The earliest records of the distillation of alcohol are in Italy in the 13th century, where alcohol was distilled from wine. The art of distillation spread to Scotland and Ireland no later than the 15th century, as did the common European practice of distilling “aqua vitae”, spirit alcohol, primarily for medicinal purposes. In America, whisky was used as currency during the American Revolution; George Washington operated a large distillery at Mount Vernon. In 1823, the UK passed the Excise Act, legalizing the distillation, and this put an end to the large-scale production of Scottish moonshine.
The base ingredient for single malt is barley. Once the barley is ready to be used, it is placed into a steeping tank or Saladin box. The barley is steeped in water. Steeping is wetting the barley to hydrate the grain which initiates germination. Germination can take up to 6 to 7 days depending on the maltster & the distillery climate & barley type.
Floor Malting was the traditional way of producing malt for brewing before the Industrial Revolution. It was largely a manual process, and today floor malting is considered a niche artisanal practice.
The modern way of drying the barley is by kilning. The desired grain moisture level is around 4 to 5% and it can take anything from 36 hours to 5 days. The barley is now ready for crushing into grist & then onto mashing. Mashing re-awakens the enzymes in the grain, in order to extract the sugars from the grain.
Fermentation is when the yeast becomes active & eats the sugars in the wort, this, in turn, causes two by-products alcohol & carbon dioxide. Fermentation time can vary between whisky & style of distillery.
Distillation is the process of separating alcohol from water in the fermented mix… turning a 7 to 9% ABV wash into a higher-proof spirit. In the process the still will separate the alcohol from the water, the alcohol will rise as a vapor and once it starts to cool will condense back down as a liquid.
Once the new make spirit has been created, it is then transferred to the barrel.
Maturation contributes 60% to 80% of the overall flavour, depending on the producer & house style. Before the spirits are filled into casks to age, they are usually diluted to below 65% ABV. All casks are porous, allowing the spirit to evaporate which is necessary for maturation. Good casks that have been well cared for can last for up to 50 years or longer.
Finishing is the popular term for transferring a matured whisky to a second cask, perhaps one that previously held port, sherry, Madeira, wine or any desired spirit or flavour.
The Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) uses the following division of regions: Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown & Islay.
Highland Whiskies were renowned for flavours of heather and honey, with 47 distilleries located within the region.
The Spiritual home of Macallan Whisky is Easter Elchies House, built in 1700 from locally quarried sandstone for Captain John Grant. Roderick Kemp purchased the Macallan Distillery in 1892 renaming it to R. Kemp Macallan – Glenlivet. He refurbished the distillery & established its direction of only using Spanish oak sherry Casks. More recently, a new distillery was completed in June 2018. Built to further cement its position as the world’s leading single malt Scotch whisky and giving the greater capacity to meet future demand for the brand. The Macallan philosophy rests on six pillars:
- The Spiritual home of Macallan Easter Elchies
- Unusually small Spirit Stills producing a distinctly rich, fruity, new make spirit
- The Macallan carefully selects the finest quality spirit from the stills to ensure they create the best whisky. This finest cut ensures we produce our signature mouthfeel & fruity aroma & flavour (Viscous mouthfeel)
- Exceptional oak casks – the Macallan spends more on sourcing, crafting & seasoning its casks than any other malt whisky.
- Natural Colour -The rich range of colour’s in the Macallan whisky range is drawn only from the wood.
- The Peerless spirit – one of the world greatest spirits.
The Orkney Islands are the home of Highland Park Whisky. Located in 16km from the northernmost reaches of the Scottish mainland, on the cusp of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. There are around 70 islands which make up Orkney, with only 17 of them being permanently inhabited.
Highland Park has been distilled at Kirkwall on the Mainland since 1798, on the same site as Magnus Eunson’s original illegal still at High Park. The Highland Park distillery lies almost in the Arctic Circle on a latitude of 58.9847 degrees North, roughly the same as Anchorage, Alaska, closer to Oslo in Norway than London in the UK.
Orkney climate is temperate, varying from 2°C in winter to 16°C in summer, perfect for a long, even-paced whisky maturation. For over 220 years, Highland Park Distillery smoked its own barley over 4,000-year-old peat cut from Hobbister Moor. Completely woodless, this dense heathery peat burns slowly to create a complex floral aroma that delivers the intensely balanced smoky sweetness found only in Highland Park.
