Malting, Mashing, Fermentation, Distillation and Maturation.
But the main important ingredient in the whisky which nearly all distillers emphasize is the water!
It may be pure spring or deep well natural, or it might be mountain stream water, all of which comes from a protected source and they guard it!
After malting the barley and putting it into ‘Mash’ the resultant liquid called ‘Wort’ is drawn off and is cooled and passed to a fermentation vat called a washback where it is fermented with yeast to produce the wash. This liquid is of low alcoholic strength but is then distilled twice in a pot still and then transferred in to a cask for maturation for a minimum of three years.
Grain whisky on the other hand is made from a mixture of Malted barley and Maize, distilled in a patent still and is generally used for blending (a process introduced in the 19th century) or for industrial use.
Most Scotch whisky on supermarket shelves today are blended grain whiskies and due to the resurgence in popularity of Malt and single Malt whiskies new brands occasionally appear. Much in the same way as wine blenders, the art of the Whisky Blender is of crucial importance to ensure the taste remains the same and the quality and longevity of the brand is protected.
Whiskies are produced the world over, including Canada, USA, Ireland, Japan. Rye whiskey (Spelling-not a mistake.) made in USA and Canada is made from rye or maize and malted barley, Bourbon, the most famous of whiskies from the USA (Jim Beam, Jack Daniels) is made from malted barley and rye and matured in oak casks.
Brandy is the most well known in this category and is the oldest and incidentally all brandy is distilled from wine. Another example of a fruit spirit is Calvados which is apple brandy produced in Northern France, Strawberries, raspberries and other fruits are used in Alsace (France) and Germany but above all these products two brandies emerge as of extra special importance …they are Cognac and Armagnac.
Cognac is produced in the Charentes region of France and is centred around town of Cognac. The young brandy is put into oak casks and when it has matured it is blended. This maturation has a minimum of two years and a minimum of three before it can be sold in the UK. There are many styles to cognac such as VSOP, Napoleon and XO. Repute has it that the finest cognac is produced in two areas Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne but as taste is personal to you , then it is you who decides which is best.
Examples of these are Vodka and Rum.
Rum is distilled from sugar cane, and is based on the use of molasses. This is the residue left when all the usable syrup and sugar has been extracted from the raw sugar cane. The molasses are diluted with water and fermented and the continuous still process is employed for certainly all white rums. The colour of dark rum is achieved by adding caramel.
Vodka originated in the Baltic area and Russia, Finland and Sweden. All produce high quality variations including flavoured versions. It was, and to some extent, still is, produced from abundant surplus agricultural crops.
Here in the UK the process uses a rectified grain spirit or if production costs allow cane sugar spirit. However vodka is produced after distillation and the product has passed through activated charcoal filter beds which remove any taste or smell and you are left with a neutral, colourless spirit. (unless its flavoured)
The other most important spirit is Gin.
This is produced from a low strength alcoholic liquid (made from molasses/grain) and is distilled in a patent still. It is then distilled again to produce a highly rectified spirit which is neutral (see above) and is then transferred to a pot still which is where the flavours are added. The flavours are known as ‘Botanicals’.
Botanicals are; Corianders, Angelica and Juniper
The two major styles in the UK market are ‘London Dry’ and ‘Dutch’.