Whisky is an alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grain mash. It is matured in wooden casks for a minimum of 3 years, before it can legally be called Scotch. The word Whisky is taken from the Gaelic name for "Water", hence where the phrase "Water of Life" was born from. Whisky was first distilled by Irish Monks in the 15th century, so the record books say, but it is believed that it was around way before that!
How Whisky is Made
Traditionally made from just barley, yeast and stream water. Scotch Whisky typically takes just over 3 weeks to produce, though must be given at least 3 years to mature, which is a process that usually takes place in oak barrels and often in barrels previously used for sherry. The full process is as follows: -
Stage 1: Malting
Barley grain is soaked in water and spread over the malting floor. Turned regularly, the grains germinate. Germination stimulates the production of enzymes, turning the starches into fermentable sugars.
Stage 2: Drying of the Barley
This brings to an end the germination process, the drying out is done over a peat fire in a malt kiln.
Stage 3: Mashing of the Malt
Takes place in a large vat or "mash tun", with hot water. The malts begins to dissolve, producing a sugary solution called "wort", which is then extracted for fermentation.
Stage 4: Fermentation
Yeast is added to the cooled wort in wooden vats. The mixture is stirred for hours as the yeast turns the sugar to alcohol, which produces a clear liquid known as "wash".
Stage 5: Distillation
Boils the wash twice, so alcohol vaporises and condenses. Copper "pot stills" distil and the result is young whisky.
Stage 6: Maturation
This is the final stage. The whisky develops in oak casks, for a legally bound minimum of 3 years. Premium brands let the whisky mature for up to a 10-15 year period, though some are matured for an incredible 50 years!