How to Make Liquid Gold
OK, so here’s the deal: single-malt scotch is essentially when Scottish water makes love to barley. There are several different varieties of barley, including golden promise, halcyon, optic, pearl, and maris otter.
Chronologically (and deliciously) here is how the Scotch magic-creating process works:
Malting: the beginning of the process where the barley is steeped in water for 2-3 days.
Germination: the soaked barley is then brought to a malting house where it is allowed to breathe and sprout.
Drying: the malted barley is then placed in a kiln, where it smells strongly of burning peat.
(Peat is a young form of coal and another factor in determining whisky’s unique, final flavor.)
Milling: the dried, malted barley is crushed, ground, and pulverized into something called grist.
Mixing: the grist is combined with Scottish water in a container called the mash tun, that when drained, is sweet, pure liquid gold called wort.
(The remaining residue left over in the mash tun can be used for animal feed.)
Yeasting: yeast is added to the malty, sugary wort to turn into something with a bit of a kick.
Fermentation: the yeast meets the wort, they make love, then the sugar turns into alcohol in a process called fermentation, or a maelstrom of heat that takes 2-4 days.
Distillation: here is where the alcohol content is increased. The liquid is heated in a hot, and because alcohol boils at a lower temperature, it separates from the water. The alcohol vapor rises, and is then cooled and condensed back into the liquid by a copper coil immersed in cold water. To further increase the alcohol content, the liquid is distilled in a pot still.
(Each distillery has its own uniquely shaped pot still that gives the whisky more of a unique flavor.)
- First part of the run: also known as the foreshot, is returned to the still for further distillation.
- Second part of the run: also known as the heart of the run is collected and ready to be matured into whisky.
- Final part of the run: also known as the feint, is returned to the still for further distillation.
Maturation: the distilled whisky is stored in casks that do not see the light of day for at least 3 years; sometimes 12, 18, or even 50 years. This is where the whisky’s flavor is enhanced by the wood of the cask it’s stored in. The color of the liquid goes from clear to golden.
(During this process, up to 2% of the alcohol is evaporated each year; this is referred to as “the angel’s share.”)
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