There are many different topics about whiskey. However, the question of what ingredients whiskey consists of has not yet been answered. In this blog we will talk about the ingredients of whiskey and the instructions for use. Who knows, you may be able to make your own whiskey… although of course we do not recommend that. 😊
Actually only 3 ingredients are needed to make whiskey! Namely grain, water and yeast. Now you might think that’s how beer is made. That’s right, whiskey is a form of distilled beer, with wood maturation. Although 3 ingredients sounds simple, the process of making it is really the opposite. In addition, it is regularly varied or other ingredients are added, but these are simply the traditional ingredients.
With the above ingredients we go step by step in the process of making whisky. Have you always wondered what the steps are of your favorite bottle of whiskey? Before they end up in the store? Then read on in this blog!3
STEP 1: MALTING
The production process of whiskey starts with the malting of the barley. Because barley contains starch, this must first be converted into sugars. This is important when making alcohol. Malting is the process in which starch is converted into maltose, also known as maltose sugar.
In order to get to the maltose, it takes at least a few days. First the barley is soaked in hot water, this makes it swell. This process certainly takes some time as the barley is soaked in hot water for a few days. When the barley starts to germinate the barley can then be spread by hand on a large surface. This is known as the malting floor. It is repeatedly turned for the best result and to ensure the perfect temperature.
STEP 2: KILNING – DRYING
The next step in the production process is the drying of the barley. This is to stop the germination process. For this there is a drying oven also called the kiln. In the drying ovens peat is used for firing. This is the reason for the peaty taste accent that many whiskies have. This process is called kilning because it ensures that the barley turns into malt.
The fermentation gives aroma and color to the malt, giving the whisky a smoky taste. In addition, there are different types of peat and techniques used in the various distilleries.
STEP 3: MASHING – THOROUGH GRISTENING
The third step in the production process is mashing. From step 2 the barley has become malt. First, the malt is cleaned through a sieve. After this the malt is ground into flour that is also called crystals. Then this is mixed with hot water in a metal (usually) tub, also called the mash tun. The mash tun is then stirred vigorously for several hours. Over time the starch will transform into sugars, which is important when making alcohol.
Often very good water, spring water or a similar fresh water source is used. Because of this, most distilleries are located near a clean water source.
The quality of the water also has an influence on the final product, so the water they use differs from one distillery to another.
This step in the production process causes the maltose to dissolve in the flour, leaving a liquid. The liquid is cooled and then mixed with yeast. This process creates a liquid called ‘wort’.
Only the liquid that passes through the bottom of the mash tun through the small holes is stored. The part that remains in the mash tun is used to make cattle feed.
STEP 4: FERMENTATION
In the next step the liquid wort is cooled down and collected in large tanks also called the wash backs. This is where the fermentation process takes place. The yeast is added to the wort, releasing co2 which causes the mixture to foam. The sugars present in the wort are converted into alcohol by adding the yeast.
After a few days the result is called the wash, which has an alcohol percentage of around 6%.
STEP 5: DISTILLATION
In the previous step we ended the wash. This contains a low alcohol percentage which we are not used to with whiskey. But that will change with the distillation.
First of all, in Scotland the whiskeys are usually distilled 2 times and in Ireland mostly 3 times. Because of this the Irish whiskey is generally lighter, fruity and softer.
The distillation is done with the help of copper kettles. This is also called wash stills. You can imagine it as semicircular tubes. The shape of these stills has a direct influence on the taste and properties of the whiskey. Longer stills will usually produce a whisky with a finer, lighter taste experience. While the thicker stills create a fuller and richer whiskey.
Distillation causes us to separate the alcohol from the rest of the wash by warming it up. Because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, alcohol evaporates faster. At that moment, the evaporated alcohol is cooled down, causing it to condense and be collected again. The resulting liquid is also called low wines. This contains more than 20% alcohol.
The low wines are transferred to the second kettle, this is a smaller still that is also called the spirit still. Here the liquid is distilled for a second time. In the spirit still the produced alcohol is divided into three parts. Only the alcohol of the middle part is also called the middle cut, this is used to make whiskey. The alcohol content is then around 65 and 70%.
STEP 6: MATURATION
Maturing! This is virtually the longest lasting step in the production process. The middle cut of the distillation is then cooled and poured into wooden barrels. The maturation process now begins. You can only call it whisky when it has matured for at least 3 years. Although most whiskies ripen much longer.
During maturation, the whiskey develops its color, aromas and complexity. Each distillery applies its own techniques. Here the final duration of the maturation process is determined and they choose which casks to use. This could be oak casks but also sherry casks.
Despite the fact that the barrels are well sealed, 2% alcohol still evaporates on an annual basis. This evaporated part is called the sting’s share by connoisseurs. Because of the sting’s share older whiskies become expensive and rare. As there is less whisky left over as the maturation period is longer.
STEP 7: BOTTLING – SPECIAL BOTTLING
Arrived at the last step: bottling! Now you might wonder what bottling means. Bottling is as it were from the barrel to the bottle. It used to be normal that you would take your own bottle to the vendor to fill it directly from the whisky barrel. Nowadays, of course, that’s very different.
The whiskey has been distilled and matured and that means it can be drunk. Of course we don’t do this directly from the barrel but from a bottle. You can get about 250 bottles of 70cl from a barrel. This is a standard size that was introduced by the EU in 1993.
Bottling can be done in 2 ways, namely:
- Official bottling
This is done by the distillery itself.
- Independent bottling
This is done by an independent party. They in turn let the spirit ripen on their own barrels.
During bottle drawing, the alcohol content is often reduced with the addition of water. This is called cutting. The alcohol percentage is then around 40 and 46%. It can also be decided not to ‘cut’ the whisky, in which case the alcohol percentage is maintained at barrel strength. The alcohol percentage is then around 50 and 60%.
As you have read, making whiskey is a long process. As the maturation of the whiskey takes years, whisky has a name to uphold. This is why many whiskey brands have been around for hundreds of years because they have centuries of traditions and focus on continuous improvement. Many whiskey bottles are stylishly designed, with different shapes and colors. Think of Jack Daniel’s classic square bottles or Johnnie Walker’s unique labels.
Now that you know that hundreds of people have actually worked on your whisky, it’s just that unique feeling. With this knowledge you can taste the attention that has been given to your whiskey!