The Fine Art of Whiskey Making

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The Fine Art of Whiskey Making

Spirits are an enjoyable part of many an evening. The exact kind of alcohol you favor depends on personal taste. Some people prefer the tastes of wines while others might prefer a good rum. There’s plenty of room at the table for a good whiskey. The drink, sadly, has a reputation for being something that is simply drunk quickly without savoring the taste just like tequila. In truth, both spirits are perfectly suited to being sipped if you’re willing to invest in a quality drink. The flavors are often as rich and complicated as the much vaunted flavors of wine while offering a different flavor profile. There are low-quality spirits of all kinds though and it tends to lower a drink’s reputation if the poor quality drinks outnumber the good ones. Making whiskey is an art that most people don’t know anything about. We’re going to take a closer look at how whiskey is made so that you can gain an appreciation for the work that goes into it.

Malt and Mash
The first parts of making whiskey focus on laying the groundwork necessary to actually produce the drink. It involves soaking barley for up to three days to start the germinating process in the barley before removing the barley and spreading it across the floor of a building known as a malting house. The barley is left to “malt” on the specialized floor like this to allow it to start producing sugars. Once the barley has clearly begun to germinate after one to three weeks, it is thoroughly dried by the malting house. The manner depends on the actual malting house itself and tends to vary depending on the age of the building or the desires of their buyers. Malted barley is then ground down and the resulting “grist” is sent to the brewer. Grist is added back to warm water and stirred for hours before the liquid is removed. This is repeated several times to create the “wort” which will continue forward in the process.

Fermentation and Distillation
The wort is the basis for several kinds of spirit, but these next steps are what helps to define what the resulting drinking will become. Wort is siphoned into tanks known as “washbacks” as part of the cooling process. It is here that the actual process of making spirits starts with the addition of a brewer’s specialized strain of yeast. It is introduced into the cooler wort and allowed to sit more or less untouched for two days to allow the yeast to ferment the sugars in the wort to create the “wash”. The wash is eventually removed from the washback to be distilled. Once introduced to the still, it is heated until it vaporizes. Alcohol vaporizes sooner and the vapors condense towards the neck of the still and are filtered on into another still. Here is where the person in charge of still separates the spirit into usable and unusable components that are either too potent or too weak for the intended spirit. The usable section is transferred to a cask to age.

Oak casks are traditionally used to age whiskey. The casks may or may not be reused depending on the preference of the brewer. Casks previously used to age other spirits can contribute to the overall flavor profile of the finished whiskey. The important part of aging is that whiskey is aged for at least three years. Anything aged less than that is not a whiskey. Casks, as referenced above, are used to influence the flavor, but there is a debate in the whiskey industry if the air of an area has an effect as well. The argument goes that, since wood is porous, air filters into the aging drink and influences the flavor profile as well. What they can say for sure is that a fraction of the spirit is lost each year through evaporation thanks to the wood. Whiskey is often aged for longer than three years to add extra flavor to the vintage, but it isn’t required. All brewers ultimately have their preferences.

Whiskey is not an especially difficult drink to brew by comparison to other spirits, but it does take dedication given the time requirement. That there must be three years from start to finish means that new names in whiskey tend to appear less frequently. Those that do tend to do their best to distinguish themselves or they won’t be around for that long. Whiskey may often be passed over as being a “less complex” spirit, but that doesn’t do the drink justice. Find a brand that is good for sipping and take the time to enjoy it. You may end up pleasantly surprised.

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