Key processes

Key processes

In the latest in our series looking at the language of whisky, Dominic Roskrow looks at the letters E and F

Production | 20 Apr 2007 | Issue 63 | By Dominic Roskrow

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When it comes to whisky-making you really can’t help but use the F words. Some of the key distillery processes for making new make spirit require use of F words.The first is fermentation – the process by which the solution containing water and the ground up malted barley (grist) known as ‘mash’ is turned in to an alcoholic solution similar to beer and known as ‘wash’.To make whisky you take barley, trick it in to growing so that it starts to sprout, then halt the process by drying it out. This barley is now said to be malted and the process has freed up the sugars, starches and enzymes that are necessary to for alcohol production.The malt is ground in to rough flour and put in to a mash tun, where hot water is added. It’s like making a giant cup of tea – the sugars, starches and enzymes are separated out in to the liquid and the grain husks are then drained off.To this solution is added yeast, which feeds off the sugars and with the help of the enzymes, which act as catalysts, converts them to alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is fermentation and it produces a distiller’s beer that is sour to taste and will have an alcoholic strength of 7%-9% ABV.Fermentation may take a few days, and it is generally felt that the longer the fermentation process, the better the wash, and therefore the better the final whisky.The other key F words are feints and foreshots, and they arise during the distillation process.To make single malt whisky you need to heat whisky so that the many alcohols the wash contains are separated from the water.This is normally done twice in Scotland.On the second distillation the distiller will want to keep the best spirit to make his whisky from. The first alcohols to evaporate are the most volatile, and the most unpleasant. This spirit, with very high alcoholic strength, is known as the foreshots or heads, and is unwanted. It is turned back to liquid and collected in a holding tank. It will be mixed with the next batch of wash for redistillation.The alcoholic strength of the evaporating spirit declines over time and at some point the decision will be made to make the ‘cut’ and start collecting the spirit. This is stored in a separate holding tank to be put in to casks.Finally the strength of the spirit being taken off will become too weak to be worth keeping, and once more the spirit is transferred away.This is known as feints, or the tail, and it too will be recycled in a future distillation.When the cut is made varies from distillery to distillery, as will the length of the spirit run, and these individual decisions will affect the taste of the final new make spirit in each distillery Did you know?Whisky casks are made of oak that normally comes from America or Europe. European oak casks tend to have held sherry previously, but American oak casks may not have come directly from Kentucky or most recently have contained bourbon. Spanish sherry producers using American oak for sherry styles such as Oloroso before sending them on to Scotland. Because Macallan wants its casks to be of European oak and to have previously contained Oloroso sherry, it makes and fills them in Spain specifically for its purposes.GLOSSARY
Enzymes are the catalysts that help yeast convert sugars in to alcohol during the fermentation process F FERMENTER
Vessel in which fermentation takes place.FILLINGS
Name given to the new make spirit newly filled to the barrel. It only becomes whisky when it has been matured for the required period.FLOOR MALTINGS
Traditionally barley is malted by laying it out on large floors and turning it by hand. A few distilleries still use this method but it is a not economic and most barley is malted using a drum rolling process.FURFUROL
One of the many flavours produced in whisky making, it gives a burnt taste to the whisky and needs to be minimized.FUSEL OIL
Fats and oils are produced in distillation and give whisky its flavour. These are referred to as congeners, and fusel oil is a prevalent one
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