Thursday, March 22, 2012

Malted Barley: The Scot's Best Friend

As all you Scottish-types know full well, Scotch Whisky (note the lack of an "e" -- they spell funny across the pond) is made from 100% malted barley. The type of grain is one of the main determinants of the final flavor of the spirit -- along with the method and duration of aging and the character of the barrels used to store the product -- but in the case of Scotch an important additional factor in the flavor is a result of the malting process. "Malting" means that the grain has been allowed to sprout, which produces a chemical transformation that helps to release the natural sugars in the grain. Before the grain can be ground the germination must be stopped by applying heat, however, which is where the additional flavoring comes in. Peat is a traditional Scottish fuel, which when burned gives off a strong, pungent aroma; when the fire used to halt the barley gemination is fueled by peat, the flavor of the smoke pervades the grain and thus the finsihed spirit. For our project, we wanted to use malted barley from Scotland, and we also wanted to ensure that the peat flavor was present in our whisky.

Our Scottish partners came through by shipping over a couple of tons of malt barley, along with a couple of hundred pounds of specially peated malt to mix into the mash bill. The next step in the process was for our team of millers to grind the barley at our water powered gristmill. We were aiming for a fairly coarse level of "grind" in this instance, as it is optimal for releasing the sugar during mashing. We aimed at mashing four 120-gallon tubs, which at roughly 280 pounds per barrel totalled about 1120 pounds of meal.

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