The art of blending whisky, “the water of life,” was pioneered in Edinburgh in the 1860s. Want to see it done today? Here’s how it works.
Traditionally made from barley, yeast and stream water, Scotch Whisky (from the Gaelic usquebaugh, or “the water of life”) takes a little over three weeks to produce. But, you’ve got to give it at least three years to mature. The whisky lies quiet, maturing (if only teenagers did this) in oak casks, often in barrels that were used for sherry.
Barley grain is soaked in water and spread on the malting floor. With regular turning, the grain germinates, producing a “green malt.” Germination stimulates the production of enzymes which turn the starches into fermentable sugars.
Drying the barley stops germination after 12 days of malting. This is done over a peat fire in a pagoda-shaped malt-kiln. The peat-smoke gives flavor to the malt and eventually to the mature whisky. The malt is gleaned of germinated roots and then milled.
Mashing of the ground malt or ‘grist’ occurs in a large vat or ‘mash tun.’ This holds a vast quantity of hot water. The malt is soaked and begins to dissolve, producing a sugary solution called “wort.” That’s extracted for fermentation.
Fermentation happens when yeast is added to the cooled wort in wooden vats or “washbacks.” The mixture is stirred for hours as the yeast turns the sugar into alcohol, producing a clear liquid called “wash”.
Distillation involves boiling the wash twice so that the alcohol vaporizes and condenses. In copper “pot stills”, the wash is distilled, first in the wash still, and then in the spirit still. Nor puririfed, with an alcohol content of 57%, the result is young whisky.
Maturation is the final process. The whisky mellows in oak casks for a legal minimum of three years. Premium brands give the whisky a 10 -0 15 year maturation, though some are given up to 50 years.
Blended whiskies are made from a mixture of up to 50 different single malts. Single malts are made in one distillery from pure barley malt that is never blended.