Whisky

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Types of Whisky (non-exhaustive!)

Scotch Whisky

Obviously must be made in Scotland!

  • Single malt or Single grain
  • Blended malt = a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies
  • Blended grain = a blend of single grain Scotch whiskies
Irish Whiskey

Must be produced from malt, cereal grain and barley as well as distilled, aged and bottled in Ireland. 

Minimum ageing for 3 years and typically undergoes triple distillation to achieve its hallmark smoothness.

Bourbon

A type of American whiskey, distilled primarily from corn (minimum 51%).

After distillation, the resulting liquid must be stored in charred new oak barrels and contain no additives.

Japanese Whisky

Japan's first distillery was established in the 1930s. Japanese whisky takes much of its inspiration from Scotch whisky, but tends to be more subtle and restrained than some of the bolder scotch styles.

World Whisky

Really you can make whisky, in the sense of a grain based spirit almost anywhere! Versions are made all across Europe and also in India, where whisky is incredibly popular.

Malt or Grain

The main flavour differences between malt whisky and grain whisky come from the type of grains used in their production and the methods used to create them.

The first decision we must make when creating whisky is whether to use malt or grain. Malt whisky is made exclusively from malted barley, while grain whisky is made from grain, or a mixture of grains, like wheat, corn, and rye.

Malt whisky often has a distinct malty and nutty flavour with notes of caramel, honey, and fruit, and can have a smoky or peaty taste depending on how it was produced. Malt whisky is typically produced in pot stills, which can produce a full-bodied and complex spirit.

Grain whisky often has a lighter and smoother taste and is typically produced in column stills, producing a purer and more neutral spirit. Notes of vanilla, toffee, and oak come from the barrels used during aging.

Blending malt and grain whiskies together can produce a balanced flavour profile that combines the best of both worlds. For example, Scotch whisky is commonly a blend of malt and grain whiskies, resulting in a complex and nuanced flavour.

The Mash

Once the type of whisky has been chosen, the distiller creates a mash by combining the chosen grains with hot water. This process breaks down the starches in the grains into fermentable sugars. The mash is then cooled and yeast is added, which triggers fermentation.

Other than the type of grain, the main factors influencing the mash are:

  • Water: often spring water or water from specific sources
  • Yeast: different strains of yeast produce different flavours
  • Fermentation time: the length of the fermentation period
  • Temperature: ...of the mash during fermentation

Distillation

Distillation is the process of heating the fermented mash to separate the alcohol from the water and other impurities.

There are two types of stills used in whisky production: pot stills and column stills. Pot stills produce a more flavourful, full-bodied whisky, while column stills create a lighter, smoother spirit.

Ageing

After distillation, the whisky is placed into oak barrels to age.

The type of barrel used can greatly impact the flavour of the final product. For example, barrels that previously held wine or sherry can impart unique flavours to the whisky.

Some whisky soaks into the barrels straight away, some evaporates naturally over time... the 'Angel's Share'.

Blending

Finally, the distiller may choose to blend different whiskies together to create a unique flavour profile.

This is commonly done with Scotch whisky, which often blends different malt and grain whiskies together.

Conclusion

There are many choices a distiller must make when creating whisky, from the type of grain used to the aging process and blending. In creating a whisky, one of the key decisions we will make will be choosing between a malt, grain, corn or rye as our base, as well as ageing options.