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Preparation of Scotch

Heather ale brewed by the Pict people of Scotland and their ancestors can fairly be called a precursor of Scotch. Irish missionaries probably supplied the last step: the art of distillation that turned the brew into whisky. Legend says that St. Patrick brought the skill back from his travels to the Continent in the 5th century. Whatever its origins, Scotch today is made from grain, water, and yeast following these five steps:

Malting/Drying: Barley is soaked in water then spread out to promote germination. Sprouting is then halted by cooking the barely (often over peat). This gives Scotch its smoky character.

Mashing: The malt is ground down to a coarse texture or "grist". Hot water is stirred in to help convert the starch to sugar.

Fermentation: This sugary liquid is poured into a wooden drums, and the addition of yeast converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is called the wash and is similar to beer.

Distillation: The wash is moved to a copper still where the alcohol is vaporized to remove water and residue.

Maturation: The distilled liquid is poured into casks, usually oak, which have been employed aging other spirits such as bourbon, sherry or Scotch. By law, Scotch must be made in Scotland and have matured there for at least three years.

Fast Facts

  • The first reference to aqua vitae (Latin for "water of life") in Scotland is 1494.

  • The word whisky comes from the Gaelic term for "water of life" - uisge beatha.

  • The spelling "whisky" is used in Scotland, Canada, and few other nations.

  • The spelling "whiskey" is used in the US and Ireland.

  • Whisky rose to popularity in the late 1800s in part due to the shortage of wine and brandy, which was caused by the profound devastation of French grapes by the phylloxera louse.

  • Rye whiskey is made from rye malt.

  • Bourbon is made from corn.

  • By law, Canadian whisky must be produced with all cereal grains.

  • Spent grain from whisky production can be used as animal feed.

  • Whisky's color comes from its cask aging.
    Single Malt vs Blended Whisky
    Single malts must be produced at an individual distillery in Scotland from malted barley. Blended whisky combines malt whiskies with grain whiskies for a smoother taste. The ratio is generally 20-50% malt whisky to 50-80% grain whisky. The age of blended Scotch is dictated by the age of the youngest whisky in the blend

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