Whisky or whiskey is a distilled liquor created from a fermented mash of cereal grains, yeast and water. Whiskey derives its name from the Gaelic term ‘uisge beathe ’, meaning ‘water of life’. Later, the pronunciation became 'uski', and then whiskey.
The grains (corn, barley, rye and wheat) vary for different types of whiskeys, namely, Irish, Scotch, Canadian and the varieties made in the United States. The type of grain used varies with the type of whiskey manufactured. However, all types of whiskeys consist of at least a little amount of malted barley, which helps to begin the fermentation. Barley is present in Scotch malt whiskey and other types of whiskeys consist of a combination of barley, wheat, corn, rye and/or oats.
Water is one of the key ingredients in making whiskey. The preferred choice would be spring and cold if available for making it. Water has an impact on the fermentation process.
Yeast help in converting sugar into alcohol. Scotch whisky uses the same type of yeast in their industry as they have specific rules.
How to Prepare Whisky?
Whiskey lovers would love to know how their favorite drink is made. We are discussing here Scotch whisky production.
Malted Barley, yeast and water are the ingredients required to make whisky as explained above in detail.
Except for barley, all grains are initially ground in a gristmill to form a meal, which is then combined with water and slowly cooked in a closed pressure cooker at 155°C (311°F) or more slowly in an open cooker at 100°C (212°F). If you are wondering what happened to sweet old barley, here is the reply - it is not cooked, it is malted.
Now, it is time to mix the cooked grain with warm water and malted barley. The amylase present in malted barley transforms the starch in the other grains into sugars. When several hours have passed, the mixture is transformed into a sugar-rich, turbid liquid called mash or wort.
The mash is moved to a fermentation vessel, made of stainless steel or wood, and the fermentation process initiates when yeast is added to the vessel. The yeast organisms change the sugars in the mash into alcohol. There are two processes called the sweet mash process and the sour mash process. While the former is complicated and hence not used much, the latter sees more frequent use for its efficacy at room temperature and high acidity, which facilitates yeast growth, hindering bacteria growth. When three to four days pass, the result is a liquid, comprising around 10% alcohol called distiller's beer.
Distilleries make use of a continuous still, which contains a tall cylindrical column, having several plates featuring pores. While the distiller's beer makes its way into the still from the top, steam enters from the bottom. As the beer gradually drips through the plates, it gets distilled. The ultimate product is low wine, which again undergoes distillation to form a product called new whiskey or high wine, containing around 70% alcohol.
If the percentage of alcohol is 95%, it will lack flavor as it has no congeners. This product is called grain neutral spirit. In case the final output has too many congeners of the wrong type, it will taste bad. Bad-tasting congeners are removed by distillers in various ways. While some congeners can float on top and are poured off being lighter than alcohol, others can be boiled off.
With the aim to decrease the alcohol content in high wine to around 50% to 60%, water is added to the high wine. When it comes to aging, whiskey is put in wooden barrels, made from charred white oak. If your query is, ‘why is white oak used?’, the answer is that it is one of the few woods that hold liquid without leaking and also lets the water in the whiskey move in the pores of the wood. This facilitates in adding flavor.
In the aging process, at least 3 factors are present. First, the original mixture of alcohol, water and congeners react with each other over time. Secondly, these components react with oxygen in the atmospheric air in oxidation reactions. Third, the water arrests substances from the wood as it moves inside it. When the barrel is made of charred wood, these substances dissolve more easily in the water. Whiskeys usually mature in 3 to 4 years and many of them age for ten to fifteen years.
Apart from Scotch and Straight whiskeys (they are bottled from the barrel), all other types of whiskeys encounter blending to create a better flavor. Many a time, adding caramel standardizes the color, neutral grain spirit lightens the flavor and a little amount of port wine or sherry helps in blending the flavors.
Glass is the one and only choice for bottling mature whiskey as it is inert with the material to convert the flavor. Contemporary distilleries make use of automated machinery to make close to 400 whiskey bottles every minute. The glass bottles move over a conveyor belt before being filled, labeled and placed in cardboard boxes. The bottles are now ready to be taken to and sold from bars, restaurants and stores.
