Heartland - Petra's Scotland pages


The whisky manufacturing process comprises five distinct stages:
Barley is a food cereal similar to wheat and oats.

The barley has to be dried, cleaned and steeped into water for approx. 2-3 days. Then the process of germinating begins, which is finished after about 5-9 days, while the corn is turned regularly to keep temperature and humidity constant.

While in former times, floor malting was operated in the conversion of barley to malt, nowadays the germination process is usually carried out in pneumatic maltings either Box Maltings or Drum Maltings. Both methods appear to be cheaper for the whisky industry.

The expiry of the germination is stopped by drying the barley (Kilning) with hot air. The Kiln is a tower shaped structure with a furnace, in which coke or other fuel and peat is burned.


The barley then is to be crushed and mixed with hot water in the Mash-Tun (a circular metal vessel provided with mechanical stirrers that revolve and rotate to thoroughly mix the Mash of Grist and Water as necessary). Wort (a sweet liquid or sugar solution) is now being produced.



Yeast is then added to the cooled Wort being pumped into the Washback. This process lasts approx. 48- 50 hours. The sugar is split up by the yeast into alcohol, water and carbon dioxide and the result is a weak, crude, impure spirit, called "wash", containing about 5% alcohol, which somehow is comparable to beer.



Distilling means turning liquid into vapour and then vapour into liquid.

To produce a malt whisky, two or three distillations are taking place in pairs of pear-shaped copper pot stills. The first in the "Wash stil"”, where the wash is brought to boil, the alcoholic vapours and steam rise over the "swan neck" and into the condenser (a series of pipes in a cold-water jacket). Here the vapours become liquid again. This process provides the so-called "Low Wines", a kind of rough whisky with approx. 20-25% vol. alcohol).

The second distillation takes place in the Spirit Still (or "low wines still").

During the second distillation the distiller watches the spirit carefully as it passes through the spirit safe. The first part of the run ("foreshots") is pungent and impure. Until the foreshots run clear, he directs it back to the low wines and feints charger to be redistilled.

When the run is clear, the stillman redirects the spout and begins to collect the spirit (commencing at about 70-75 % vol. alcohol and decreasing to 60-65 %), which is "new make" and may be about 1/3 of the spirit distilled.

When sufficient spirit has been collected in the Spirit Receiver it is removed to another vessel, reduced with spring water from and filled into oak casks, that are then placed in warehouses for the spirits to mature. The filling strength of 11 o.p. has been determined over many years as the most suitable strength at which to start maturation.


At this stage the spirit produced can not legally be called Scotch whisky until it has been matured in oak casks for at least 3 years, a single malt whisky has to be matured for at least 8, preferably 10 -12 years.

During maturation the spirit vaporizes and permeates through the cask into the atmosphere and moisture from the atmosphere is drawn into and mixed with the spirit in the cask, developing the raw harsh spirit to the smooth, mellow aromatic whisky, we enjoy.

Every year approx. 2% of all Scotch whisky that is being matured is lost to evaporation. This process has become known as the "Angels' Share".


Scotch whisky is to be matured in oak casks, that lend a great deal to the final flavour of the whisky as well as to the colour, although the addition of spirit caramel can be used to darken the spirit. The casks have already been used for maturing Bourbon, since the American law prevents bourbon producers from using casks twice, so the Scotch whisky industry benefits from this. Besides, new oak casks would lend too much flavour to the spirit. Some producers use sherry casks from Spain instead.

Some distilleries use a second stage of maturation to add a different "finish" to their whisky. The spirit then is to mature in a second cask that contained Madeira, Port, Cognac, Bordeaux or Sherry before.

Most whiskies are bottled at between 40 per cent (the minimum legal limit) and 46% ABV alcohol by volume, occasionally by adding water.

ABV alcohol by volume
(alcoholic strength as a percentage of alcohol by volume at a temperature of 20°C invented by Gay Lussac)
caramel colour (spirit caramel) A natural food colour that may be added to whisky (E150)
The middle portion of the spirit coming off the spirit still. The cut is the best part of the distillate, and is saved and put into barrel. The foreshots and feints are re-distilled.
A glass of whisky
Drum maltings
Maltings where malting is carried out in large drums that turn the grain mechanically.
Also known as tails, or after-shots. The final spirit from the spirit still at the end of distillation. The feints are low in alcohol, and are re-distilled.
During a second stage of maturing in casks that contained Madeira, Port, Cognac, Bordeaux or Sherry before, a certain kind of flavour is added.
Floor maltings
Maltings where barley is malted by spreading it out on a large floor and turned by hand. Floor maltings have been largely replaced by drum maltings.
Also known as heads. The first spirit to come off the spirit still. The foreshots are high in alcohol (75-80 % ABV), contain too many volatile compounds, and are re-distilled.
crushed barley
a tower shaped structure with a furnace, in which coke or other fuel and peat is burned.
low wines
The spirit to come off the wash still. Its strength is usually about 21 % ABV.
nosing sniffing the flavour of the whisky.
remember: It is the nose that does most of the tasting, since the mouth can only pick out 4 different tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and salt.
wash a weak, crude, impure spirit, called "wash", containing about 5% alcohol, which somehow is comparable to beer.
wort a sweet lliquid or sugar solution
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