Do you know the difference between whiskey and spirit? Scotch and Bourbon? Well let me enlighten you!
(Disclaimer – This is coming from my memory and while I believe it to be accurate it could be slightly inaccurate. Do remember that I was under the influence of whiskey when I obtained this information.)
Whiskey is spirit after it is three years old. Before this time it is known simply as spirit.
Scotch is whiskey made in Scotland, typically from malted barley. Bourbon is made from corn and typically comes from the United States. There is a law in the U.S. that whiskey barrels can only be used once. This benefits the Scotch makers a lot! And results in some whiskies being aged in bourbon barrels. Port and Sherry barrels are also common. These tend to affect the color of the whiskey, giving it a redder color and fruitier flavor.
Malted barley tends to be made offsite now and then is brought in when ready. The barley is ground up first but ideally there are a mix of big and small bits. Hot water is added to the ground up malted barley, typically in three stages. This pulls out all of the sugars. The first two go towards making the whiskey. The third tends to not be strong enough and is used as the started for the next round of malted barley. The leftover barley mash is sold off to farmers as animal feed as it is high in nutrients.
The sugar water is known as wort. Yeast is added and the liquid is left to ferment. This is quite an interesting stage as there is a lot of froth on top of the wort. A fan moves around the top of the holding tanks to try to keep the mash down. We put our nose in one, it cleared out our sinuses like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was sour and fermented and you could just feel it in your sinuses.
Next the liquid, now known as wash, is distilled twice in two different stills. These copper stills are replaced every few years but the replacements are created in the exact likeness of their predecessor, including dents, etc. The shape and design of the stills affects the taste and the process so every effort to recreate the exactly is made. After distillation, the spirit is tested in the spirit safe. This used to be locked by the tax person but is basically used to test the level of alcohol.
Now that the spirit is cooled, it is placed in a barrel and set aside for many years. Distilleries will keep some product at their location but will also rent space from various farmers or warehouses in order to spread out their product. Remember that alcohol is highly flammable.
While in the barrel, about two percent will evaporate each year, meaning that a significant portion is lost over the course of twelve years of aging. This is called “the angel’s share.”