Scotch Whisky- This is generally made of malted barley or grain with the spirit aged in oak casks for more than Three years. Entirely made in Scotland, Scotch Whisky is divided into five distinct categories that are-
Single Malt Scotch Whisky- To be categorised as a single malt scotch whisky it must be made from malted barley only and has to be distilled at a single distillery by the use pot still distillation method.
Popular Example- The Dalmore, The Macallan.
Single Grain- In Making of Single grain scotch whisky other grains like rye, wheat, corn are added. The whisky like single malt has to be distilled at a single distillery using the column still method.
Popular Example- The Girvan
Blended Malt- A blend of single malt scotch whiskies from at least two different distilleries.
Popular Example- Monkey Shoulder
Blended Grain- A blend of single grain scotch whiskies from at least two different distilleries.
Popular Example- Redbreast
Blended Scotch- A blend of Single malt & single grain scotch whiskies.
Popular Example- Whyte & Mackay Blended Scotch
Irish Whiskey- This Whiskey is made in Ireland. It is made from yeast fermented grain mash or mash of malted cereals and takes about three years to age in wooden casks. Irish Whiskey is very fruity, smooth & flavours of caramel & oak develop with age.
Popular Example- Jameson and Bushmill
Bourbon Whiskey- This whiskey is made in the USA, Main grain used is corn. The content of corn in the mash is required to be at 51%. Bourbon is aged in charred new oak barrels and is bottled at 40% ABV. It tastes slightly sweet with a bit of smoke. The new charred oak barrels give it a distinct reddish brown hue.
Popular Example- Maker’s Mark and Old Crow
Rye Whiskey- It is Produced in the USA. The mash to make this whiskey should have at least 51 percent of rye with other grain being Barley & corn. It has to be aged for a minimum of two years in charred new oak barrels. This type of whiskey has a slight fruity flavour with hints of sweet spices like cloves & black pepper.
Popular Example- Wild Turkey and Knob Creek
Japanese Whiskey- Japanese Whiskey is a type of whisky produced in Japan. This whisky uses double malted or peated barley and is aged in wooden casks. Japanese whiskies have peaty, earthy & smokey flavours on the palate. Japanese whisky are made as single malts as well as blended whisky.
Popular Example- Yamazaki and Hibiki
Tennessee Whiskey- This type of whisky is produced in Tennessee in the USA. Tennessee Whiskey is filtered using charcoal. Like other american whiskies this has to be aged in charred new oak barrels for at least two years.
Popular Example- Jack Daniel’s and George Dickle
Whisky is a popular drink in most of the bars. Drinking Scotch Whisky with Coca Cola is a big NO but ‘’Guest is always Right’’.
There are 4 major ways to drink whisky in a bar or restaurant-
1. Neat - The Restaurant Academy golden tip is to drink it neat as you want to smell and taste it. Three steps here are:
See - Look at Whisky color ( Whisky comes in different color)
Smell - Smell it (Don’t put your nose completely in one go as you will burn your nasal hair. Bring it slowly towards you.)
Sip - For Tasting (Take small sips to enjoy it)
2. Add Water- Addition of little water allows you to detect more aromas and flavours on the nose & on the palette by lowering the alcohol level.
Just add a little amount of water, give the whisky a swirl and enjoy. You can drop water by straw or pipette.
3. On The Rocks- This term traditionally came from scotland when people didn't have ice, they used to go to the river and take the stones chilled by the cold water coming from the glaciers, Hence the term “On The Rocks”. The worst part of putting too much ice on is that you won’t smell anything.
The correct is to use a large ice or ice ball as smaller ice will melt faster, hence diluting you drink faster. If you want a chilling effect without dilution use Whisky stones. Or if you are home put a whisky bottle in the freezer, Whisky freezes at -27 C(-17F) and most of the home freezer can go only -15 C. Try this also.
4. Whisky based Cocktails- If you don't like the above-mentioned ways to drink whisky or want to explore more styles & flavours, there are many classic & contemporary whisky cocktails like Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Whiskey Sour which you can enjoy.