There are many kinds of whiskies. Loads. From Single Grains to Single Malts to Blended Whisky. Deliciously smoky malts, to sweet honey like Speyside blends. The great thing, is that they all start with the same natural ingredients – malted barley, water and yeast. Here at Ballantine’s we source our malt and grain from all corners of Scotland, bringing the best ingredients into our distilleries. That’s where the magic really happens.
Getting the whisky-making party started is easy. First we soak barley in water, encouraging it to germinate and sprout. Things really start to get moving when enzymes join the mix. That’s when starch in the grains convert into soluble sugars- was biology ever this fun at school? Not for us either.
Once all the barley, sugars and enzymes dry, it’s time to grind it down, down, down, to a fine grist for the next step in this party process: Mashing.
Now’s the time for the sweetest hour as hot water is added to the grist in the Mash Tun: a special vessel designed to draw out the optimum level of sugary liquid called wort. The wort is then transferred into the Wash Back for fermentation, leaving behind spent grains which are then converted to animal feed, wasting nothing.
This is where things get really interesting. Yeast is added to the wort in the Wash Back to start the fermentation process and convert the sugars into alcohol. Fermentation times vary between distilleries, but it usually lasts around 48 – 56 hours. The result of fermentation is a liquid called wash which has an ABV of about 8%. Now, it’s time to distil.
THINGS ARE STARTING TO HEAT UP
Every single malt whisky distillery uses two types of still; the Wash Still and the Spirit Still, which are both made of copper to shape the flavour during a two-part distillation process. The wash is heated with steam in the Wash Still to separate the alcohol and turn it into vapour that rises up the still and condenses. This spirit, called Low Wines, is collected in a spirit safe. This is then distilled for a second time in the Spirit Still where only the heart of the second distillation or “middle cut” is collected as new spirit. A pure, perfect spirit, ready for maturation into a single malt, that will one day be a crafted into a blended Scotch whisky worthy of the Ballantine’s name.
For a Scottish made whisky to be called “Scotch” it has to age in oak casks for at least three years. This allows the whisky to interact with the casks and draw flavours, as well as colour, out of the wood. Real beauty sleep stuff. The higher quality of cask and longer storage time, the more flavour the whisky can pick up. Because Ballantine’s has been making whisky for so long, we have some of the world’s most impressive stocks of aged scotch, meaning we can have blends aged for over thirty or forty years. Once bottled, the maturation stops. So there’s no point keeping it in a wine cellar for years and years, it’s there for yourself, not your shelf.
A blended Scotch whisky is the product of blending multiple single malt and grain whiskies, and making blended Scotch is anything but easy. It requires great skill, an alarming level of intuition, excellent palate memory and a great nose. Throughout the history of Ballantine’s, hard work and passion for quality has always been present in our five master blenders. Each one of these blenders has looked after the continuity and quality of the Ballantine’s brand, staying true to the original family character of the Whiskies.
The Ballantine’s Blenders
Five Master Blenders, One Great Whisky. Read all about them here.
A great quality whisky deserves a quality bottle. In 1938 the quality of our whisky was recognised with a Heraldic coat of arms appearing on every bottle of Ballantine’s Scotch whisky to this day. Another feature that appears on every bottle is the Latin phrase, ‘Amicus Humani Generis’, meaning ‘a friend to all mankind’. A friend never lets you down.
What exactly makes whisky, Scotch? What goes into making whisky, and what makes Ballantine’s whisky so, well, yummy anyway?