Scotch Whisky

Raw Materials 

Barley > Under the hard husk of the grain there is an embryonic plant, it's food store is made of insoluble starch. Barley remains dormant until the malting phase of whisky (germination phase) Once germinated the enzymes modify the starch into a soluble form. The barley is then able to convert that into sugars the plant can use

Other grains > Wheat, Corn 

Location // 5 Whisky Regions 

Islay - Located on the west coast of Scotland. Most pungent whisky comes from this island. They have a double pungency from the sea and peat. The island breezes (slightly seaweed aroma) flow over the peat. The water for whisky making flows in streams across the peat taking up earthy aromas and flavour on the way to the distilleries. Whilst aging in barrel (max 700L) the sea air penetrates through the oak. Regional differences, more exposed south side produces a brinier whisky. Island is linked closely with peat, classic Isaly whisky include Lagavulin and Laphroaig. Some whiskies produced on the island are unpeated. 7 active distilleries. 

Speyside - Home to over 50% of Scottish distilleries. It is a sub-region of the Highlands. As it located at the North of the region. 84 working distilleries, including Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallen. Speyside has a low mineral water content, usually the whisky is very low in peat or unpeated. 60% of Single Malt Whiskies come from here. Glenfiddich is the worlds best selling single malt. 2 styles of the region. 

Glenfiddich - Light Macallen - Richer, fruiter

Highland - NO defining style. Very diverse range.

Highland park > peated

Dalmore > Rich and heavy

Glenmorangie light and citric

Lowlands - Gentle, light and very dry. 3 distilleries located inland. There is not a great deal of peat i this area, the whisky is typically unpeated.

Campbeltown - 3 distilleries remain. Style is rich and heavy, the proximity to the coast gives the whisky a salty tang.



Processing the Raw Materials 

Malting (barley) 

  • Grain starts to germinate artificially by creating ideals levels of moisture and temperature. 

  • For 2-3 days the barley is placed into water, then stepped, then drained. 

  • The moisture level is raised to the level needed for germination w/o drowning.

  • When the barley starts to grow it is called GREEN MALT.

  • Green malt must not dry out and the temperature has to be controlled. Too high (kill and stop germination)

  • Whilst the grains are modifying the starches into soluble sugar the grains are constantly turned to avoids roots knotting together.

  • Green malt (once modification is complete) is placed into a kiln.

  • Kiln > heated and dried to stop germination w/o damaging the enzymes.

  • At this point peat can be introduced. Peat will be used as fuel. As peat burns it gives off a perfumed smoke that is rich in flavour compounds(phenolics). For the peat to impart a flavour the temperature of the kiln must not be too hot, lowering the temperature of the kiln will have a greater effect.

  • The level of peat can is measured in PPM, after distillation the PPM will have dropped  by 2 thirds.

  • Peated malt in whisky - aromas of smoke, tar and seaweed.

  • No whisky is made using only peated malt.

  • Almost all distilleries buy in malt tailor made to their desired style.

Corn and What 

  • NOT malted, instead cooked.

  • Cooked in a pressure cooker at high approx. 144c in order to hydrolyse the starch allowing the starch to become soluble in water.

  • Malted barley (10% of mash bill) is added to the wort for its enzymes and is able to convert all of the starch into sugar.

Image below - Malting floor

- Maltsters can control the temperature being released by the growing embroys by blowing air over the grains.

Alcoholic Fermentation 

Milling and Mashing 

AIM > dissolve soluble starch in water to convert into fermentable sugar.


  • Mill the malted barley into a coarse flour > GRIST


  • Grist is placed into a mash tun, mixed with hot water. This reactivates the enzymes that carry out conversion. 

  • Water temperature is very important 63-64c

  • Too hot > enzymes might be killed

  • Too cold > conversion will not complete 


Sources of water 

  • Springs

  • Lochs 

  • Rivers 

  • municipal supplies

Many distilleries are located near a large water supply. Pure, cold water is needed, the mineral content may effect fermentation. The impact water has on the final product is minimal. 

After conversion is complete... 

