Scotland’s national drink, Whisky, has been carefully crafted for centuries throughout the country. Today there is over 100 working distilleries in operation, all of them making this fantastic drink in their own distinctive way. Follow this illustrious golden spirit on a journey of discovery and find the secrets of how it’s made. Discover the rich history of whisky.
As rain is predominant in this part of the world, the distilling of whisky began as a way of using up rain-soaked barley and, as it still happens today, water is used from Scotland’s burns and crystal streams.
It is widely agreed upon that in the fourth and fifth centuries monks, along with Christianity, brought distillation to Scotland. Friar John Cor of Lindores Abbey in Fife, became the first official recorded distiller in 1949. The king granted him permission to make the water of life.
To know more about the history of whisky is important to read about the introduction of taxes in 1644 caused a rise in the illegal distilling business. In 1823 the restrictions were reduced making life easier for licensed distilleries. At the same time the Excise act made life more difficult for unlawful stills.
A new production process, introduced in 1831 using a patent still meant the whisky smoother and less intense. Also, wine and cognac production was destroyed by the Phylloxera beetle in France in 1880. This meant that stock of both quickly dwindled in France and the rest of the world.
Whisky production has survived a lot since then including: two world wars, prohibition in the USA, and economic recessions in both the 20th and 21st centuries. Even after all this you can now still enjoy whiskey in over 200 countries around the world today. You can find more about history of whisky when you visit a distillery in Scotland.
The different types
Here are the three different types of Scotch whisky: malt (also known as single malt), blended and grain.
- Ingredients for Malt whisky are water, malted barley and yeast.
- Liquid is distilled in huge copper pot stills and matured in whisky barrels for a minimum of three years.
- An intricate process of mixing different single malts (anything from 15 to 50) with grain whisky.
- Many blended whiskies are now household names including Bells, Johnnie Walker and The Famous Grouse.
- Malted barley and unmalted barley are mixed with other cereals (such as wheat and maize). Then the whole mixture is combined with water and then yeast.
- The liquid is distilled in a tall patent still and has more spirit at a much higher strength.
How single malt is made: a step-by-step guide
There are four different stages of malt whisky production:
- MALT THE BARLEY
- Steep Barley in water
- Leave out on a malting floor to sprout shoots.
- Bake in a kiln to dry and mill.
- MIX THE GROUND BARLEY WITH HOT WATER
- Ground barley is mixed with hot water in a mash tun, this produces ‘wort’, a sugary liquid.
- Serves as basis for the alcohol.
- ADD THE YEAST
- Liquid wort passed into wash backs (large vats).
- Yeast then added and allowed to ferment
- This converts the sugars in the wort into an alcohol around 8% abv.
- The remaining liquid is known as the ‘wash’.
- DISTIL THE SPIRIT
- Wash is heated in the spirit still and the wash still.
- Only highest quality (heart of the run) of the spirit is collected, then poured into oak casks and aged.
- They siphoned and re-distell the rest.