Whisky is a one of the most popular varieties of distilled alcoholic beverages, made from the fermented grain mash. The type of preferred grain varies from region to region, spanning from barley (extremely popular in Scotland), malted barley, rye, wheat and corn (which is main ingredient of the American Bourbon). One exception is made for Indian whisky, which is traditionally made not from fermented grain but from fermented molasses.
The existence of whisky can be traced to the ancient times, almost to 2 million BC kingdoms of ancient Babylon and Mesopotamia. However, modern history of the whisky began between 11th and 13th century when Christian monks brought the art of distillation to the northern England regions of Scotland. During that time, the art of distillation began its advancement, and the regions of Scotland (well suited for the production of grain products) became the world's most popular producers of whisky.
The basic process of whisky production did not change in the previous 200 years. Technological advancement enabled brewers to control every aspect of this process, but the fundamentals (use of water, barley and yeast) and the local laws managed to preserve original recipes that gave the original popularity to this fascinating drink. Here are basic processes in creation of whisky.
The principal component of barley that is responsible for the creation of alcohol is starch. To maximize this effect barley must enter the process of germination, often called "malting". After each brewer has selected the grain that he wants to use, he soaks it in water and spread on a floor of so called "malting house". After several days of lying still (grain must be regular turned to maintain constant temperature), process of malting is stopped by rapid drying in a kiln (Scottish barley is often dried with peat smoke, which gives specific aroma to the end product). After drying malt is grinded down in a mill, which also removes any husks or debris.
Extraction of sugar from the grain is done by adding hot water, which takes the sugars and drive it to the bottom of the pot. The quality and type of the water have great role to the favor of the end product - natural water pumped form the ground often carries wide varieties of mineral that come from the underground rocks. Process of adding hot water is repeated two more times, but sugar rich water (called wart) from the bottom of the vessel is removed only first two times. The last wart is not used for production of whisky, and is instead used for creation of farm feed.
Process of fermentation is achieved in wooden or stainless steel tanks called washbacks. After addition of carefully selected yeast, fermentation starts and sugar slowly begin turning into alcohol. After around two days, fermentation is stopped and produced liquid has the alcohol strength of only 5-15% (from this point you can even make beer from it).
Process of distillation is used to increase alcohol count to up to 90%, and to remove undesirable substances from the mix (such as methanol). Majority of Scottish whiskies is distilled twice, Irish do it three times, but some recipes require even 20 destinations. The process itself is done in traditional Scottish pot stills (best suited for single malts), Coffey still (that are better suited for grain whisky) or industrial "continuous" distilleries. In every case, fermented liquid is heated to the boiling point (lower than the one of the pure water), which enables evaporation of alcohol and the capturing of its steam into condenser. Produced liquid has the alcoholic content of 20% and must be processed again. After second distillation, liquid can reach maximum allowed 94.8% alcohol by volume that is enforced by the Scottish and many other countries laws.
Before being placed into oak casks for the maturation process, many recipes require dilution of the whisky to the around 63-64% of alcohol content. After spending several years in casks (with time varying in different countries - America two years, Scotland and Ireland three years), whisky absorbs several components from the wood which alters its flavor and color. Many of the famous brands of whisky have very long aging process, ranging from 3 to four times than required by law.
Before whisky is transferred to the glass bottles, few final processes remain to be done. Chill filtration is done to remove the unwanted presence of acid estersthat becomes visible in the bottle after prolonged exposure to the cold environment. Finally, coloring of the whisky is done by adding strict amounts of Caramel color.
Note: All figures are approximate; this site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.