  • Once conversion in the mash is completed the sugar solution WORT is drawn off from the bottom of the mash tun to cool.

  • After cooling, pumped into a fermenter, called WASHBACK

  • During the pumping process not all the liquid freely drains leaving behind sugar in the mash tun. 

  • After the wort is drained off hot fresh water is added to draw out more sugar and then added to the fermenter "washback"

  • The process is usually repeated a 3rd time.

  • Some solids may be pulled through created a cloudy wort, accentuating the ceral, malty character in the final whisky.


  • Completed within 48 hours ​

  • Cultured yeast (do not use yeast unique to them) is added to cooled wort

  • Alcohol level > 7-10c called wash

  • Some choose to let the wash sit for a few days in order for extra congeners to be created.

NOTE:Continuous fermentation for grain whisky, larger amount of wash is needed.

Image below - Mash Tun

-Malted barley is mixed with hot water in order to reactivate the enzymes that carry about conversion. Temperature is vital - 63-64c. Wort is then drained off the bottom and pumped in the fermenter "washback"


LAW > Must be distilled to a strength of less than 94.8%

Malt Whisky Distillation

Double distillation in Copper pot stills (sometimes triple)

  • 1st distillation takes place in a wash still. 

  • 1st product is called "low wines" approx. 21-28%abv.

  • 2nd distillation takes place in a spirit still, producing a spirit of around 70%abv

  • Heads (foreshots) and tails (feints) are redistilled with the next batch of low wines.

2 key factors determining the style and quality of the end product.

  1. Still design: Pot stills used in Scotland are diverse. Old stills are replicated by new ones. 

  2. Cut points: Peat comes from congeners with high oiling points.

Early cut to tails = lighter flavoured.

Later cut to tails = heavier spirits 

Grain Whisky Distillation

Continous Column Distillation

  • Variety of column stills are used

  • Process varies slightly between distilleries 

  • Most distilled to just below the maximum 94.8%abv

  • Much lighter in character than malt whisky.

Image below - Pot still

Post Distillation and Maturation 

Law > Matured in Scotland of a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels with a maxiumum capacity of 700L. Water and caramel may be used for colouring.

Whisky usually enters cask at 63.5% and 2% of the volume will evaporate a year.


  • Majority ex-bourbon, 200L American oak with a heavy char. Imparts aromas of vanilla, coconut, pine, cherry and spice.

  • Sherry Butts, today these butts are prepared for the whisky industry are Sherry is no longer shipped via barrel into the UK. Made from seasoned american white oak, toasted NOT charred. The butts are filled with the sherry desired by the distiller for an average of 2 years. Shipped with a small amount of sherry inside to stop the butt from drying out.

  • Sherry butts imparts aromas of dried fruit, christmas cake, clove, resin and orange peel.

Wood finishing 

Process of moving an aged whisky into a barrel from a different source for a short period prior to bottling.​ The previous contents will effect the end flavour and sometimes colour. Many different sources have been used including Port, Sherry, Madeira, red and sweet wine. 


  • Blended Scotch, majority of sales.

  • Blending allows the unique character of each malt and grain to work together and create a harmonious, consistent product.

  • Each grain distillery has a slightly different character

  • Most blends will use 2 or more

  • Grain whisky does not bulk up a product but has an important role to play

  • Successful blends are where the combination of grain and malt whisky is seamless

  • Crafter to conform to a house style 


  • Reduced with water before bottling 

  • Chill filtered 

  • Colour adjusted with caramel if necessary

  • Premium malts > usually are not chill filtered, w/o caramel and bottled at cask strength.

Labelling Terms 

Age Statement > determined by the youngest spirit in the blend. 

Regions > All of the whisky must have been distilled in the state region

5 categories of Scotch Whiskey

Single Malt > malted barley, 1 distillery by batch distillation in pot stills

Single Grain > malted barley and other malted or unmalted grains in a single distillery

Blended Malt > 2 or more single malt, from different distilleries

Blended Grain > 2 or more single grain, from different distilleries

Blended > 1 or more single-grain and one or more single-malt

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