Production

As easy as A,B,C

New to whisky? Then this new series goes back to basics. Dominic Roskrow explains
By Dominic Roskrow
So there we were, having a heated debate about what did and didn’t constitute pot still whiskey, when someone suggested we look it up in a glossary.Which we did, only to discover that the definition given included references to two other technical pieces of information which just clouded the debate further.“How on earth can anyone get to grips with this stuff?” offered one of our group.And thus was the idea for this series born.As we learn more about whisky we quickly forget how vast the subject can be.Everyone’s got to start somewhere, so here it is; Whisky Magazine’s attempt to lead new whisky enthusiasts through the basics.Each issue we’ll write about one of the key aspects of whisky as well as rewrite the glossary letter by letter in a bid to make it better and easier to understand. Just so it doesn’t all get too techie we’ve also thrown in some mind-blowingly amazing or mindnumbingly trite pieces of trivia, too.First up, whisky styles.TYPES OF WHISKY
In essence all whisky – whiskey – is made the same way. But at the ingredient stage there are three styles of whisky – whiskies made using one type of grain; whiskies made using more than one grain in the production process; and whiskies using more than one grain that are combined together after production.Scotland is of course the most famous whisky-producing country on the planet and it uses two of these methods. But Ireland and America both specialise in whiskeys made in a different way to the Scots – even spelling the name of their product differently. Other countries producing whisky, most notably Japan and Canada, have their own quirks but overall tend to produce whisky to one of the above templates, normally the Scottish one.SCOTLAND: whisky from Scotland will either be single grain or blended.The most common single grain whisky is malt whisky. This is made from water, barley and yeast only. Nothing else may be used in production and only colouring may be added.Barley becomes malted when it is steeped in water, germinated and then dried. It is made in to beer, distilled at high temperatures and the alcohols retrieved. It must be produced under stringent conditions in Scotland and must be matured for a period of not less than three years in oak barrels in Scotland before it can be called whisky. It must be bottled at a strength of at least 40% ABV.A single malt is a malt whisky from one distillery. It may contain many barrels of many different ages but they must all be from one distillery.Scotch blended whisky is a mix of malt whiskies and whisky made using another grain, such as corn. The whisky can come from many sources. The subject of blends will be dealt with extensively in the next issue.IRELAND: Ireland produces some malt whiskey, but it also has a style of its own: pot still whiskey. This is made by using malted and unmalted barley – effectively two different grains – in the still, making for a distinctively heavier, fruitier and oilier whisky than most malted versions. Pure pot still whiskey is rare and it is now more commonly mixed with other grain whiskey to form some of Ireland’s great blended brands.

AMERICA: Although there are some malted whiskeys in America, American whiskey most often uses three grains in the production process. Bourbon (pronounced berbun) and some other American whiskeys such as Jack Daniel’s have a dominance of corn (at least 51 per cent for bourbon by law), but there has been a resurgence of other grain style whiskeys such as rye.GLOSSARY
Age statement:The age on the bottle refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle though there may be older whiskies in there, too.Ageing: The process by which whisky is created through maturation in oak barrels. Alcohol by Volume (ABV):Ameasurement of the alcoholic strength expressed as a percentage. Scotch whisky must be at least 40% ABV and is often higher. The ‘proof’ measurement system uses numbers exactly twice those of the ABV.Amylase:To make alcohol starch has to be converted by enzymes. Amylase is one of the leading enzymes in this process. Angels’share: During the maturation of whisky a proportion of the liquid in a cask will evaporate. In Scotland this is predominantly seen as a treat for the angels.Did you know…
During the ageing process the alcoholic strength of the whisky falls over time in Scotland, goes up in Kentucky and stays roughly the same at the Amrut distillery in India.Well fancy that!
Because it takes years to mature whisky, often the stock is already sold years before it is produced. Some distilleries hold a birthday ceremony for casks ‘coming of age’.