The Life of Malt Whisky, Part 1 – The Birth

This post is the first of three that will take you through the life cycle of whisky – its birth, maturation and death. This post will begin the story by introducing you to the way whisky is made… baby whisky, that is! 

In the beginning, there is barley…

In the beginning, there is barley. This barley is dried (either by air or peat smoke), cracked and then placed in hot water (usually from 63°C) for a while, so that the lovely flavour and sugar in the barley can be soaked up by the water. The barley is then strained out of the water, and the now barley infused water – think of it as barley tea – is ready to be converted to what can be described as a beer without hops. 

Barley tea is made into a beer 

To make this beer, yeast is added to the barley tea when it reaches somewhere between 18°C to 28°C (depending on the kind of yeast that is used). The yeast converts the sugars in the barley tea  – or “wort”, in whisky speak – to alcohol, and this process is called “fermentation”. Many different types of yeast are used to create alcohol of different flavours, from bakers yeast used by many moonshiners to the more sophisticated ale yeasts that tend to be used by artisan distillers. You will find that every distillery has a particular strain of yeast they prefer to use, and this yeast contributes to their distillery character. Sometimes the batch is spoiled by wild yeast hanging around, eager to ferment any sugary liquids into the most fowl smelling substance that is sure to prompt the gag reflex. The race to beat that pesky wild yeast from spoiling the show requires a clean work area – which really makes me wonder about what those rowdy moonshiners make out in open air – and getting the wort down in temperature as quickly as possible to add the nice, friendly, yeast – the longer it takes, the more time the wild yeast has to cheekily ruin the batch, but if the wort is too hot the nice cultured yeast will die. Once the yeast is placed in the wort, magic happens, and it begins to slowly ferment into beer – the “wash”.

The beer is distilled… carefully! 

The wash, now containing alcohol, is placed in a still (made of copper, to help remove sulfides in the wash and accentuate esters and aldehydes) and heated. It is distilled once to produce “low wines”, which are then distilled again to produce a stronger alcohol (more on that, below). Because alcohol evapourates at a lower temperature than water, it can be separated from the water in the wash by heating the wash to a temperature above 78.4°C but below 100°C. As the wash reaches around 65°C a liquid clear as water begins to travel up the still as vapour. Not all of it is good. The alcohol that boils at the lowest temperatures is acetone and methanol – real nasty smelling and poisonous – and this fortunately comes out of the still first and is discarded by a distiller. Then when the wash reaches 78.4°C that is when the good drinkable alcohol, ethanol, boils and travels up the still as vapour to be condensed into liquid and collected by the distiller. As the wash heats up, though, higher alcohols such as  fusel oils/alcohols (2-Propanol/rubbing alcohol at 82.4 °C and 3-Methyl-1-Butanol at 99.5 °C) also begin to boil and then follow the ethanol up the still. 

As you can probably already tell, not all the clear liquid that comes out of the still is good. The distiller needs to make what is known as “cuts”, after discarding the foreshots (the acetone and methanol) at the start of the run.  The first part of the run is the “heads” which produces a potent alcohol that pierces the brain at first, very sharp and similar in smell to nail polish. As the amount of ethanol flowing out of the still increases, the lovely juicy body of the spirit emerges in the form of “hearts” which is mostly ethanol. This is the sweet stuff – pure hearts is sweet, smooth, soft, expressive of the raw ingredients and fruity. After a while, the hearts begin to fade into the “tails”, which smells very much like wet cardboard, baby sick, wet dog etc. It not poisonous, it just smells and tastes strange. For flavour spirits, such as whisky, the tails can provide some tasty congers and compounds so a distiller needs to determine what combination of “cuts” best expresses his or her distillery character. 

The type of still, and number of distillations, matters 

The type of still that is used is important, but most distillers use copper “pot stills” which basically allows alcohol vapour to travel up its neck and then be converted to liquid at the top when it reaches a condenser (which is usually a coil with cool water running through it). To make whisky, a distiller needs to typically undertake two distillation runs – first distilling the wash to produce “low wines” (usually 18-25% ABV) and then re-distilling the “low wines” to get a stronger alcohol usually between 60-70% ABV. Sometimes, to get a lighter spirit, a distiller might want to run it through again (as is typical with three times distilled Irish whiskey or Auchentoshan, which defies the Scotch industry standard of distilling twice). Other types of stills can include reflux or column stills which can distill a wash multiple times in one cycle, by using packing or bubble-plates (I have seen some of these stills with over sixteen bubble-plates which are mostly used to distill vodka because with each distillation the alcohol is stripped of some flavour and becomes purer and more concentrated with ethanol – this is why whisky is usually distilled only two or three times, to keep the flavour of the barley and fermentation). These reflux or column stills sometimes have a condenser at the top of the still neck with cool water running through it, and this cool water blocks heavier vapours so that lighter vapours can pass through to be collected thereby producing a very fine spirit. 

