Uncover the journey of crafting Scotch Malt Whisky, where every step is integral for the distilleries in creating the flavour intricacies behind every drop of its precious liquid.
MALTING: The Golden Grain
The journey begins with the barley malting process to lay the first building block of flavours. At this stage, some distilleries, such as the iconic Lagavulin, use peat to heat and dry the barley, imprinting a distinctive smoky flavour. The location where the peat comes from, and the amount of peat used will determine how smoky the barley is and what its aroma will be – Islay’s smokiness possesses a tarry, medicinal, seashore element, which could be rooted in marine vegetation within the peat.
Milling: The Grist of the Story
After the barley is dried, it is milled into grist, which consists of mostly grit, husks and fine flour. Every distillery mills their grist differently, varying the constituent ratio; finer grist allows for sweeter notes, coarser grist creates grassier, fresher flavours.
Mashing: A Tun of Work
The next step is the second building block of flavour. With the help of enzymes, mashing turns the grist into a sugary liquid called wort. Flavours are created depending on the speed of pumping the wort into the mash tun. If the wort is pumped quickly from the bottom of the mash tun, some of the husks and other solids will end up in the fermenting vessel, resulting in the final spirit to have an overriding flavour of malt, nuts and spices, which are signature characters to beautiful Single Malts like Knockando and Blair Athol.
Fermentation: From Yeast to Wash
Fermentation is the third building block of flavour when the character of the whisky begins emerging. The wort is fermented with yeast to derive a beer-like liquid called wash. As the wort ferments, its interaction with the environment affects its acidity, and the duration of fermentation creates a different flavour character to the final spirits. At Glen Ord distillery, the distillers deliberately continue this process for at least 30 hours to create fruity, rich, and delicate notes in the final spirit.
Distillation: A Cut Above The Rest
To make a Single Malt Scotch Whisky, for almost 200 years, Scottish distillers use a pot still made of copper in a process known as batch distillation. At distillation, the liquid has what is known as “copper conversations”, allowing flavours to become concentrated and impurities to be left behind. Stills design and speed of distillation are unique to the distillery, allowing distillers to create light, medium, or heavy spirit. Clynelish distillery’s unusual distillation process allows its whisky to retain a thick, waxy character.
Maturation: An Ode to Oak
For the spirit to be called Scotch Whisky, it has to slumber in oak casks of no more than 700 litres capacity for a minimum of three years. In fact, this is the most vital part of the art, as the interaction between the cask and the spirit provides up to 70% of the liquid’s final flavour. The cask absorbs unwanted sulphuric elements, allows the whisky to extract flavours and colour, and the interaction between the wood and spirits begin to create new flavours and aromas. Depending on the type of oak used, size, and number of fills it has been through, the cask brings to the final liquid a different flavour and character. Sherry casks from Spain lend dried fruits and nuttier notes to the whisky, while American White Oak casks tend to bring aromas associated with coconut, and vanilla.
SAVOUR THE FLAVOUR
A Single Malt Whisky can be aged in more than one cask, in a process known as finishing. For our Master Blender, this is only the beginning.
Scotch Whisky is defined by its flavour profile. Like a virtuoso composer, the Master Blender creates a symphony of flavours from an exceptional ensemble of individual casks. His craft exemplifies the depth and complexity of character that have been honed by the time-honoured ways of creating whisky; from grain to glass.