07/12/13 9:01 pm Making Scotch Whisky (distilling Scotch Malt Whisky

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Making Scotch Whisky
A Brief Explanation of the Traditional Method
The Scotch Whisky production process has
changed little in the last two hundred years, Scotch
is still produced using traditional methods although
modern production and quality control are now used
to ensure that the quality of the finished product has
never been better. How then is it made?
Scotch Whisky Ingredients
The ingredients of malt whisky are essentially just
barley and water. Barley is a crop that is highly
suited to the Scottish climate. In our temperate
climate summers are cool with temperatures seldom
rising much above 20C. We also have lots of summer
rain ensuring conditions that are just right for healthy barley crops. This rain also ensures that we always
have a plentiful supply of clear, clean water. The source of the water has a significant effect on the taste of
the final product. As you would expect, Loch Lomond whiskies all use water originating from the Loch
Lomond water table.
The Whisky Fermentation Process
The barley grains are the seeds of the plant and they aresteeped in water
until they germinate or sprout. At this stage the germinating barley is
spread on the floor of a malting house where it continues to develop
over the next week or two. During this period the grains are turned over
regularly using a “paddle” to allow air to get at them and encourage even
development. The starch in the barley turns to sugar and at the optimum
time the germination is stopped by placing the barley in an oven or
kiln. Traditionally the heat for this oven was peat fired and it was from
here that malt whisk acquired its peaty, smoky taste. Nowadays more
conventional forms of heating are used and some distilleries retain the
peaty flavours by burning peat and blowing the smoke over the grain
during the process.
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How Scotch Whisky is Made
Quotations about Whisky

"Whisky is liquid sunshine."
(George Bernard Shaw)

07/12/13 9:01 pm Making Scotch Whisky (distilling Scotch Malt Whisky)
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When the barley is dry it is then milled to produce a floury substance
known as “grist”. This grist, which is rich in sugar at this time, is then
placed mixed with hot water to create a “mash”. It is then placed in a
large metal vessel or container called a “mash tun”. The contents of the
mash tun are stirred regularly to encourage the release of the sugars.
When this
process is
complete the
resulting liquid,
now known as
“wort”, is drawn
off and
transferred to
large wooden
“washbacks”.
The remaining
solids are called “draff”, which is commonly used
as cattle feed.
The washbacks are like giant wooden pails commonly made from Oregon pine or Cypress both of which
have a high resistance to fungi. It is in these washbacks that the yeast is added to start the fermentation
process during which the sugar in the wort turns to alcohol. Fermentation is a vigorous process, the
solution bubbles and foams furiously before gradually slowing down as the sugar is converted over a
period of two to four days. At this stage the “wash” smells and tastes similar to beer. It is still quite weak
with an alcohol content of no more than about 8% or 9%.
The Scotch Whisky Distilling Process
OK, we now have our liquid wash, which will ultimately become the
finished product. The next step is to distil this down to the required
alcohol content. The distillation takes place in copper pot stills
which have a distinctive, swan-neck shape. The character of the final
product is influenced by the shape of the stills and the length of the
neck.
Here at Loch Lomond Distillery we also use our unique
rectifying stills, which can be adjusted to replicate different
lengths of neck. This allows us to produce malt whiskies of different
character from the same stills or combinations of stills. You can see
examples of both types of still in the image to the right.
Conventionally there are two stills involved in this process, the wash
still and the spirit still. The wash still is used to produce the first
distillation, which is called “low wines”. This is then distilled for
the second time in the spirit still before being collected as the strong
distilled spirit. This spirit is not yet useable. As it is produced the
first part,the “foreshot”, is too strong and contains undesirable
components. The next part, the “middle cut” is what we are looking
for. This is diverted into a receiving tank. The final part of the second
distillation, the “feints” is too weak to be used but it is saved to be
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added to the next batch of low wines so that nothing is wasted. Testing of the spirit as it leaves the pot
stills takes place in a “spirit safe” sealed by
HM Customs and Excise, (pictured right). No
tasting is done at any time and all testing with
the hydrometer takes place within this sealed
spirit safe.
When the final spirit has been collected in the
receiving tank it is ready to go into barrels for
the next stage of the process, which is
maturation. These oak barrels have often been
previously used in the production of
American Bourbon whiskey. While Scotch
whisky benefits from being stored in barrels
that have been previously used the Bourbon
industry requires that only new barrels are
used for this purpose. The second hand
bourbon barrels are therefore purchased by Scotch whisky distillers. Sherry, Rum and Port casks
are also used. All of these impart their own, unique characteristics into the final product.
The casks are then moved to a bonded warehouse, the
“bonded” referring to the fact that the warehouse is once
again controlled by HM Customs and Excise. By law, Scotch
whisky must remain “in bond” for at least three years but
in practice it is usually much more than this. It cannot in
fact be called whisky until these three years have passed.
Before this it is just referred to as spirit. During this period
about 2% is lost through evaporation each year so that about
25% of the contents of a barrel stored for 12 years will be
lost to the “angel’s share”. This along with the cost of
storing the product for so long all adds to the cost. When
you consider that Vodka and some other drinks are produced and bottled within a few days, (no
maturation being required), then you see why whisky, which is similarly priced is such good value.
When the malt whisky has been matured for the required it time can be bottled and labelled but if it is to
be used as part of a blended whisky the master blender must make his contribution. The blender is the
person who decides what whiskies are to be included in the final
blend. Each whisky is “nosed” to determine its characteristics
and ensure that the consistency of the specific blend is
maintained.
As many as thirty or forty different malt and grain whiskies
may be included in the final blend and the blender’s experience
is critical in ensuring that your favourite blend retains its
consistency over a number of years. It is not possible to just use
a “recipe” for this. Whiskies come and go like any other product
so as one goes off line another must be selected to replace it.
The skilled nose of the blender is the single most important
factor in this process. The whisky is then transferred to the
bottling plant where it is bottled using modern, highly
automated methods.
Note: some of the processes involved in the making of Scotch
Whisky described above have now been automated. For
example during the grain germination process the barley may be turned or “ploughed” with automatic
paddles as opposed to manually. The main fermentation and distillation processes however have
remained essentially the same in all Scotch whisky distilleries for the last couple of hundred years.



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