Monday, January 12, 2015

WHISKY - FAQ's V

THE MAKING OF GRAIN WHISKY

1. Scotch grain whisky is usually made from 10-20% malted barley and then other unmalted cereals such as maize or wheat. The starch in the non-malted cereals is released by pre-cooking and converted into fermentable sugars. The mashing and fermentation processes are similar to those used for malt whisky.
2. The wash is distilled in a continuous or Coffey still, named after its inventor Aeneas Coffey. It has two tall columns - a rectifier and an analyser. Cold wash is pumped in at the top of the rectifier and meets steam. The columns in fact act like a heat exchanger. The alcohol is cooled, condenses and flows away as Scotch grain spirit at about 94% alcohol by volume.
3. The distilled grain spirit is lighter in character and aroma than most malt whiskies and therefore requires rather less time to mature. The bulk of matured grain whisky is used for blending.
THE MATURATION PROCESS

While maturing, the whisky becomes smoother, gains flavour, and draws its golden colour from the cask. A proportion of the higher alcohols turn into esters and other complex compounds which subtly enhance each whisky's distinctive characteristics.
By law all Scotch whisky must be matured for at least 3 years, but most single malts lie in the wood for 8, 10, 12, 15 years or longer. Customs & Excise allow for a maximum of 2% of the whisky to evaporate from the cask each year - the Angels' Share. Unlike wine, whisky does not mature further once it is in the bottle.

THE ART OF BLENDING

While the distinctive single malts produced by individual distilleries are becoming increasingly popular, blending creates over 90% of the Scotch whisky enjoyed throughout the world.
By nosing samples in tulip-shaped glasses the blender selects from a wide palate - from the numerous Highland and Speyside malts to the strongly flavoured and peaty Island malts, and the softer and lighter Lowland malts. These malts are combined with grain whiskies - usually 60-80% grain whiskies to 20-40% malt whiskies, and are then left to 'marry' in casks before being bottled as one of the world-renowned blended whiskies.

A blend of a range of malt whiskies, with no grain whisky included, is known as a vatted malt.
The way we make Scotch whisky has evolved over several centuries, but the history of Scotch whisky embraces a much wider heritage; that of Scotland and its people.
What are the main kinds of Scotch Whisky?
There are two kinds of Scotch Whisky - Malt Whisky and Grain Whisky. The Malt Whiskies are divided into four groups according to the geographical location of the distilleries in which they are made, as follows:

(1) Lowland Malt Whiskies, made south of an imaginary line drawn from Dundee in the east to Greenock in the west.
(2) Highland Malt Whiskies, made north of that line.
(3) Speyside Malt Whiskies, from the valley of the River Spey. Although these whiskies come from within the area designated as Highland Malt Whiskies, the concentration of distilleries and the specific climatic conditions produce a whisky of an identifiable character and require a separate classification.
(4) Islay Malt Whiskies, from the island of Islay.
Each group has its own clearly defined characteristics, ranging from the lighter Lowland Malt Whiskies to those distilled on Islay which are generally regarded as the heaviest Malt Whiskies.
Malt Whiskies, which differ considerably in flavour according to the distillery from which they come, have a more pronounced bouquet and flavour than the Grain Whiskies. The production of Grain Whisky is not so influenced by geographical factors and it may be distilled anywhere in Scotland.
What gives Scotch Whisky its distinctive flavour and bouquet?

This is one of the mysteries of the industry and a secret which many imitators of Scotch Whisky have tried in vain to discover. Many theories and explanations have been put forward, but there is no universally accepted solution.
The distilling process itself is one factor. Scotch Whisky, after it has been distilled, contains not only ethyl alcohol and water but certain secondary constituents. The exact nature of these is not fully understood, but it is believed they include some of the essential oils from the malted barley and other cereals and substances that derive from the peat. The amount of these secondary constituents retained in the spirit depends upon the shape of the still and the way it is operated and also on the strength at which the spirit is drawn off. Grain Whisky, because of the process by which it is made, contains fewer secondary constituents than Malt Whisky and is accordingly milder in flavour and aroma.
The natural elements of water, peat and the Scottish climate all certainly have a profound effect on the flavour of Scotch Whisky. Water is probably the most important single factor and a source of good, soft water is essential to a distillery. Peat, which is used in the kiln or oven in which the malt is dried, also has an influence that can be detected in the ‘peaty’ or smoky flavour of many Scotch Whiskies.
The Scottish climate is extremely important, particularly when the whisky is maturing. At this stage the soft air permeates the casks and works on the whisky, eliminating harsher constituents to produce a mellow whisky.
Why do whiskies produced in different distilleries vary in flavour?
This again is a question which it is very difficult to answer with certainty. Most people would agree that the water used is the decisive factor. Adjoining distilleries which draw their water from different sources are known to produce whiskies that are quite dissimilar in flavour.
The size and shape of the stills are also important as are the skill and experience of the men who manage them. It is the objective of the distiller to produce a whisky whose flavour and character remain consistent at all times and in all circumstances. This is the true art of distilling, acquired only after many years and often handed down from one generation to the next.

How many distilleries are there?

There are around 100 Pot Still Malt distilleries and Grain, or Patent Still, distilleries in Scotland; but the number working can vary from year to year.

Can Scotch Whisky be made only in Scotland?

Yes. Many other products which were originally manufactured only in a particular locality have lost their geographical significance and can now be manufactured anywhere. The word ‘Scotch’, however, as applied to whisky, has retained its geographical significance. This is widely recognised in law throughout the world. Thus, whisky may be described as Scotch Whisky only if it has been wholly distilled and matured in Scotland for a minimum of 3 years.

If you could duplicate exactly a Scotch Whisky distillery in, say, Brazil or Spain, could you produce Scotch?

No. For the reason given in the preceding answer, whisky can be called ‘Scotch’ only if it is distilled and matured in Scotland. Whisky produced in Brazil is ‘Brazilian Whisky’ or in Spain ‘Spanish Whisky’. Attempts have been made to copy the unique flavour of Scotch Whiskies in many parts of the world, but with no success whatsoever.
What is blending? What is its purpose?

A number of distilleries bottle and sell some of the whisky they distil for consumption as single or unblended whiskies. By far the greater part of their production, however, is used for the well-known blended Scotch Whiskies that are sold all over the world.

Blending whisky is a considerable art acquired only after years of experience.
A blend will consist of anything from 15 to 50 different single whiskies, combined in the proportions of a formula that is the secret of the blending company concerned.
Whiskies from different distilleries have a character of their own and, just as people of different temperaments are often incompatible, so some whiskies will not blend happily with certain others. The Malts and Grains in a blend must therefore, be chosen to complement and enhance their respective flavours. Blending is in no sense a dilution. The blender's task is to combine different single whiskies, to produce a blend which brings out the best qualities of each of its constituent parts.
The aim of the blender is first to produce a whisky of a definite and recognisable character.

It is of the greatest importance that his blend should never vary from this standard, which his customers all over the world will have come to expect. His second aim is, therefore, to achieve consistency.
The blender must also decide when the different single whiskies are ready to be used in his blend. They are brought from the warehouse where they have been maturing to the blending establishment, where they are mixed together in a blending vat. They are usually returned to cask and left to ‘marry’ for a period of months, before bottling. Some companies prefer to vat their Malts and Grains separately and only bring the two together before bottling.

The combining of Malt with Malt or Grain with Grain is known as vatting. 

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