How Single Malt Whisky is Made – Part 1: Grinding and Mashing

by Mike Phillips

In this first post detailing the whisky creation process, we’ll take a look at the first step in making a whisky, that is the grinding and mashing of the cereal grain (a key ingredient for making whisky).

First, lets get into the ingredients.

Ingredients

Whisky is made with mashed cereal grain mixed with water. Typically (and depending on the type of whisky), the spirit is made with one of the following types of grains:

  • Corn
  • Rye
  • Wheat
  • Barley (malted or unmalted)

The type of grain chosen will determine the type and flavor of whisky you’re making.

Effects of Ingredients on Flavor

The cereal grain used will have a substantial effect on the flavor of the whisky. The flavor breakdown of each type of whisky is as follows:

  • Corn whisky will have sweet corn notes, along with some butter and syrup hints
  • Rye has a drier, spicier taste that is quite distinct
  • Wheat whiskies often have a softer and lighter taste with some sweet and spicy hints
  • Barley will often impart a smokier taste with some hints of sweet and spicy notes. Whether or not the barley is malted will also impact the taste, as well as how the malted barley is dried prior to fermenting. For example, Islay Scotches use malted barley that is dried over smoking peat, which will give the barley (and ultimately the whisky) a distinct smoky and peaty taste.

Grinding and Mashing Procedure

The first step to making whisky is to grind then mash the cereal grain. The cereal is ground into a grist (a consistency like cornmeal), similar to how beer is made. If using malted barley, the barley would be malted before being grinded into a grist.

The grist is then mixed with hot water in a mash tun in order to extract the sugars from the grist. This process creates wort, a sugary liquid that is subsequently sieved to filter out the remaining grains. The sieved wort is drained into a tank for fermentation, which will be detailed in part 2 of the series.

A quick but important first step. This step lays the foundation for the type and flavor of a whisky, since this is where the ingredients are determined.

Have anything to add to this first step? Any questions on the grinding and mashing procedure? Let us know in the comments below.

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