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Scotch Whisky by John Lamond

Grain whisky is the other half of Scotch whisky. Although malt whisky is what is most written about because malt whisky (pot still) distilleries often have a colourful history, grain whisky distilleries are much more productive and efficient, albeit less decorative. Some 56% of all Scotch whisky produced comes from seven grain whisky distilleries, while the remaining 44% is produced by Scotland's 120 malt whisky distilleries.

Until 1828, all Scotch whisky came from pot still distilleries. In that year, Robert Stein created his continuous still at Kilbagie Distillery. Aneas Coffey took Stein's invention and perfected it in 1830 and all continuous stills around the world nowadays are based on Coffey's patent.

Grain whisky is produced from a mixture of malted barley, unmalted barley and other grains, such as wheat, rye or maize. Wheat and maize are currently very popular, as the yields achieved are high and reliable and wheat is relatively cheap. The unmalted grains are crushed and cooked at a temperature of 140° C (about 284° F) to break down the starch. Malted (unpeated) barley is then added, as is hot water, and the grains are mashed together. The diastase of the malted barley converts the starch in the unmalted cereals into maltose. Fermentation then proceeds to produce a wash (high alcohol hopless beer) in the same manner as with malt whisky production.

The spirit produced is more refined, arguably more elegant, and less flavoursome than that produced in pot still production. Because of the almost closed shop nature of that side of the industry, together with the fact that almost 100% of its output goes into blended whiskies such as Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker or Cutty Sark, it is rare to see a Single Grain Scotch Whisky in a bottle. However, one such cask has been bottled.

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2016 issue of Scottish Life.

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