The months are getting colder and when the night falls, there’s nothing quite as warming as a nip of whisky. Be it single malt or blended, master mixologist Ben Davidson helps us navigate the wonderful world of whisky production.
What goes into whisky production?
Whisky is made from essentially three types of ingredients – cereal grains, yeast and water. The grains are prepared by grinding them into a coarse flour called ‘grist’ and then combined with warm to hot water to assist in the converting of the starches into sugars. Yeast is then introduced to the liquid to create a base alcohol, which is sometimes called wort, beer or wash, depending on where it’s being made.
The resulting fermented liquid is distilled at least twice through either copper pot-stills or through column stills, continuously. The resulting spirit can be anywhere from 62.5% to over 90% abv. depending in what kind of still it is made with.
Finally the spirit is put into barrels for maturation, which helps to soften the flavour of the spirit through the years.
What’s the difference between a single malt whisky and blended whisky?
Single malt whisky is a more traditional style whisky coming from distinct locations in Scotland that have subtly influenced their inherent flavour profiles over the last century and a half. They are made with 100% ‘malted’ barley, distilled twice in copper pot-stills.
Blended whiskies are a blend of single malt whiskies with column distilled grain whiskies and are built upon a ‘signature’ flavour profile that is recreated by the master blender year after year to give a consistency of flavour.
What are the main factors the impact the flavour profile of a whisky?
There are a few significant factors in the making of whisky that have an impact on the flavour.
The raw materials in terms of the grains used in production have a bearing on the primary flavours of the spirit, as well as the size, shape and type of still that is used to produce it. Pot stills give a more flavourful spirit, whereas column stills give a smoother, lighter spirit. However the greatest impact on flavour is the type or oak used in the aging process as well as the length of time the spirit is aged for. There are a lot of complex interactions of the spirit with the oak over time and with the influence of oxygen in the air that seeps in and out of the barrels as the spirit is transformed into a mellow, complex and smooth whisky.