Whisky worms

Whisky worms

In the final part of our series looking at whisky terms we look at the final letters of the alphabet, and in particular worm tubs and yeast.

Production | 28 Nov 2008 | Issue 76 | By Rob Allanson

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Every group of enthusiasts has its own collection of in-jokes, and whisky is no exception.Tour a distillery with a group of ‘experts’ and invariably they will ask the guide if he or she has worms. Not the funniest of jokes, but always good for a titter or two.Laughter aside, though,worm tubs are a source of intrigue and fascination to the aficionado.Traditional and in many cases dispensed with years ago, they have been reassessed in recent years, so much so that at least one distillery has considered reintroducing them.The normal way these days to convert distilled spirit back in to liquid is for the spirit to pass through a condenser which surrounds the copper piping and through which cold water is passed.The worm tub does the same thing. Normally sited outside the distillery, it consists of a pool of cold flowing water through which the pipes zig-zag across the bottom – hence the name worm.Worm tubs take more space than a condenser and require considerable work to maintain,and they are hostage to the vagaries of the weather because if the water warms condensation is difficult and potentially impossible. For this reason they have largely been replaced.Now, though, as distillers look at ways to develop new flavours within the rigid guidelines of malt, the way condensation takes place in worm tubs has come under the microscope. Conversion from spirit to liquid is slower through a worm and many believe this gentle approach adds a robust element to the flavour of the spirit. Another area that quite literally will come under the microscope more and more in the coming years is that of yeast.Traditionally the industry has held the view that yeast adds little to the distillate beyond converting the sugars in barley in to alcohol.This view was based on the fact that any other influence on taste and aroma was lost in distillation.But there is a growing view that because the spirit produced in distillation isn’t taste neutral, yeast may influence final flavour.Yeast is actually a series of different fungi and they can be cultured and grown in to strains.Different strains will affect the whisky-making process in a slightly different way, and they will yield different amounts of alcohol.They do this by feeding off the sugars and converting them into alcohol and carbon dioxide.Certainly wide-scale investment in developing alcohol-productive yeast strains has made yeast an increasingly important area of the production process and distillers guard their yeast strains passionately.Yeast also plays another crucial role in production, particularly in American whiskey making. It helps nurture the bacteria that sours distillers’ beer and helps create ideal conditions for distillation.GLOSSARY VVatted malt
The old name for blended malt whiskies:a mix of malts from more than one distillery Vatting Process of marrying different malts before the finished mixture is bottled W Wash Name given to the distiller’s beer that is made when yeast is added to sweet mix of water and grain sugars and enzymes.It is sour and typically it has an alcoholic strength of 7%-9% Washback Name given to the fermenting vessel made either of wood (pine or larch) or stainless steel and in which worts are converted to wash by the addition of yeast Wash still First of the two pot stills normally used to make malt whisky.It is made of copper and converts wash to low wine spirits with an alcoholic strength in the early 20s abv.GLOSSARY WWorts
Sweet mixture comprising hot water and grain sugar, enzymes and fats Wheat whiskey Whiskey made using a minimum of 51 per cent wheat as well as other grains.
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