About Scotch Whisky
What is Scotch Whisky Made of?
Scotch Whisky has been known to be distilled in Scotland since 1494, and today it is still made in much the same way and with the same ingredients as it was then. Few ingredients are used to make Scotch Whisky, Barley (and sometimes other grains), water, and yeast, which are transformed through a five step process to produce Scotch Whisky.
The first stage in the production of Scotch Whisky is malting. Barley is soaked or steeped in water, causing the barley to germinate and release enzymes. Once the desired level of germination has been reached, the process is stopped by drying the resulting malted barley with hot air. Malt Scotch Whisky is so named because only barley malt is used; whereas, grain Scotch Whisky uses other grain malts and grains for the next stage of the process.
The barley malt (and or other malts or grains in the case of grain Scotch Whisky) is ground into flour known as “grist”. This is then combined with hot water in huge tubs known as “mash tubs” and again allowed to soak while being agitated or mashed. The enzymes produced during malting convert the barley's starch into sugar. The resulting liquid is called "wort".
The wort is then transferred to another container known as a “wash back” where it is cooled. Yeast is added and it is allowed to ferment. Once fermentation is complete, the wort is filtered. The resulting liquid, known as wash, is the unrefined beginning of Scotch Whisky.
The wash is now distilled, typically twice in the case of malt Scotch Whisky, to remove impurities and concentrate the alcohol. The first distillation for what will become malt Scotch Whisky produces a liquid known as the low wine which is about 20% alcohol. The low wine is then distilled again, and the resulting product is separated out into “cuts” by the stillman. The first cut, known as the “foreshots”, still contains some impurities and is kept for further distillation. The last cut, known as “fients” is weak in terms of alcohol content and is also kept for further distillation. It is what is left after the stillman has taken the middle cut which he places in casks for maturation. The middle cut is known as “new make”. New make looks and smells something like Scotch Whisky, but maturation is what imparts the majority of the flavor and color of what most know as Scotch Whisky.
New make is matured in either sherry or bourbon casks. The casks impart color to the Scotch Whisky as it matures. And as a result, Scotch whisky matured in sherry casks has a richer, deeper color than Scotch whisky matured in bourbon casks, although particularly pale Scotch whisky can be colored with caramel (the only additive permitted by law). New make must be matured for at least 3 years before bottling to be legally called Scotch whisky.