The first written record of distillation was from Alexander of Aphrodisias, an ancient Greek philosopher, who quenched their thirst by drinking boiled sea water. However, it was a thousand years ago when the knowledge of distillation process migrated from Europe to Scotland and Ireland due to the monks in the country. Since Scotland and Ireland both lacked in vineyards, they began to ferment cereal grains which resulted in the “first distillations of modern whiskey.”
Whiskey (Irish spelling used in Ireland and the United States) or whisky (Scottish spelling for Scotland, Canada, and Japan) is a broad category for a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented cereal grain of corn, wheat, malt, barley, or rye. The mashed grain product is further contained in wooden oak barrels to transform the liquor into a high-quality matured beverage.
There are several varieties of whiskey products in markets today including Single Malt whisky, Blended Malt whisky, Grain whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon, Irish whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, and Rye whiskey to name a few. Their distinguishing features lie on the distillery period, duration of the aging process, production, and cereal grain base.
How do distillers and moonshiners make eminent spirits and whiskeys? Listed below are the needed ingredients and step by step process of creating a homemade whiskey with a high-quality distillery.
Untreated Cereal Grain
Start off by choosing the preferred cereal grain — corn, malt, barley, rye, or grain — for the whiskey. The base will only make a difference in the taste of the liquor but not in the process. In this case, the chosen cereal base is barley.
Sugar is essential in making whiskey since it fuels the fermentation process.
The yeast ferments the sugar into alcohols as a by-product.
Five Stages of Distillation Process
Step One: Malting
This process germinates the grain by soaking it in lukewarm water for two to three days and spreading it on the ground afterward. Distillers frequently tossed the barley to maintain the heating temperature of below 70 degrees Celsius. Malting aims to activate the enzymes that are responsible for converting the unfermentable starch to fermentable sugars. The germination has to stop by wilting the barley in the kiln if it starts to sprout. It will turn into“malt,” and the distillers shall remove the excess debris and husk in a mill.
Step Two: Mashing
The “grist” (ground down malt) will be added to the warm water to extract its soluble sugars. The essence of the water can influence the final spirit of the liquor due to its mineral contents. Distillers add water three times with the temperature increasing each time to extract the sugars. The mixture is called the “mash” which distillers will place on a vessel or mash tun for a few hours. The vessel will stir the mash to dissolve the sugars in the malt which will result in a sugary liquid called “wort.”
Step Three: Fermentation
Distillers will cool the wort, add yeast, and place it inside a washback where fermentation will occur for at least 48 hours. The yeast will ferment the sugar, and it will produce alcohol and a small number of congeners which will influence the taste of the final spirit. The liquid contained in the fermentation process is called the “wash” which carries five to 10 percent alcohol.
Step Four: Distillation
In Scotland, the “wash” undergoes a double distillation process in a “wash and the spirit still.” It goes into the wash still where gas, steam, or coal heat the liquid for it to vaporize (low wines) and condense on the neck. The spirit still splits the alcohol produced from distillation into three — “foreshots (beginning), feints (end), and heart (middle).” The heart has 65-70% alcohol content, and it is the spirit which distillers accumulate for maturation.
Step Five: Maturation
The heart shall mature in a wooden oak container for three years before moonshiners consider it as a whiskey. The casks give the liquor its flavor and aroma with its porous characteristic. The location of the distillery storage also influences the product over time.