If whiskey production were to be compared to a symphony, the distillation would undoubtedly be its crescendo. It is in this process that the liquid liquid is transformed into the golden spirit we know and love. But what actually happens during distillation and how is the whiskey's character shaped during this phase? Let's dive into this fascinating world.
The Essence of Distillation
Distillation is the process of heating a liquid to separate its various components based on their boiling points. In whiskey making, this process is used to remove unwanted substances, concentrate alcohol and extract the desired aromatic compounds.
Steps in Distillation
First distillation (Wash distillation): The alcohol-rich wash from the fermentation process is heated in a distillation apparatus called a wash still. During heating, the alcohol and other volatile substances evaporate. The traveling vapors are then condensed into a liquid called "low wines", which has a higher alcohol concentration than the original wash.
Second distillation (Spirit distillation): Low wines are distilled again in another device called a spirit still. This process further divides the distillate into different fractions: heads, heart and tails. It is the heart fraction that is primarily used for storage, as it contains the desired alcohol concentration and flavor profile.
The Influence of Distillation on Taste
Every step of the distillation process, from the type of still to the exact temperature and time of distillation, can have a significant impact on the final taste of the whisky. E.g:
Distillery shape: Pot stills with different shapes can produce distillates with different flavor profiles.
Crossing point: The time when the distiller chooses to switch between precursor, heart and successor can significantly change the whisky's character.
Distillation is both a science and an art that has been refined over centuries. It is critical to the whisky's taste, purity and strength. When we appreciate a pour of our favorite whiskey, we drink not only the result of grain and water, but also the skill and experience that the distiller has brought to each drop.