Once distilled, at least twice, you have a bouncing baby whisky 

Once the distiller makes all the desired “cuts”, you have whisky in its infancy. This is baby whisky, so to speak (though not legally whisky, which needs to sit in oak casks for at least three years). This baby whisky is more accurately known as “new make”. 

Tasting Glengoyne new make

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Glengoyne air dry their barley, never using peat, which means that from the start this little baby whisky is designed to have no peat flavours – just clean, fresh malty notes from distilling the fermented barley tea that was discussed above – the “wash”.  Glengoyne new make is very clean spirit that is strikingly rich with hearts and some faint surges of heads, which add some welcome spark. There are hardly any detectable higher alcohols and tails seem to come out in the finish, which indicates that tails may have been used to amplify the finish. Tails are important, because they add some congeners and flavour compounds not found in hearts – they are sometimes very important ingredients to a distillery’s character.

Find in Glengoyne new make caramel (werthers original), brown pear, peaches, nectarines, crushed apple and orchard fruit with a lingering, flavoursome finish that offers disgorged digestive biscuits with mild creaminess (now that, surely, must bring back some early memories… unless you eat teddy bear biscuits before a big night!). This is superbly crafted new make.

This, as you have probably noticed, certainly does not sound like whisky! What about the vanilla and spice and all things nice, I hear you cry as you lament the idea of disgorged digestive biscuits!! To get the aroma, flavour and colour of whisky the new make needs to spend at least three years (usually much much longer) in oak casks. That is known as the “maturation”, a process which will be the focus of the next installment in the Life of Malt Whisky.

Up next… the maturation. Stay tuned!  

 

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Of Oak, Copper and Chivalry: Chivas Regal collaborates with Bremont to create 12 exclusive “Chivalry” watches

Chivalry watch

Chivas Regal has collaborated with British watch brand, Bremont, to create the next installment of its Made for Gentlemen Limited Edition collection, which will be available globally from this month.

Only 12 Chivalry watches, created by Bremont and Chivas, will be released in this year’s collaboration. The exclusive Bremont ‘Chivalry’ watches, which will be auctioned for charities around the world,  will be available via online auction taking place from 22nd October to 9th November 2014 at www.chivas.com/bremont. Proceeds will be donated to The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme.

The Bremont ‘Chivalry’ watch is made from polished steel and features a piece of oak cask used in the maturation of whiskies for Chivas Regal, the signature of James and John Chivas etched on the rotor of the timepiece and the Chivas crest subtly embossed on the dial.  An engraved copper plate, taken from a retired Scotch whisky copper still, sits on the leather presentation pouch.

Also available this year domestically and in Travel Retail from September 2014 will be the Chivas 12 Made for Gentlemen by Bremont limited edition gift tin decorated with deconstructed watch elements to showcase the engineering of Bremont chronometers, which contains a bottle of Chivas 12 year old.

Richard Black, Global Brand Director for Chivas Regal says:

“Over the last three years, The Chivas Made for Gentlemen series has gone from strength to strength, resonating with modern gentlemen around the world who demand substance and style from luxury experiences and products. With this latest edition, we’re celebrating not only the style and handcrafted quality of Chivas and Bremont, but also the spirit of generosity for which John and James Chivas were renowned, and that is increasingly valued in today’s competitive world. We’re delighted with the exquisite designs and we’re confident that Chivas 12 Made for Gentlemen by Bremont will be well received by discerning whisky fans around the world.”

Nick English, Co-Founder of Bremont, adds:

“For me, the collaboration with Chivas was a genuine meeting of minds.  We are all dedicated and passionate about keeping traditions of craftsmanship alive and we are also focused upon leaving a positive legacy.  Bremont watches are ‘Tested Beyond Endurance’ and Giles and I have been blown away by the level of skill that Chivas Master Blender, Colin Scott, deploys in channeling nature and time in blending their Scotch whiskies.”

More information about The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme is available in the below video and the Prince’s Trust website.

 

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Limeburners M90 “Director’s Cut”

Limeburners

Score: 94/100

ABV: 61%

Origin: Albany, Western Australia

Price: $350

Match with: Rare beef, macadamia nuts, mushroom based dishes

Limeburners is a brand of whisky produced in the southern tip of Western Australia, in a place called Albany. Malt Mileage has been fortunate to receive a sample of Limeburners M90 “Director’s Cut”, a single cask offering that is bottled at a ferocious 61% ABV. The M90 was matured in an American Oak Barrique and finished in an old in-house brandy cask.

