The Chemistry of Whisky

The Chemistry of Whisky: Grain

Grain Whisky | whiskyingredients

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December 22, 2021

Wheat, rye and corn are the most common cereals used to make Grain Whisky. However, it is not only a matter of ingredients.

Our journey through the chemistry of whisky continues. In the first part, we talked about barley, the most renowned cereals used in whisky production. And yet, there is much more than that. Why settle for tasting one variety of whisky if we can enjoy more? Indeed, Grain Whisky opens up the possibility of new flavours, which means new stories to taste.

Thus, come my friend. Let’s leave the barley fields alongside the east coasts of Scotland, to dive into a new part of the whisky.

Grain Whisky Production

It is true that ingredients matters. However, in the case of Grain Whisky, the processing of those ingredients is just as important.

When you read the word “Grain Whisky” on the label, it can mean many things. You may be about to taste a wheat-based whisky, or a completely different kind of cereal, even a barley-based one. While it is true that the most common Grain Whiskies are generally made from wheat, rye or corn, the name refers to any kind of whisky produced with anything besides malted barley.

In addition, as Grain Whisky is largely used in the production of blends, the distillation process commonly takes place through the column still rather than the traditional pot still. The different distillation method contributes to the distinctive character of this type of whisky, which is much sweeter than single malt, thus making it the ideal product for those who are just beginning their journey into whisky.

But what is the difference between pot stills and column stills?

Pot Stills V.S. Column Stills

According to Scotch Whisky Association, until the 18th century, malted barley was the most common cereal used for whisky production. Then, in 1832, Aeneas Coffey came and completely changed the rule of the game.

By creating Column Still, Coffey revolutionised the whisky market. Now, for the first time, it was possible to have a continuous distillation. Whereas the traditional method requires a downtime period to clean the still. Since distillation times are significantly reduced, this meant not only much faster production but also cheaper (which doesn’t mean poor quality at all).

The Coffey’s still leverages a column approach where liquids are poured over a series of cascading plates. As a consequence, liquids with low boiling points such as alcohol will vaporise and be funnelled through a cooler or rectifier, while elements such as water with a higher boiling point will be cooled, funnelled out and then poured again over the heated plates. This cyclical system allows for the ongoing distillation process 

As I was saying, the spirit produced using this method is a less intense spirit compared to Malt Whisky. For this reason, when blended with richer and complex Malts, it contributes to softening their fiery edges, extending the appeal of Whisky to a wider market.

Not only blends

While the Grain Whisky produced is largely intended for blends production, it is also possible to find Single Grain Whisky. Indeed, if one distiller uses different types of grains and column stills, it could be defined as a Single Grain Whisk(e)y. 

Moreover, if wandering through the shelves of a shop you see “Single Grain Scotch Whisky”, it means that in your hand, you have a whisky entirely made in Scotland in a single distillery, matured for at least three years in oak casks and with a minimum alcoholic strength of 40 percent.

But enough of technicalities…

Flavours and aromas of Grain Whisky

Whisky Grain’s taste depends on the cereal base used to produce it.

While Barley gives a sweeter flavour to the whisky, with caramel and brown sugar notes, Wheat, for example, gives more cereal notes, with brown bread and malted aromas,

wheat

But I’ll stop here for the moment. I shall refrain from telling you more about rye and corn whiskies and save this information for another time. Indeed, these cereals have an interesting story that needs to be given proper attention. Nevertheless, we could continue exploring untraveled lands by exploring newly discovered territories. 

As a matter of fact, wheat, corn and rye are the most common cereals used to produce Grain Whisky. However, certainly, they are not the only ones. If until now you thought the world of grain whiskies was uninteresting, aimed mostly at a newcomer audience, you are quite wrong my friend. If you try to dig a little deeper, you will find immense riches and diversity. Indeed, it is by exploring this world that you will find the most curious experiments and the most amazing innovations. I assure you that all it takes is a little research to taste the most unusual dram…

Alternative Grain Whiskies 

We are living some really exciting times for the industry and experiments had led distilleries to some interesting and innovative tastes…

Triticale Whiskey – Dry Fly

Dry Fly distillery took the concept of “experimentation” beyond known boundaries. They produced Triticale Whiskey, a spirit based on triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye. The result is a spirit with ginger and fruits notes, softened by the vanilla hint.

Triticale dry fly whiskey

Buckwheat Whisky – Eddu

Eddu is the first and only whisky made exclusively with buckwheat. It is double matured in ex-cognac French oak casks at first, and then moved into oak casks made from Paimpont forest in central Brittany. And maybe it is precisely the wood used for making the cask that make this whisky magical, as it is the same forest where, according to the legend, lies Merlin’s tomb. When tasting this whisky, you can immediately sense the fruity aromas and the cinnamon.

Quinoa Whiskey – Corsair

Have you ever heard of a whisky made out of quinoa? Corsair is a distillery that is not afraid of new ideas. Based in Tennessee, Corsair is known for its “renegade approach” and one of its experimental whisky is the Corsair Quinoa Whiskey. It is made from red and white quinoa seeds and has an interesting taste: grassy, thick, but with sweet and spicy notes to temper it. 

Oat Whiskey – Koval

Koval is one of the first producers to have dared to try to market a whiskey made of oat. Because of its curious base grain, Oat Whiskey is a spirit rich in flavours, with milk chocolate, coconut and caramel aromas.  

As you can see, there is much more to the world of whisky grains than meets the eye. Don’t fall for appearances, and embark on a journey of unexpected flavours.

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