So what is Whisky made from, Anyway?

The word whiskey is derived from the Irish-Gaelic ‘uisge beatha’ or the Scottish-Gaelic ‘uisge baugh’, both meaning “water of life.”

Whisky is one of the most popular tipples found in the world today. A spirit that can be found in any nook and corner of the world, Whisky has created a niche following for itself. This drink is not only a signifier of all the celebrations, but it is also a perfect way to unwind after a long day of work. With varying palates from smoky, peaty, floral, spicy,  zesty, oaky and woody, there are a plethora of whisky types to satisfy any palate. Whisky drinkers can rejoice because of the numerous varieties available from bourbon to single malt to Scottish whiskies.

Since this drink is a popular staple for many people of the world, we explore the processes through which this spirit is made:

Whisky is made from fermented grain in aged wood, this spirit is a beverage in which the alcohol content is increased by distillation. Other spirits made through this process are brandy, rum, vodka, and gin. The other undistilled beverages such as wine, mead, and beer have been produced since 7000 BC. This process of distillation was introduced by the Chinese in 800 BC for producing rice spirits. 

MALTING

Whisky made of barley contains starch and this starch needs to be converted into soluble sugars to make alcohol. The barley undergoes germination for this to occur. The first part of this process is called “Malting”. Every distillery has its own preference about what type of barley they should buy but mainly focus on buying the kinds that yield high amounts of soluble sugar. Soaked for 2-3 days it is then traditionally spread about on floors and turned at regular intervals to maintain a constant temperature. This process happens at a large scale in rotating drums.

The germination is stopped by drying the barley in a kiln. The smoke produced by peat used to power the kiln is sometimes used to influence the flavour of the final spirit. The dried barley is called “malt” and is now ground in a mill.

MASHING

This grounded malt is called “grist” and is added to warm water. This liquid combination is called “mash” and is then stirred for several hours. This process forces the sugars to dissolve and are drawn off the bottom of the mash tun. This mixture is called “wort” and this process is usually carried about three times with water temperatures increasing each time to extract maximum sugar. The last lot produced is called “draff” and is collected for the production of farm feed.

FERMENTATION

This wort is cooled and then passed into larger tanks. The yeast is added to the mixture and turns the sugars present into alcohol. This process usually takes 48 hours, and the liquid at this stage is called ‘wash’ and is low in alcohol content similar to beer or ale. 

DISTILLATION

Scotland distilleries traditionally wash this mixture twice. Impurities are extracted in this process through stills made from copper. Different shapes give different flavours to the spirit. All of them are same in principle, tall still will produce finer and lighter spirits while shorter and fatter ones will produce a fuller, richer spirit.

Alcohols from the initial part of the process produce very high alcohol levels and are pungent. Alcohols from the later part of the process are weaker but pungent. The alcohol from the middle of the distillation is removed and used. This part is extracted and made into whisky. This middle part of the process has an alcohol content of 65-70%.

MATURATION

The extracted spirit is transferred into oak casks for storage. The most popular and common oak casks used are those which have previously been used in bourbon and sherry production.

The whisky matures in casks for at least three years before legally allowed to be distributed. 

We’re sure this arduous process of whisky production will make you respect this tipple even more! Next time you sip on scotch or Irish, remember the years of hard work it took to process this spirit, and cherish it even more!

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