Over the past 200 years, the process for the distillation of whiskey has changed. Currently there are only three ingredients used in making whiskey. Technology is used to turn three very basic ingredients- barley, yeast and water, into whiskey. There are a total of five stages in the entire process. Those stages are known as malting, mashing, process of fermenting, the process of distillation, and maturation. Each stage plays a very important role in the making of whiskey.
In the first step, is the process of malting. Barley contains starches and these starches are what is needed to be converted into sugars that are soluble. in order to make the alcohol. Barley has to go through something called germination. Germination is the first step. Obviously, each manufacturer has their own opinion of which barley is their preference and that is what makes each brand stand apart. One factor that weighs heavily is that fact that they type they buy needs to produce very high yields of soluble sugar. Barley is submerged in water for two to three days. A malting house is used to spread the barley after soaking. The barley will get to the point that it will begin to shoot. It is necessary to stop the germination by using a kiln to dry it. After the drying process, the barley becomes malt.
Mashing is known as the second step of the process. Grist, or the malt that is ground down, is added to water in order to start the process of soluble sugar extraction.The water must come from a very pure source. This is the reason why the majority of distilleries are located next to lakes or rivers. The combination of the water and malt is known as mash. This mixture is poured into a large vessel that is known as a mash tun. It is then stirred for a few hours. The sugars begin to dissolve and get pulled through the bottom of the tun. This liquid is known as wort. Generally, this part of the process is done three times. Each time, temperature of the water is increased in order to extract as much sugar as possible. However, only the wort from the first two cycles are used. The last cycle is then put back and used for the next batch. There is typically residue left over from the husks. This is referred to as draff and is used to make farm feed.
Next comes the process of fermentation. The wort is then cooled off and then put into large tanks that are known as washbacks. Typically they are made of wooden, some distilleries are now using stainless steel instead. It is then that the yeast is added in and the process of fermentation is started. Then the sugars are turned into alcohol. Each distiller uses a different yeast strain, as this effects the final flavor of product. This stage normally takes about 48 hours.
In the next stage if distillation, the wash enters still and goes through a vaporization process. As it rises up the neck of the still, it condenses and becomes known as low wines. At this time, it is unusable. The low wines are passed to a smaller still. This part is the heart of the entire process of making whiskey.
The last stage of maturation is the most lengthy. The spirit is stored in oak barrels. During the stage, the flavors combine with the wood of the barrel to give it a flavor all its own. Each manufacturer has their own set length of time that is use to achieve their desired product. This is what makes each and every one unique. While this process is quite lengthy, the end product is very worth it.