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How Do They Make Scotch Whiskey

They Come From Different Places

How Scotch Whisky is Made From Grain to Glass

Contrary to popular belief, bourbon can be made outside of Kentucky. However, to legally qualify as bourbon, it must be made in the United States. Simlarly, in order for a whisky to be called Scotch, it must be made in Scotland. Japanese whisky, for example, is similar to Scotch in many ways. But it’s not Scotch, because it’s made in Japan.

/5read To Be An Expert

Raising a toast to celebrate the cherished moments is incomplete without a glass of your favourite drink. Smooth, enticing and punchy, your drink defines your choicesin life. On the World Whiskey day, let’s unwind and find out What makes one spirit different from other. While savouring the smooth taste of your favourite dark spirit, have you ever wondered the difference between scotch and whiskey ? Why is one expensive than the other or why does the taste differ according to the age of the alcohol? The blends and malts used to produce these distilled alcoholic beverages create all the difference. We have scooped out the answers into four simple differences so that next time you sound like an expert!

How Is Single Malt Whisky Made

· Updated August 28, 2014

Im just returning from a 3-week trip to Scotland where my wife and I had planned to do a lot of hiking, but the weather was unexpectedly poor so we learned a lot about single malt whisky instead. While the process is still fresh in my mind, I thought that Id share the whisky making process using photos from my trip to illustrate the various steps.

The iconic architectural feature of almost every Scotch Whisky distillery is the pagoda-style roof for drying the barley.

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Malt Whisky: A Detailed Exploration Of The Process

When a whisky is ready for the distillation process, it is typically called The Wash. Malt whisky Washes get distilled twice – unless, of course, they are single malts, then they only get distilled once.

The first time is where the substance gets put into a wash still and gets heated to boiling point. From this, the evaporation from The Wash travels to the top of the still.

It then goes into a condenser whether it is turned into its liquid state. This liquid is now an alcohol. As a percentage, it is around 20%, which is what is known as a low wine.

Of course, we ideally want the alcohol percentage to be higher than this. This is where the second distillation process comes in.

This second distillation process also occurs in a still. This time though it is the spirit still. Distillation here is divided into three parts or cuts.

Only the middle cut is used for the whisky. The remaining two cuts are then redistilled because they are deemed substandard.

This malt whisky is now 60 to 70% alcohol. It gets diluted and then placed into casks to mature.

The casks used are ones that were often used in another alcohol distilling process such as that of sherry, bourbon, and rum. This is because these flavors enhance the flavor of the whisky.

How Whisky Is Made

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There are of course tacit differences in the whiskies produced in these different countries, beyond the inclusion of the e in the spelling. These differences lie in the distillation process, the stills, the raw ingredients and the maturation process. For a general overview of how whisky is made I will use single malt Scotch whisky as the model, as it is that which most closely resembles the batch-wise process employed in home distilling.

If youre interested in exploring the differences in the production of other styles are welcome to head over to and send me a message, or look into entry level overview books on whisky .

The first few steps of whisky production are actually quite similar to that of beer production imagine producing an un-hopped wort, without having to boil it. Of course some of the parameters will be different, as the final objectives are drastically different.

It starts with malted barley

Malted barley is the principle cereal used in single malt Scotch whisky production. Americans, like Scotch grain whisky producers, also use corn and wheat, among others while Irish use un-malted barley, in significant amounts.

Then its mashed and fermented, producing the Wash


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Fun Fact How Do You Spell Whisky

There is some confusion about how whiskey is spelled. In the United States and Ireland, whiskey is spelled with an e. In Scotland, Canada, and Japan, it is spelled whisky.

Spelled whisky in Canada and Scotland, the word whiskey stems from Gaelic uisge beatha, or usquebaugh, meaning water of life, and is made from fermented grain and typically aged in wooden casks. It might help to remember that in countries with an e in the name, the correct spelling is whiskey, with an e. In countries without an e in the name, the correct spelling is whisky, without an e.

Bourbon Is Whiskey Scotch Is Whisky

The whiskey spelling is used for American and Irish spirits, including bourbon. Conversely, whisky is used by the rest of the world, including Europe, Australia, Japan and, of course, Scotland. Regardless of spelling, all whiskey or whisky must be distilled to a minimum of 40 percent and a maximum of 94.8 percent alcohol by volume .

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What Is Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky must be made in Scotland using only Barley, Water and Yeast, and it must be aged in oak barrels for at least 3 years. To be called a Single Malt Scotch whisky, the liquor needs to come from just one distillery. Distilleries are allowed to mix barrels of different ages, or different types of barrels . Traditionally, the bottle will have a specific age , but some distilleries are blending different ages and selling products with a name instead of a specific age .

