three types of whiskey – malt, grain and blended. Each plant makes blends exclusively from its own alcohols, without using distillates of other distilleries. There are also peculiarities in aging – in addition to the classic barrels of wine, bourbon, and rum, the Japanese often withstand whiskey in new oak barrels growing on the Japanese islands.
The Japanese do not like pungent odors, so the scent of their whiskey is very mild. By tradition, the inhabitants of the Land of the Rising Sun do not drink strong alcohol in its pure form – it is diluted approximately twice with water.