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Technical Notes

The Art and Science of Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Professor David Thomson

Co-founder Annandale distillery

After graduating from Strathclyde University, Glasgow, David began his career as a Cereal Chemist. Although his professional life ultimately took a very different direction (PhD Sensory & Consumer Science from the University of Bristol) he always retained a strong interest in cereal technology. For much of his subsequent career (as Founder & Chairman of MMR Research Worldwide), David has worked in market research, product innovation and branding, across the food, beverage, personal care, homecare and healthcare sectors. This included extensive involvement in various alcoholic beverage categories. As a consequence he had acquired a thorough understanding of the beginning and the end of Single Malt Scotch Whisky production, but he knew rather less about the rest of the process from mashing to maturation. Much of his process knowledge was subsequently acquired over the years via his layman’s interest in Single Malt, backed by scientific curiosity. On acquiring the derelict Annandale Distillery site, David teamed up with his long-standing acquaintance, Dr Jim Swan, to design and develop the plant and process for Annandale. He describes working with the ‘master’ as a very steep but endlessly enjoyable learning curve. His profound knowledge of the science and technology of Single Malt Scotch Whisky production is matched by his boundless enthusiasm for sharing it with others…accompanied by a dram of Annandale’s finest, of course!

BARLEY

WHAT MAKES IT SO SPECIAL?

Scotland produces two types of Scotch Whisky, namely Scotch Grain Whisky and Scotch Malt Whisky. Scotch Grain Whisky is produced from various cereals, typically wheat, barley, malted barley and sometimes maize (depending to some extent on the prevailing cereal prices). However, when it comes to Scotch Malt Whisky, only malted barley (Hordeum vulgare) can be used.

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CHILL FILTRATION

SACRILEGE OR SAVIOUR

When whisky is chilled, either through storage at low temperatures or the addition of ice in-glass, it may form a cloudy haze. This is considered undesirable by some whisky drinkers, although not all. Chill filtration removes the compounds responsible for haze, leaving the whisky crystal clear.

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COPPER

ITS EFFECT ON SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY FLAVOUR

Copper pot stills are the iconic distillation vessels found in all Single Malt Scotch Whisky distilleries. Copper was initially selected as the material of choice because of its malleability (it’s relatively easy to form into the complex shapes needed) and because it’s a good heat conductor. The fact that it also happens to play an important role in spirit quality is a happy coincidence.

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SINGLE CASK-SINGLE MALTS

WHAT MAKES THEM SO DIFFERENT!

In this technical note we describe the differences between:

Single Cask-Single Malts – non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength, typically 55% – 60% ABV (as presented in Annandale Distillery’s Man O’ Sword and Man O’ Words collection) where each bottle is identified by cask number (e.g. 2014/98) and sequential bottle number (e.g. 98 of 236), as a guarantee of its uniqueness and its provenance.

Versus

Vatted Single Malts – usually chill filtered and bottled at either 40% or 43% ABV, as typically purchased in retail and duty-free shops, bars and restaurants.

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Size Matters!

THE INFLUENCE OF CASK SIZE ON SINGLE MALT MATURATION

We’re often asked why we don’t mature our whisky in quarter casks (125 litres), octaves (50 litres), and firkins or blood tubs (~30-40 litres). 200 litre ex-bourbon barrels are the smallest casks we fill at Annandale Distillery. Read on to find out why.

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Dare to be different

SHAVED, TOASTED & RE-CHARRED RED WINE CASKS (STRs)

The Scotch Whisky Regulations (2009) specify that Scotch Whisky must be matured in Scotland in oak casks of no more than 700 litres in volume. Oak is specified by law because it has a particular effect on the maturing spirit that’s fundamental to the development of characteristic Scotch Whisky flavour. Read on to find out why.

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