From barley to barrel, this is how it happens.
But a new video from Reactions is breaking down exactly how whiskey is made, so you can impress the hell out of your friends next time you share a bottle.
Here’s everything you need to know to become a bonafide whiskey nerd.
LIKE ALL ALCOHOL, IT STARTS WITH YEAST AND SUGAR
Micro-organisms (by way of yeast) and sugar from grains are mixed. The microbes eat the sugar and make alcohol as a byproduct in a process called fermentation. The type of grains used depends on the type of whiskey you want: Scotch whiskey mainly uses malted barley, for example. (Fun fact: If it’s a single malt whiskey, that means it came from a single distillery with only malted barley.) Scotch grain whiskeys and American whiskeys use cereal grains like corn and wheat, bourbon whiskey has to be made with at least 51 percent corn, while rye whiskey has to be at least 51 percent rye.
THEN, DISTILLATION HAPPENS
After fermentation, your about-to-become whiskey is put through the distillation process, which separates different chemicals according to their boiling points. (Ethanol, which is the alcohol responsible for making you tipsy, boils at 173.1 degrees while methanol, which is poisonous, boils at 148.5 degrees.) The water-grain mixture, known as mash, is poured into a pot and heated—the methanol boils off first, followed by ethanol. Then, you’re left with mostly water.
FLAVOR RETENTION IS CRUCIAL
Whiskey needs to keep the flavors from fermentation or it would taste like vodka. So, the mash is poured into a still (which looks like a big round oven) and steam is pumped in to the bottom. To make bourbon, there are columns that rise up from the still which contain a stack of chambers separated by perforated plates. Ethanol-rich vapor rises from the bottom of the pot, and the vapor condenses and drips back, pulling flavor with it. Each whiskey-maker has a different flavor formula, which is why every whiskey tastes different—at least to people who really know whiskey.
AGING PACKS IN THE FLAVOR
The aging process is key to the whiskey’s flavor. So, whiskey is put in barrels and ethanol starts leeching flavor chemicals out of the wood in the barrels. The insides of the barrels are charred to get more flavor into the whiskey, and changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature during the year force whiskey in and out of the wood as it ages, picking up flavor in the process.
Check out the full video here: