Malt whisky is made by soaking barley in steeps (water cisterns) for two or three days until it swells, after which it is left to germinate for around seven days, during which the starch in the barley seed is converted into soluble sugars – this process is known as malting. The malted barley or “green malt” is then dried in a kiln over a furnace, which can be oil-fired, peat-fired or, more often than not, a combination of the two. Only a few distilleries still do their own malting and kilning in the traditional pagoda-style kilns; the rest simply have their malted barley delivered from an industrial maltings. The first process in most distilleries is therefore milling, which grinds the malted barley into “grist”. Next comes the mashing, during which the grist is infused in hot water in mashtuns, producing a sugary concoction called “wort”. After cooling, the wort passes into the washbacks, traditionally made of wood, where it is fermented with yeast for two to three days. During fermentation, the sugar is converted into alcohol, producing a brown foaming liquid known as “wash”. Distillation now takes place, not once but twice: the wash is steam-heated, and the vapours siphoned off and condensed as a spirit. This is the point at which the whisky is poured into oak casks – usually ones which have already been used to store bourbon or sherry – and left to age for a minimum of three years. The average maturation period for a single malt whisky, however, is ten years; and the longer it matures, the more expensive it is, because two percent evaporates each year. Unlike wine, as soon as the whisky is bottled, maturation ceases.

Essentials

Everything you need to know before you set off.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Scotland features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Sipping Speyside: on the whisky trail in Scotland

Sipping Speyside: on the whisky trail in Scotland

Whisky is much more than Scotland’s national drink – it’s blended deep into the country’s history and culture. Donna Dailey learns more and discovers th…

18 Oct 2017 • Donna Dailey local_activity Special feature
The most beautiful places in Scotland – as voted by you

The most beautiful places in Scotland – as voted by you

It was only a matter of time before word got out. That Scotland, with its full-figured glens, heathery hills and castle-topped crags, is one of the most beautif…

04 Oct 2017 • Mike MacEacheran camera_alt Gallery
The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

There's nothing like an amazing view to inspire you to book your next trip, whether you're drawn by rolling countryside, isolated islands or soaring mountain …

30 Aug 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook