How the nectar is made
At the beginning, when malted barley is fermented into a weak beer, the distiller has the choice to run their ferments hot and fast, or cool and slow. To ferment in oak, or in stainless steel. This all has an effect on flavour and texture.
Then we get to the stills. Shape, size, capacity, charge (how much you put in it) and how fast or slow you run them, also effects the resulting whisky’s character. In a nut shell, the way you run your still determines the texture and shape of your spirit and how much copper (a really good cleansing agent) your spirit comes into contact with.
And now we get to another important part, condensing the gaseous spirit in the still back into a liquid state. This is done through a combination of a funnel at the top of the still (called a swan’s neck or more correctly a Lyne Arm), a cooling water bath at the end of the neck (called a condenser) and a device called a sprits safe right at the end.
The spirits safe is vitally important. This is where you control how much good, clean spirit (known as hearts) and how much nasty, horrible spirit (heads and tails or foreshots and feints) goes into your waiting oak cask. Just remember, that a little bit of nastiness can add a whole lot of personality to a whisky!
Depending on the still’s size, its makeup, the way you run your stills, and how many times you put your spirit through the still, will influence how fat and oily, or light and delicate your spirit is going to be.
And then there’s peat. Would you like your malt smoked sir? Some like lots of smoke. Think Ardbeg and Laphroaig. Whereas others just like the pure taste of malt, think Glengoyne.
And just when you think that there are far too many decisions to be made in the still house, then comes some more. What type of oak shall I use and for how long? American oak, European oak, oak that’s had wine, sherry or another spirit in it, new oak, old oak, big oak (300L), or small oak (80L). Oak that’s had high toasting, or oak that hasn’t.
Then aging: 5 years, 10 years, 18 years, 25 years or 40 years?
Oak ageing is incredibly important because it’s where 75% of the flavour in your favourite single malt comes from.
Notice the way I haven’t mentioned water barley varieties, or location? They’re important ingredients, but they have little influence over the flavour.
And so, to conclude this missive on the joys of single malt whisky, I present to you…
The Big G’s Guide To 10 Most Excellent Whiskies…
That won’t break the bank!*