On the nose the whisky offers undertones of doughy whole meal loaf shining through vanilla, buttery herb bread, chocolate coated raisins, Christmassy fruit tart, herbal notes, celery, nuts, satay, water chestnuts, strawberry seeds, red candy, glazed cherries, and the burn of wasabi. The palate presents with a surge of crystalline brown sugar, very rummy and herbal in character, with a big hit of medium-dry brandy and underlying notes of luscious malt, vanilla, butter, toffee and raisins that gradually dry into the finish. The Limeburners distillery character comes out in the finish with a malty note that underpins sweet pastry and lingering vanilla, caramel and raspberry flavoured candy as the burn of wasabi peas and that delectable dry brandy are a praiseworthy finale.

Overall, Limeburners M90 “Director’s Cut” is an Aussie dram with a rumbling fire in its belly – the drying kick of an old in-house brandy cask is cushioned by soft vanillas from the American oak, and all the while the distinctly malty (and downright delicious) Limeburners distillery character shines through it all. The age of the brandy cask Limeburners used to finish this whisky is unknown, but it certainly seems “old” given the curious herbal rancio notes that glow on the nose and the palate. Those herbal notes add a different dimension to this whisky, that, together with a nice solid kick in the teeth by an old brandy cask that is softened by vanillas, fruit and a rich underlying juicy malt makes the Limeburners M90 one of the most enjoyable Australian whiskies to pass my lips – not only is it lip smacking whisky, but it is distinctly Australian lip smacking whisky. Its price of $350 is perhaps some indication that this whisky was made with little expense spared – the most selective cuts and casks seem to have been used, and the result, as the director already knows, is pretty darn special whisky. It is expensive whisky though, perhaps a little too expensive one thinks.

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ACID Kuba Kuba (Nicaragua)

ACID KUBA KUBA

Score: 89/100

Draw: Excellent.

Burn: Excellent.

Construction: OK.

Consistency: Good.

Flavours: A mild and very smooth smoke is softened by creamy vanillas and cut through by sweet honey, as the taste of that sugary honey remains lingering on the lips until the next puff. This is a very smooth cigar with mild tobacco notes that are secondary to the infused flavours which seem to dominate. This cigar would be ideal for the beginner smoker who does not want a lot of tobacco flavour, though be warned those looking for rich tobacco notes may feel underwhelmed. I would only recommend this cigar for people who want a sweet infused cigar without too much tobacco flavour.

Origin: Nicaragua

Format: Robusto

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Pernod Ricard Releases 50 Year Old Glenlivet Single Malts: The Winchester Collection

 

 

The Glenlivet Winchester Collection Vintage 1964 with Cabinet

Pernod Ricard will soon release the world’s first collection of rare 50 Year Old single malt Scotch whiskies from The Glenlivet, which will be on sale from October 2014 at the iconic Harrods.

The Winchester Collection will include the world’s first series of 50 year old single malt Scotch whiskies from The Glenlivet, the distillery that is said to have started it all. Only 100 bottles of the first release, “Vintage 1964”, will be available priced at $25,000 each and bottled at cask strength (42.3% ABV). The first of these bottles, creatively called “Bottle No 1″ (such ingenuity!), will go on sale this October at Harrods.  “Vintage 1966” is confirmed to be the next release.

The bottles also seem to be pieces of art,  handcrafted in the British Isles and featuring hand-blown glass and precious materials such as rose gold and ‘Cairngorm Stone’ – a testament to the craftsmanship of the current Master Distiller of The Glenlivet, Alan Winchester, from whom Winchester Collection takes its name. Winchester comments:

“This release marks a milestone for The Glenlivet. Casks of this age and quality are such a rare thing these days that I’m immensely proud to introduce the first of these rare Vintages of preserved stocks from the distillery’s rich past. They’re a testament to our legacy of excellence and to those who have nurtured this whisky over the years, including Captain Bill Smith-Grant, who played such a pivotal role introducing our single malt to the world.”

Global Brand Director for The Glenlivet, Nikki Burgess, adds:

 “The release of The Winchester Collection sets a new benchmark in single malt. We are excited to share this unparalleled spirit, the product of 50 years of craftsmanship, with whisky lovers and collectors alike. Vintage 1964 allows us to tell a new chapter in The Glenlivet’s rich history and is a fitting tribute to those who shaped Speyside’s original single malt whisky.”

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Glengoyne Teapot Dram batches #1 and #3

Teapot dram

Glangoyne Teapot Dram is a whisky that is only available for purchase at the Glengoyne distillery in Scotland. It is matured in ex-sherry casks and bottled at cask strength, ready to quench the thirst of some of the whisky faithful who embark on a pilgrimage to the land of Scotch. The Teapot Dram commemorates a 150 year old tradition at Glengoyne which resulted in leftovers from the daily staff ration of three large drams being stored for (quite understandable!) safe keeping in a copper teapot. Fun times.  

