What Is A Fine Malt Whisky?

I am not pretending to be an authority with 40 years knowledge of the whisky business but I do remember in my younger days enjoying from time to time a malt whisky. I also new by choice I’d ask for a malt, though never quite sure why.

I’ll try and provide a simplistic view of what and why a malt whisky is a fine whisky and with Scotland having in the order of 140 distilleries producing one or more whiskies then I must confess I tend to think of a malt as fine Scotch whisky.

Generally speaking people mean a single malt whisky when they refer to a malt whisky and this is because the malt whiskies are distilled in distilleries which usually only produce one whisky. It is possible to have more than one brand of whisky from a distillery and this can be attributable to a number of factors. For example a distillery may have a single malt whisky which is a mere 10 years old and then another brand name which is matured for a full 20 years. Similarly the unique flavour of a fine whisky is as much about how the whisky is matured and stored and specifically the history of the casks that are used. The Benriach distillery, for example, produces several brands and they are a mix of age and the casks that have been used. Benriach specifically refer to whisky being matured in originally American oak casks and then finished either in casks having been used for storing sherry, port or dark rum. In all these cases the actual distillation process may have been the same but how the fine whisky is stored and for how long are the key factors to the product which is eventually consumed and enjoyed.

The ingredients of a fine malt whisky.

Almost all malt whiskies and made by malting barley gain (though rye grain can be used). The barley, yeast and water are the only ingredients used in the production of single malt whisky.

In the first instance the barley used is malted, which means, it is soaked in water for a few days. This malting or soaking process is the start of the germination process which leads to the natural starch being converted to a fermentable sugar. This process is then stopped and the malted barley is dried. Eventually the dried and germinated malted barley can now be ground or milled to produce something which the industry calls a grist. From here the grist is combined with hot water to remove the sugary liquid which is called a wort. This wort will now have the yeast added. This where the first alcohol is produced and anyone familiar with brewing beer will recognise this process as both are very similar until this stage.

The next stage is where beer making (brewing) and whisky making (distilling) differ because the wort liquid is then distilled which means it is heated to boiling point such that the alcohol boils away but is captured on the cooler condensing surfaces and the alcohol is collected. This distillation initial process produces a relatively low alcohol strength liquid so the process is repeated (and sometimes a third time) until such time as a liquid is produced which is typically two thirds alcohol by volume.

These are the initial processes of making a scotch single malt whisky. Note it is not a scotch whisky for another year or two yet!

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About The Author, Peterhw
Fine ScotchWhisky or from the original translations the "Water of Life" hasbeen enjoyed and consumed by millions over many years.  Take a little timeto learn to appreciate your singlemalts or fine blends that have taken years to create.