All whisky is made using grain as a base. The 4 most commonly used grains are: Barley, Rye, Corn and Wheat. (But there are some whiskies made with more unique grains such as quinoa, brown rice, millet and oats!) The chosen grain(s) are mixed with water and yeast, heated and stirred. This mixture is called the whisky mash, and is naturally fermented to produce a natural alcohol called ethanol.
Next is distillation, which takes the alcohol, heats it up to boiling point – and turns it into a vapour. The vapour is cooled and collected – the resulting liquid is much purer than the original alcohol and had many impurities removed by the process. It is also much now much more alcoholic J
Once whisky makers have this pure alcohol liquid or “not-yet-whisky” or “moonshine”, the magic happens in the whisky store. But first the liquid is put in a barrel (or cask) to age. Sometimes these barrels are new or “first fill”, and sometimes they have had other liquid in them previously, such as sherry or wine. Another element that is considered is the type of wood. Traditionally Oak is the most commonly used, but with the expansion of new whisky producers around the world, materials such as Mizunara from Japan have become very popular.
The whisky store is now critical. Will the barrel be stored in a cold damp vast shed in the Scottish Highlands or a warm and cosy barn on the open plains of Tennessee? A whisky store can change the flavour of resulting whisky dramatically, with the liquid taking on the characteristics of the environment. Aside from the raw ingredients, wood and method – the whisky store has a big impact on the final flavour of any whisky.
The whisky can rest in the whisky store for anywhere from 2 years to 60 years and more. Different governing bodies (for example the Scottish Whisky Association in Scotland) have different requirements if a whisky wants to be classified under a certain banner. For example, Single Malt Scotch whisky must be aged in a whisky store for a minimum of 3 years, be made from malted barley, distilled using a pot still and be aged in oak casks.