When whiskies from more than one distillery are blended together, the result is a blended whisky like Johnny Walker or Chivas Regal. This is similar to how some of the best relatively inexpensive wines are often a blend of multiple varieties.

Single Malt Whisky Making Process

How Is Whiskey Made?

As we have already mentioned, single malt whisky must only be distilled once in order to earn that title.

The rules are even more strict if you are making Scotch, as we mentioned earlier. For Scotch, the process set out below is followed, but with some additional rules that must be met, too.

These steps and terms, whilst helpful for understanding the process behind all whisky, relates mostly to single malt whisky.

Single malt whisky follows the above steps exactly and only gets distilled once. However, for normal malt whisky and grain whisky, the distillation process differs slightly, whilst the other steps remain largely the same.

We will be exploring this in more detail below.

Now that we have the terms and the steps cleared up, we can start to look at a more detailed distillation process for both malt and blended scotch whisky.

Knowing the steps to make a single malt whisky is helpful, but we also need to understand how the distillation process differs for the others.

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How To Make Whiskey

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Store bought whiskey can be incredibly tasty, especially if it comes from a local brewhouse or high-quality distillery. However, preparing your own whisky at home will allow you to control exactly what goes into it and find a flavor that suits you perfectly.

Which Regions Stuck With Peat

Others followed, but not all of them. Initially out of necessity, Islay to the west, Orkney to the north and several mainland distilleries held on to tradition. These distillers continued to use varying proportions of peat during the kilning process. This maintains a traditional and now largely unique style of whisky with lots of variation and flavour. And those which still have their own maltings such as Laphroaig on Islay, Highland Park in Orkney and even Balvenie in Speyside go one step further by peating relatively small quantities of barley for their own use.

The whisky drinker eventually makes his or her way to peated whisky, or so it it said. Exploring those lighter, un-peated expressions which are common to the mainland generally comes first. But why should this be? As the author and Master of the Quaich Charles MacLean notes in MacLeans Miscellany of Whisky: Perhaps the big Islays, the smokiest of all malt whiskies, recollect the whiskies of the past. And perhaps one of the reasons for their current popularity is their authenticity, their heritage. An atavistic folk memory, like candles and open fires, Christmas trees and stormy nights.

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Where Peat Comes Into The Malting Process

Today, distilleries largely rely on commercially malted barley. In days gone by, however, they necessarily had to malt their own. Malting makes the starches within barleycorns soluble so that the sugars may be converted into alcohol. In other words, malting tricks barleycorns into thinking spring has come. Barleycorns are steeped in water and allowed to germinate before the process is halted in the kiln.

When peat is burned to heat the kiln, it also produces an especially aromatic smoke. To a point, this smoke has a considerable influence on malt during kilning, imbuing it with compounds called phenols. Typical flavours include tar, ash, iodine and smoke.

Pagoda And Pagoda Roof

Scotch Whisky Guide Infographic

In the picture of the Glen Garioch Distillery, you can see the classic pagoda roofs very well. These can be seen on the buildings of many Scottish Whisky distilleries. But what are these pointed, Asia-looking roofs doing on a Whisky distillery? A pagoda is actually a multi-storey tower, whose individual floors are usually separated from each other by cornices or eaves. This way of building is especially widespread in Asia. At the end of the 19th century, this style was also modern in Europe and so Charles Chree Doig built Scotland’s first pagoda in 1889 at the Dailuaine Distillery. The pagoda roofs can be found on the distillery buildings, which contain the kiln, i.e. the malt floor. Here, the germinating barley was spread out and dried over a fire. Good ventilation is essential in this drying process, as the temperature in the kiln must not exceed 55 degrees Celsius in order not to destroy the enzymes in the grain. Today, kilns with their typical pagoda roofs have mainly decorative purposes: only a few distilleries still malt their barley in-house.

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What Ingredients Are Used To Make Whiskey

Whiskey is made from just three ingredient:

  • water
  • barley
  • and yeast


Water is a multifaceted ingredient that plays three major roles in the production of whiskey, starting from the mash process, distillation process to the cask maturation process.

The quality of water plays a pivotal role towards the quality of the finished product. Contaminated water can affect every stage of the whiskey making process, and alter the taste, odor, and color of the whiskey.

Water used in the whiskey making process should be clean, clear, and free from bad-tasting impurities such as iron. Bad water can ruin all the efforts put into the distillation process after maturation, resulting in an abrupt, hot finish.

Pick Your Grain:

Most whiskeys are made from a blend of several different grains such as barley, corn, rye, and/or wheat grain. Grains are responsible for creating texture, and depth, and for bringing out the best potential flavor of each grain used in the mix.

Barley for example packs a mean punch, and is mostly used in Scotch whisky. Scotch barley whisky possesses an inherent bite, and typically has a smoky, earthy character. Corn whiskey features creamy flavors, and notes of toasted marshmallow.