Malt Mileage has been very lucky to secure samples of Glengoyne Teapot Dram batch #1 and batch #3, so without further ado let me introduce you to these two fine drams.  

Name: Glengoyne Teapot Dram batch #1

Score: 95/100

ABV: 58.8%

Origin: Highlands, Scotland

Match with: Bocconcini, pecorino or a tea/botanical infused cigar

On the nose batch #1 glistens with poise, elegant yet bursting with the aroma of cherries, cocoa, dry Oloroso, crushed whole walnuts, vanished wood, fresh herbs, mint, anise seed, fruit cake with glazed cherries and undertones of toasted and fleshy coconut with banana and a nutty Moroccan baklawa shining through it all. On the palate batch #1 is smooth, balanced and yet manages to electrify the taste buds to life with a sudden surge of dry woody Oloroso, nuts and the most delightful crumbly cocoa rich cherry pie infused with cinnamon, natural mint, herbs and tea. The finish is long, and the palate gently dries as the flavour of Oloroso, cinnamon and dark honey lingers.

Overall Glengoyne Teapot Dram Batch #1 is the kind of dram that makes most other whiskies seem clumsy, unbalanced and pretty darn average as it ignites the palate with what I can only describe as a dramgasm of heavy Oloroso goodness. For an added bit of guilty pleasure try matching it with some creamy bocconcini, pecorino or a tea/botanical infused cigar.    

Name: Glengoyne Teapot Dram batch #3

Score: 89/100

ABV: 59.4%

Origin: Highlands, Scotland

On the nose batch #3 is sweeter and softer than batch #1, being less dry and projecting less woody Oloroso and varnish notes. Batch #3 offers more sweet vanillas and subtle undertones of sherry, with a herbal cough drop glow that melds with green jelly beans, mixed fruit cake and rummy notes very similar to spiced English style rum, and, an earthy coffee heavily spiked with anise seed liqueur and cinnamon mixed with brown sugar. As the whisky rests notes of toffee develop with banana and coconut. On the palate batch #3 offers more pronounced wood notes and Oloroso than the nose suggests, weaved together with chocolate and a vegetal burn that is accompanied by the taste of vanished wood. The finish is drying and woody with intensifying notes of Oloroso, wood varnish and tannins.   

Overall, Glengoyne Teapot Dram batch #3 is a complex and interesting dram that offers a descent hit of Oloroso on the palate but for me it tasted over-oaked with varnish and excessive tannins, falling short of the delectable Glengoyne Teapot Dram batch #1.  

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Auchentoshan Heartwood

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Score: 94/100

ABV: 43%

Origin: Lowlands, Scotland

Match with: Goats cheese, Buffalo mozzarella, mild cigar

Auchentoshan is a distillery located in close proximity to Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow. The distillery’s claim to fame is its practice of distilling its whisky three times, which, while the norm in Ireland, is unusual in Scotland where most whisky is distilled only two times. Auchentonshan therefore take a page from their Irish cousins and produce a whisky with more concentrated and cleaner ethanol which matures into a light and fruity whisky often described as a “breakfast dram” due its smoothness.

Auchantoshan Heartwood is triple distilled whisky that has been matured in bourbon casks and Oloroso sherry casks, and then bottled for Travel Retail in large 1 litre bottles at 43% alcohol volume.

The nose presents with nutty overtones of almond, walnut and unsalted pistachio that combine with herbal mint/menthol cough drops and the drying woody aroma of Oloroso, cherries, chocolate, dried fruit and fresh herbs sitting on a newly made wooden table. On the palate the whisky is balanced and very smooth, immediately releasing drying Oloroso sherry with an almond and cashew nuttiness, pistachio shells, dark dried fruits such as raisin and prune, soft licorice, honey, dark chocolate and the flicker of picante spice with cinnamon sugar that fades at mid-palate into a herbal glow of mild eucalyptus and mint hot chocolate. The finish curiously sweetens as undertones of Oloroso remain dry, offering cherries, alcohol soaked raisins, creamy vanilla, dusted cocoa and dry wood.

Overall, Auchentoshan Heartwood is a smooth and light whisky that offers a fusion of dark dried fruit, dry Oloroso with powerful wood notes, nuttiness and a herbal glow. With booming Oloroso sherry notes and a constant nutty hymn, this whisky is delectable with a block of creamy goats cheese or some buffalo mozzarella – absolutely perfect while star gazing, watching a movie or puffing on a mild cigar. Talk about la bella vita!

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