1. Selection of the Main Ingredients
Irish Whiskey is produced from barley, wheat and corn. The amounts used depend on the type of Whiskey. Naturally the grain contains a lot of starch within its shell. This starch needs to be converted to sugar which is needed for fermentation, where yeast transforms sugar into alcohol. Most sugar can be extracted if barley is malted. If it is not malted or if wheat or corn is used, the grain is cooked under pressure in order to cut the starch into sugar.
The best Whiskeys are produced from malted barley. However, it is also the most expensive and laborious method of producing Whiskey.
Water is very crucial for the Whiskey production. It is needed in many different production steps of the like steeping, mashing, cooling or reducing the Whiskey to bottle strength. In former times most of the power used in the distilleries often came from waterwheels.
Depending on the use, the water can be taken from rivers or lakes. However, the water quality in most rivers is not high enough for the Whiskey production. Most of the distilleries thus take their water from water from local wells.
In order to produce Malt Whiskey the barley has to be prepared differently than for Grain Whiskey.
During the early ages and during the great rise of the Irish Whiskey industry, the barley was collected during the harvest season and stored in silos at the distillery. The barley then had to be steeped and transferred to the malting floors.
The barley has to be steeped in water to start the natural germination. It was then spread out on malting floors by hand and with various tools. Over the next five days the grain had to be turned regularly to ensure an even growth and to guard the malt from attacks of the ever-present mould. After enzymes inside the grain have transformed the starch into sugar the germination process needs to be stopped. Therefore, the grains are dried until only 4% moisture remains.
In olden times peat was the cheapest way to produce the necessary heat for drying. However, it added a smoky flavour to the malt. Thus, most Whiskeys back then had a smoky aroma. You can see the heritage of the peating process at almost all the distilleries.
The Malting Process Today
After many improvements today's process differs from the traditional methods. The barley is malted in the big malting companies that produce more efficiently and supply both the Whiskey and beer industry. The desired peat level can be specified exactly.