Wheat was once less mainstream, but today is a hit in the whiskey world. Almost all wheated whiskeys are made in the USA, and are billed as one of the smoothest whiskeys made.


Is Gin Made From Whiskey

Gin isnt made from whiskey, but is made in the same way as whiskey, and distilled to a higher ABV. Further, gin and whiskey are made from the same grain mash, but are distinct from each other owing to the aging process.

Whiskey is aged for several years in oak barrels, but gin sits in barrels until it picks up flavors from the barrels i.e., between three to eight months until finish.

This is why some of the biggest brands of gin are produced at Scotch whiskey distilleries, as they can produce finished gin while they patiently wait for their whiskey to mature.

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Upholding The Rules While Expanding The Palate

Producing whisky that upholds Scotland’s legacy within the industry remains the goal of all the country’s distillers, but new and old are otherwise on very different whisky making journeys that present very different challenges. For Macallan and other big distilleries, maintaining consistency year after year, regardless of differences in weather and yield, requires intense quality control. Meanwhile, Ian Stirling is using his background in the wine industry to tread a different path of producing whisky of different vintages.

From year to year, the Port of Leith distillery might change yeasts and fermentation techniques so drinkers will be able to spot differences between them. “We’re interested in diversity and our whisky evolving, and how it might change and grow over the years,” he says.

Scotch whisky must be made according to strict rules.

Some longtime whisky producers have been digging into their catalogs and bottling whiskies from specific years with vintage labels. But according to Ian Stirling, it’s the first time a Scottish distillery is taking this approach with its flagship product. For Scotch to remain the world’s premium whisky category, he believes the industry needs both tradition and the diversity that comes with innovation. “We all serve to help maintain that wonderful golden goose, which is Scotch whisky,” he says.

“It’s a lot more than just whisky from Scotland,” he says. “It’s whisky made in that special way.”

Scotch must be matured in oak casks.

The Relation Between Taste And Distillation

How To Make A Whisky Smooth & Is That A Good Thing?

Important! Keep in mind that pure alcohol tastes only like alcohol. A Single MaltWhisky gets its taste from the heavier oils and fats and the lighter esters and other flavour carriers from the wash. The further you distil a Whisky, the more it will lose its individual character.

During distillation, the unique shape of the pot stills is the main contributing factor to the taste of a Whisky. A long and slim shape produces soft, pure alcohol , while a short, squat shape produces strong, intense flavours . The intensity of the heating is also important for the taste. If you heat too strongly, many accompanying substances and fusel oils will get into the Whisky, which will surely not be as smooth as if it had been distilled slowly. Typically the distillation process in the spirit still takes up between 4 and 8 hours.

The wash stills usually have a capacity of 20,000 to 30,000 litres, while the spirit stills can only contain 10,000 to 20,000 litres of the higher concentrated low wines.

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What Is Peated Whisky An Introduction And Short History

Peated whisky is given a smoky flavour by compounds which are released by the peat fires used to dry malted barley. The Length and intensity of exposure to the peat smoke dictates the strength of this flavour as do the characteristics of the peat itself. But how did this style of whisky come into being and why has it now so popular?

Let us begin with the peat. For a long time this was the most readily accessible fuel in many areas of Scotland. The accumulation of water in boggy areas slows down the decomposition of plant material such as moss, grass and tree roots which leads to the creation of peat. Peat accumulates extremely slowly and bogs are often thousands of years old leading to peat being broadly classified as a fossil fuel. Peat was the primary domestic fuel in Scotland for a long time due to its ready availability in many parts of the country. And it fired not only hearths but distillery kilns as well.

Origins Of Sensory Quality Control Of Spirits

Scotch whisky as it is known today dates from the latter half of the nineteenth century . Before that time some quality control was presumably exerted by distillers, but lengthy maturation was not routinely carried out. The development of the Coffey still, which could produce large quantities of cheap grain whisky, permitted the production of blended whisky. The introduction of blending, as a means of reducing the flavour strength of whisky was the first systematic attempt to control the flavour of the product. The growth of the blended whisky industry required the parallel development of a quality control system which could ensure that the flavour of a particular blend did not vary excessively from batch to batch. This quality control system evolved in the form of the whisky blender. The blenders system and expertise have developed in the context of the industry, with apparently little input of outside knowledge and techniques. However, some formal sensory analysis has been used for many years . This has largely been in the form of simple difference tests such as the duotrio and triangle tests, generally used for comparison of final product with a standard previously defined as satisfactory. Generally speaking the other major distilled beverage industries have followed similar paths of development. In the case of Cognac and Armagnac, the maître de chai performs an equivalent function to the whisky blender , and Bertrand showed a tasting vocabulary for Armagnac control.

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