Whiskey has an adventurous story that dates back centuries. Originating in Scotland and Ireland, the distillation process was started by a group of monks producing what is commonly referred to today as Scotch. As early European settlers began making their way to the Americas, the production method came along for the ride. The new environment, temperatures, and ingredients paved the way for the whiskey and bourbon we know and love today.
Different aspects of the distillation easily influence the flavor of whiskey, and specific requirements must be met for each to become a whiskey, bourbon, or Scotch. We take a closer look at everything you need to know about whiskey.
Temperature and Weather for Distilling Whiskey
Age directly reflects the amount of time the whiskey has spent in the barrel. The more time it interacts with the barrel, the more the flavor changes. External climate plays a critical role in the acceleration of the aging process.
As temperatures fluctuate, the whiskey will interact more or less with the wood. When temperatures are hotter, there is more synergy with the barrel. It’s at these higher temperatures that humidity causes evaporation and changes the notes of the distillate. Whiskey distilled in Kentucky will have a truly unique flavor due to the regular climate change. Having all four seasons will make the barrels expand and contract to let the product breathe. On the other hand, Scotland has consistent weather year-round yielding a completely different unique profile.
The temperature and warehouse conditions go hand-in-hand. The storage facility is an extension of the temperature. Some distillers go to extreme measures to get the perfect flavor by controlling the exact location of the building, the color, how much sunlight and the materials used to construct the warehouse itself.
Additionally, you have to think of how the barrels are stored. Constructing plinths that optimize the amount of barrel is exposed to the temperatures. Moving barrels around to different locations play a part in the development of flavor. Unless you invest in a climate controlled cooling system, each aspect of the building will have different characteristics that will make an imprint on the whiskey.
The Perfect Barrel for Distilling Whiskey
If the method for storing the barrels impacts that distilling process, everything about the barrel influences the spirit.
When you talk about storage, size is essential. The industry standard for American whiskey is 53-gallons. Some of the newer producers will opt for a 30-gallon or sometimes even smaller. The size of the barrel circumscribes the exposure of the whiskey to the wood. A smaller barrel, for example, will have a faster-aging process. However, this could compromise quality because the spirit won’t have much opportunity to breathe with the natural climate changes.
Wood composition varies amongst different species. Oak is traditionally used, but the different variants will contribute to the flavor. That means you can use Spanish oak, Japanese Mizunara oak, or American oak to set your spirit apart from competitors. They will also add balance, mitigate acidity, and alter underlying notes. It’s fair to say that the characteristics of the spirit receive a lot of definition from the choice of wood used to construct the barrel.
Another aspect of the wood is the charring. Bourbon by definition requires charring, and the process delivers the traditional vanilla and caramel sweetness. Depending on the spirit, distillers can choose the extent to which they would prefer to have the wood charred. Burning the wood at a higher intensity changes the properties. An open flame versus dry heat also makes substantial contributions to the taste.
Creating the Perfect Whiskey Recipe
A rudimentary formula for whiskey is grain, yeast, and water. But, not all ingredients are created equal.
There are some specifics required to be considered a whiskey, bourbon, or scotch. Bourbon must include at least 51 percent corn and rye whiskey must have at least 51 percent rye grain. A Scotch is 100 percent malted barley. Once you meet these basic requirements, the rest is creative and strategic planning to develop a unique taste.
Simply put, whiskey would need a corn base, rye for flavor, and barley to aid in the fermentation process. However, you can get creative with the ratios and develop a signature taste that is all your own. The ingredients also include yeast. The strain of yeast used to ferment delivers a different flavor profile.
Peat & Smoke
Another way to create a unique flavor profile is utilizing peat or smoke. Peat bogs and peat fires have been used for years in the production of Scotch. Grain smoking techniques include peat, beechwood, and cherry wood. You can combine more than one to develop something extraordinary.
Different qualities are imparted by how tight or lose you are with the cuts. The distillate is broken up into two parts, the head, and tails. The head usually contains the flavor and tails is a reduced quality of the overall product. How you choose to let the cuts flow from the barrel will change the final properties.
Choosing Whiskey Stills
Still and Distillation
When talking about distillation and the importance of stills in a recent article from Eater, it was said:
“Beyond the choice of pot stills or column stills, a distillery may choose to double distill their whiskey, as is classic but not required for Scotch, or triple distill, as is the norm for Irish whiskey.”
There are two forms of stills used to produce whiskey: a pot still or column still. A still is an apparatus employed to produce the mash. The shape, size, and components of each still create distinctive qualities for each spirit. Everything from how they are heated to what they are made from will impart something to the whiskey’s flavor.
With decades of experience in the process of whiskey production, Brindiamo Group can offer advice and guidance on how to develop the best branded whiskey. For more insider knowledge on the alcohol beverage industry, visit Brindiamo Group’s website.