Highland Park is one of seven distilleries still using traditional malting floors, turning each batch of malt by hand, in what is a physically demanding process. First the barley is steeped in the mineral-rich water from the Crantit spring, before casting it to the malting floor to slowly germinate. When it is ready, the barley is placed in kilns where the aromatic peating process begins.
The Lowlands currently contains 6 whisky distilleries with 5 more currently in development, which was renowned to be light in character & colour.
The Speyside region is regarded as the whisky triangle containing 51 distilleries, all of which are known for flavours such as apple, pear, vanilla & honey.
Glenrothes Distillery was established in 1879 in a quiet corner of the Speyside region. The Glenrothes estate is situated next to the burn of Rothes & divided by a river itself. Glenrothes is a hands-on whisky distillery, from the people in the mashing room and the still house, to the warehouse workers & master of whisky maker. Everyone contributes their passion for whisky and a common goal. What makes Glenrothes different are the Sherry seasoned oak casks. Almost 90% of the casks held on site have contained sherry, a wine made from white grapes grown in the region of Jerez in Andalusia Spain.
Campbelltown is a unique region, once holding around 30 whisky distilleries & calling itself the whisky capital of the world. Campbeltown was renowned for whiskies containing brine like characteristics.
Islay contains 9 working distilleries with Port Ellen still to awaken. Islay is located within the inner Hebridean islands & was always regarded as the fire breathing dragon of all whisky regions, containing smoke.
The Bruichladdich distillery was built in 1881 by the Harveys who also owned the Yoker & Port Dundas distillery to provide a backbone to the grain whiskies that they owned. In modern times, the distillery was revived by Mark Reynier in 2000 and eventually sold to Remy Cointreau.
Jim McEwen was appointed a Head Distiller and has produced the first spirit in 2001. Bruichladdich are the biggest employer on Islay with more than 100 people working across the business. Bruichladdich is currently run by Allan Logan (Distillery Manager) & Adam Hannett (Head Distiller & Assistant Manager) Adam was trained by Jim McEwen.
Bruichladdich currently source barley from 19 Islay farms, 6 mainland Scotland farms & 3 farms in Orkney. Bruichladdich produce its whisky from many different varieties of barley including Concerto, Propino, Laureate, Publican & Oxbridge & mature its whisky in 18 active warehouses containing around 74,000 casks – 50% Bruichladdich, 40% Port Charlotte & 10% Octomore.
Irish blended whiskey is defined by the Republic of Ireland's Department of Agriculture as a blend of two or more different whiskey types, either pot still, malt or grain whiskey.
Single Pot Still Whiskey on the other hand must contain a minimum of 30% each of malted and unmalted barley, giving the distiller some room for creativity when making his blend.
Single Malt whisky (or whiskey) tends to be drier in flavour, whereas single pot still has a richer texture, often with a light spiciness and apple or pear fruits.
Bernard & Rosemary Walsh founded the company of Walsh Whiskey in 1999, with strong family ties to barley growing & distilling.
Single Malt - Malt Whiskey from a single distillery, distilled from fermented mash made exclusively with malted grain.
Single Grain - Single grain whiskey from a single distillery, made from cereal grains other than just malted barley, including corn wheat & unmalted barley.
Single Pot Still - Single pot still is made by a single distillery from a mix of malted & unmalted barley distilled in a pot still.
Australian Single Malt Whiskies
Currently there are 36 distilleries in Tasmania with a total of 293 distilleries in Australia as of late 2020. The Nant estate was established in 1821, located 350 metres above sea level in the central highlands of Tasmania, the whisky is said to age in an environment with reduced air pressure which helps the spirit to move around the cask more freely. For over 200 years the Nant estate has been growing 100% Australian grown barley.
American Single Malt Whiskies
For centuries, single malt whiskey has been considered solely the domain of Scotland. Now, Westland is leading the emergence of an entirely new category of single malt whiskey. The Pacific Northwest climate is ideally suited for the production of single malt whiskey. Washington contains two of the best barley-growing regions in the world, and remarkable water is sourced from the Cascade Mountains. Westland is renowned for its 5 malt barley build in which drives its full flavour & character.
Blended Malt Whiskies
Naked Grouse is a blended malt, a whisky with fun written all over it. Scotch should be accessible to everyone, blended malts certainly do that, if that means striping off & jumping into a Loch to send a message then so be it.
Crafted from some of the world best single malts such as The Macallan, Highland park & Glenrothes, Naked Grouse is a blend of only single malts that are placed back into first fill sherry casks for a minimum of 6 months to harmonise.