SCOTCH History / Production
The production of malt whisky in Scotland starts with the selection of the barley. The barley is cleaned and steeped in warm water for about 60 hours. The soaked barley is then spread out on the malting floor and after ten to twelve days begins to sprout.
The malted barley (sprouted) is removed to the drying kiln and spread out on huge screens below which peat fires are lighted. The heat and smoke from the burning peat pass through the screen and dry the malt amidst the aroma of the peat. The aroma is imparted to the barley during the drying stage. It is in this segment of production that scotch whisky acquires its characteristic smoky flavor. After the malt is dried it is stored in hoppers for several weeks . The malt is next cleaned, weighed and put through a grinding mill where heavy rollers reduce it to a meal. It now goes to a mash tun where water, heated to 146 degrees Fahrenheit, is added. Rotating arms keep the mixture swirling. When the mixing action is complete, the grain sugar has been dissolved into a liquid called “wort”. The next step involves cooling the mass, after which it is pumped into large wooden tuns, or “fermenting backs.” Now, yeast is added and actual fermentation takes place. The process of converting malt sugar to alcohol.
On the completion of the sugar to alcohol the resulting liquid takes on the name of “wash.” The “wash” is an alcoholic solution of about the same strength of beer. As stated before in the production of Scotch the “Pot Still” is utilized over the continuous column still in the United States. The pot still is a huge copper pot with a closed top shaped like and inverted funnel. Its spout is bent into a right angel and tapers off into a cooling coil.
Did you know? Scotch is whisky that has been made Scotland.
Two or more pot stills are used in the scotch distilling process. The first pot still carries the name “wash still” and has a capacity of about one thousand gallons. The liquid wash is pumped into the wash still and heat is applied. When the temperature of the liquid wash rises to the boiling point of alcohol, and the alcohol vapors begins to rise from the liquid; this vapor passes through the funnel-like cover of the still and continues on through the cooling coil where it is promptly condensed to a liquid that is comprised of alcohol, acids, aldehydes, fusel oil and some water that “refused” to be separated. This liquid is called the “feints” or “low wines.” From the condenser it flows into a large vat named the “feints receiver.”
The next step is the final distillation. The “feints” are pumped into a second pot still, somewhat smaller than the wash still, and the whole process is repeated. During this part of the final distillation there are in the “wash” as well as in the “low wines,” various undesirable acids and aldehydes that have a boiling point lower than alcohol. To trap or catch these undesirables each still has a glass box, “the spirit safe,” located beyond the condenser. The distilled liquid with the undesirables passes through the “spirit safe” before it can enter the whisky receiver. The safe contains devices that can test the proof of the spirits. Also there are valves which can divert the flow of the distillate into either the whisky receiver or back to the feints receiver.
During the entire distilling operation the stillmaster controls what goes into the whisky receiver. The stillmaster knows that the first run of liquid through the “safe” will be a foreshot, a low proof acid liquid which does not belong in whisky. At the “safe” the foreshot can be diverted to the feints receiver where it can be redistilled. Only whisky that meets the distiller’s requirements is permitted to flow into the whisky receiver.
The new whisky in the receiver is then pumped into a vat and leveled off to about 120 Imperial proof. The product is then transferred to casks for aging. As stated before the scotch is then aged in used sherry barrels or uncharred oak barrels. Remember that in the U.S. American whiskey is required by law to be aged in new charred oak barrels. Generally scotch is aged for more that five years and an aging period of twelve to twenty years is not uncommon. During the aging period the whisky extracts color from the wood of the barrel and also mellows. The product also shrinks in the barrel at a rate of two percent per year of aging.
Up to this point the production of malt whisky has been described, the next step is the production of the grain whisky that goes into all great Scotch whisky blends.
The production of grain whisky in Scotland follows the same pattern as the making of neutral spirits in the United States. Corn and barley are the grains that are utilized and they are processed in the continuous still. The grain whisky is matured in the cask just like the malt whisky, but usually for a shorter time.
The Scotch blender now emerges with the malt and grain whiskies fully matured. The blender has the responsibility of blending the two products to the standards of the product. He or she must maintain the uniformity of the brand year after year.
The malt whiskies are selected and poured into a huge vat. When fully blended they placed into casks and laid away for further aging and “marrying”. The malt whiskies being “well married” are then poured into a huge vat where the proper proportion of grain whisky is added. Resulting in a blended Scotch whisky, a good example being the brand Dewar’s.