Doctor's Notes

Whiskey Basics Vol. 6: How is Whiskey Made?

May 29, 2024

Whiskey has become increasingly popular over the last decade, causing even casual drinkers to take note and add multiple bottles to their shelves. However, many people have little, if any, understanding of what it takes to produce the brown spirit in their bottles. From the grain to the glass, there's a lot that goes into making a sippable whiskey. So, grab a dram, and let's take a journey through the whiskey-making process.

Step 1: Choosing the Grain - The first step in making whiskey is choosing the grain. Different types of whiskey are made from different grains. For example, bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn, while rye whiskey must be made from at least 51% rye. Scotch whiskey is typically made from malted barley, and Irish whiskey can be made from a combination of grains, including barley, corn, and wheat. The choice of grain will have a significant impact on the flavor of the finished product.

Step 2: Mashing - Once the grains have been chosen, they are mixed with hot water in a process called mashing. This creates a sweet liquid called wort. The wort is then cooled and yeast is added, which begins the fermentation process.

Step 3: Fermentation - The yeast feeds on the sugars in the wort, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process can take several days, and the resulting liquid is called wash. The alcohol content of the wash is relatively low, typically around 8-10%.

Step 4: Distillation - The wash is then distilled to increase the alcohol content. Different types of whiskey are distilled in different ways. Bourbon is typically distilled in column stills, while Scotch is often distilled in pot stills. The distillation process removes impurities and helps to concentrate the flavor of the whiskey.

Step 5: Aging - After distillation, the whiskey is aged in oak barrels. The type of barrel used and the length of aging can have a significant impact on the flavor of the finished product. Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, while Scotch is often aged in barrels that previously held sherry or bourbon.

Step 6: Bottling - Once the whiskey has been aged to the desired level, it is bottled and sold. Different types of whiskey can have vastly different flavors, even if they are made using the same basic process. For example, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey is known for its distinctive smoky flavor, while Glenlivet Scotch is prized for its smooth, fruity taste.

As you can see, making whiskey is a complex process that involves a bit of both art and science. The choice of grain, distillation method, and aging process can all have a significant impact on the flavor of the finished product. So, the next time you enjoy a glass of whiskey, take a moment to appreciate the time and effort that went into making it. Cheers!

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