The Spirit of Scotland

During my recent trip to Scotland, I definitely knew I wanted to sample some of Scotland’s most significant spirit- whiskey. I visited the Tullibardine Distillery outside of Edinburgh, where there has been a brewery or distillery on this sight since the 12th century. It’s claim to ame is that in year 1488, King James IV purchased some spirits from the site on the way to his coronation. For my visit, I was given a tour through the distillery, the cellars, and then a tasting of several satisfying single malt scotches.

Whiskey is made from only three ingredients: barley, water, and yeast. Here is a simple explanation of the whiskey making process…

Malting barley and grinding grist: The grain is malted – by steeping the barley in water. Malting releases enzymes that break down starches in the grain and helps convert them into sugars. The malt is ground into “grist” and mixed with hot water. This process is referred to as “mashing” and dissolves the sugars which were produced during malting, producing a sugary liquid known as “wort.”

Wash back & yeast: The wort is then transferred to a “wash back” where it is cooled and washed with three cycles of water. Then yeast is added, and the wort is allowed to ferment. The resulting liquid, now at about 5-7% alcohol by volume, is called “wash” and is similar to a basic beer.

Distillation (x2): The next step is to use a still to distil the wash – which will result in a purer form of alcohol. The liquid is heated to the boiling point of alcohol…lower than the boiling point of water…and when the alcohol evaporates to the top, the liquid has an alcohol content of about 20%. Then, the liquid is distilled a second time, as is required for scotch whiskies, and this is called a spirit still. The finished still can have an alcohol content from 60-75% alcohol.

Cask Maturation: Oak casks for the maturation process, traditionally the casks are old, neutral sherry barrels but nowadays exotic casks such as port, cognac, and Bordeaux barrels are used. Whisky Regulations require anything bearing the label “Scotch” to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in casks.

The coolest thing about my visit to Tullibardine was when we viewed the cellar room, where there are rows and rows of stacked casks with personalized labels on the front. We learned that you could purchase a cask, for around 2,000 GBPs, and hold your personal cask in their cellar while it matures for a minimum of 10 years. As the whiskey matures, it slowly evaporates, lowering the amount of spirit in the cask. After 40 years, you may only have about 2/3 whiskey left in your personal cask, yet when it is bottled it could be sold for upwards of 4,000 GBP per bottle!!! Quite a worthy investment for retirement, I must say!

Tullibardine Highland Malt Scotch whisky is generally recognised as an “easy drinking” malt It is smooth and mellow on the palate. Distilled from the purest highland spring water Tullibardine’s qualities make it an ideal introductory malt scotch whisky. I must agree with this claim since I am not a whiskey drinker yet I found Tullibardine to be quite pleasing…in small quantities and maybe with a cube of ice.