Wine Dharma

DharMag April 2018 Whisky or whiskey? What is whisky, where is from, how it is produced and which are the best producing countries?

What is whisky, what is the difference between Whisky and Whiskey Whiskey is a brandy that comes from the distillation of malt, barley, rye or wheat. In practice, through distillation, ethyl alcohol is extracted from a low-grade beer and then is processed with a second distillation, refined in cask and then the whiskey is bottled.

Which countries produce whiskey?

The countries that distill whiskey are Scotland, Ireland, the United States (Bourbon), Canada, Japan, and even Australia and New Zealand. The biggest producer is Scotland with 97 distilleries.

Each country has its production and distillation method and starts from different basic ingredients. The Scotch Single Malt Whiskey, for example, is produced exclusively from the distillation of fermented barley malt, Bourbon whiskey must have at least 51% of corn, the Rye 51% of rye. In Irish whiskey is allowed any blend, even oats are contemplated, as long as there is malt, even in small doses.

We will try to show you how distillation works and what it is, we will talk about the history of Gaelic brandy, the famous uisge beatha, and how these distillates have evolved over the centuries.

What is the difference between Scotch whisky and whiskey?

Copper still for the distillation of Scotch whiskey, Scotch whisky guide Let’s clear up a doubt: what changes between whisky and whiskey. Whisky is Scottish, blended or single malt and that’s it, the rest of the world produces whiskey. Even the Japanese use the word whisky, not always, but their production was born as an emulation of the Scottish one since they started producing in late 1800 after some pioneers returned to Japan and noticed that Japan has a lot in common with Scotland. Peat, great cereals, plenty of water sources. So we can say that the link between the two productions is very strong, having both production methods and similar ingredients.

How is Scotch whisky produced?

Now we move on to the distillation process, we will examine the distillation of Scotch whisky. Distillation is the process by which, through heat, the volatile substances are separated from a fermented barley malt must called wash. But before moving on to distillation, let’s take a step back and let’s uncork a beer!

How the Scotch whisky mash is made

First of all, we’ll start with barley, which is malted and turns into malt. In practice it get soaked in water and it starts to germinate and sprout: the process lasts at least 12 days. Starch is transformed into sugar: essential for triggering fermentation.

At this point the malt is “dried”, or rather smoked, with an oven called kiln, a process also used for beers. Only that in Scotland and Ireland there are crazy quantities of peat and therefore the question arises.

What is peat?

Scotch whisky, the types of whiskey, the best whiskeys, how whiskey is produced To put it quickly, peat is a fossil fuel, remains of plants and moss that have slowly decomposed and compacted over the centuries, creating layers upon layers. A sort of unburned coal that is dried and used to feed heating fires, but above all to smoke malt. Its calorific value is not very high and is inefficient, but it is cheaper than wood and is easily found in many parts of Scotland.

How is peated whisky made?

Ok, at this point we have to smoke the malt with peat. Based on the quantity and quality of the peat, at the chosen temperature and duration you will give smoked flavors and scents to your malt and therefore to the product of distillation, Scotch whiskey. But not all Scottish distilleries use peat, the process varies from distillery to distillery: from the most smoked distillates such as Islay’s Ardbeg, to completely peat-free distillates, like Speyside’s Cardhu.

Once the malt is ready, you grind it to obtain a malted flour, called grist.

What is mashing?

Now let’s move on to mashing, where hot water is added to the malt to trigger the fermentation of sugars. And in this way, we arrived at the wort.

The wort ferments thanks to the addition of selected yeasts and transforms sugar into alcohol, a process as old as the world. The wort is now called wash, hey but it is a beer! Yes, the mechanism is practically the same and not by chance the great whiskey-producing countries are also excellent brewers.

Whiskey’s distillation

And only now that we move on to the actual distillation of the beer, using a still called wash pot. Put simply, it takes advantage of the fact that alcohol evaporates at 78.3 degrees, while water at 100 degrees. Then the alcohol turns into steam and is then cooled and condensed. This way you get the so-called low wine, alcohol at 40 degrees. Almost, and we almost, all the alcohol is extracted from the beer.

What are the heads and tails of a distillate?

And now we must introduce the concept of heads and tails: the most important part of the distillation, where the master distiller must decide what to keep and what to discard. The more alcohol is distilled, the more it becomes pure, strong, but also tasteless, given that perfumes, flavors and substances are lost with distillation.

It is not such a simple operation. The head is formed by volatile ethers such as sulfur dioxide and methyl alcohol, which have a lower evaporation point than ethyl alcohol.

The tails are heavier and oily, but thanks to a second distillation they are discarded.

The second distillation of Scotch whiskey

After the second distillation with the copper spirits still, we get the real Scotch whiskey, certainly it has an alcohol content of 65-85 degrees, toxic due to the astronomical alcohol content. A small note, Irish whiskey has a very similar process but then faces a third and final distillation. The vodka, on the other hand, is distilled 8-12 times, loses its scent and almost all its flavors, but can reach a degree of crystalline purity. The world of distillates is beautiful even for these completely at the antipodes points of view.

Scotch Single Malt Whiskey aging: the importance of wood

The whiskey is filtered and placed in barrels and must face at least 3 years of aging, again if we talk about Scotch Single Malt Whiskey.

And this is also a fundamental phase to understand the flavor that our distillate will take: the barrels can be American or European, white oak or red oak. They are very different and give totally opposite flavors and aromas: another crossroads to deal with. It is also common to use barrels used for the maturation of American bourbon to avoid aggressive smoky flavors and aromas.

The importance of Sherry

The second barrel aging can be done in casks used for making sherry, a practice that adds very sweet notes of dried and oxidized fruits. It helps to round off our whiskey even more and make it more smooth.

We are almost there, stay with me! A quick and inevitable phase is filtration, good to eliminate any residues. Some whiskeys undergo chill filtering, ie they are brought to 0 degrees and then mechanically filtered to eliminate any particle. Many top-notch whiskeys on the contrary boast of not being chill-filtered, see the Ardbeg. On how the practice is respectful of the raw material there is still much discussion, the fact is that the finest distillates are rarely cold filtered.

Ok, now the whiskey is diluted with water from the source of the unicorns to adjust the alcohol content and then it is bottled.

Is water still such a fundamental ingredient?

There is still much discussion about water, a real ingredient together with barley, yeast, peat, and barrels. Once the distilleries stood near the water sources and bought them and perhaps gave the name to the distillery or whiskey, but today is possible to “manipulate” water, filter it with coals or use sources that do not come from Scotland. And many wonder if it is still so fundamental when many use simple distilled water.

History of whiskey

Where is whisky originally from and who was the first distiller?

Legend has it that the first to perceive the dynamics of distillation were the Egyptians, who managed to isolate some vapors, but there are other obscure figures and proclamations of paternity starting from the Chinese.

In reality the distillatory art, but applied to elixirs and perfumes, began with the Arabs, in the eighth century after Christ, when Geber invented the first still. And this is a fact, not a legend.

During the Middle Ages, the monks were the custodians of all knowledge and the first to make experiments and then export the art of distillation to Northern Europe. And so this “brandy” becomes Gaelic and takes the name of uisge beatha, hence the current name.

But the first whiskeys were very different, rugged spirit, not the smooth bottles we can drink today. It was only after the Second World War that the quality of the production process skyrocketed: in 1968 Glenfiddich brought out the first Scotch Single Malt Whiskey.

It was only the beginning of the rise of the whiskey and the consequent decline of the French Brandy, and never as today, we are witnessing an endless frenzy with distilleries that arise at the antipodes of the world, which has never been so thirsty of uisge beatha.

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