We talk to two experts about single malt whisky


There’s a lot to learn when it comes to the production of single malt whisky. Everything comes into consideration — the water, the distilling equipment, the barrels, even the type of barley. We spoke to two single malt experts to get their ideas about what makes a single malt great, what to look for in a great dram, about the barley and about how they make their flagship drams.


Distillery: Kilchoman Distillery

The Expert: Anthony Wills


The Job: Founder and Managing Director

Length of time in role: 10 years

Kilchoman Distillery is a unique distillery as it is the only distillery in Scotland that grows, malts, distils, matures and bottles its single malt on site. It is a farm distillery and we are taking the art of whisky production back to its traditional roots. The design and shape of the stills produce a lighter, fruitier style of new make spirit and then maturing the spirit in good quality fresh casks the whisky matures relatively quickly. We have released single malts from three years of age and have won awards for the quality and character of the malt, which many consumers and connoisseurs believe is more mature than it actually is.

What role, if any, does peat play in creating your single malt?
Peat is an important ingredient in Islay single malt and the peat on Islay used to dry the malt gives the single malt a unique characteristic that can’t be replicated in other malts from Scotland. The peat gives Islay single malts providence and tradition. Islay single malts are renowned around the world and it is the style of peat found on Islay that gives them such a distinctive style.

Can you tell us a bit about the malted barley that you use? Is there a specific type of barley that produces a better whisky?
We use a barley variety called Publican. This is short in the stem and can withstand the high winds and rain we experience on Islay. I don’t believe different malted barley varieties produce a different style of whisky. It is the production methods, shape and style of the stills, cask types and warehousing that makes the difference.

What do you think are the hallmarks of a great single malt — should it taste a particular way?
A great single malt is determined in a number of ways but the balance between wood and whisky is all important. The different cask types will determine the style of single malt. Sherry and bourbon casks are the most commonly used and these will produce very different styles of single malt. Sherry casks give spice, toffee and dark chocolate, whilst bourbon cask characteristics are vanilla, butterscotch and caramel. The different malt whisky regions of Scotland also produce different styles. Older single malts don’t always mean better single malt. I believe the reason the Single Malt Scotch Whisky category has become so popular around the world is the abundance of different styles of single malt that are available.


Distillery: The Glenlivet

The Expert: Ian Logan

The Job: International Brand Ambassador

Length of time in role: 13 years with the Glenlivet, 27 years in the whisky industry

Could you briefly describe the process that goes into making your flagship malt?

There are seven steps in making our whisky:

1. Malting: the barley is prepared by outside companies called maltsters to meet our quality specifications and to ensure we only have the best barley that is available for The Glenlivet.
2. Milling: we crush the whole barley seeds down into a flour called grist, this is the first stage we do at the distillery.
3. Mashing: we mix the grist with hot water to extract as much of the sugars as possible as that is what will be used to make alcohol.
4. Fermenting: the sugary sweet water is put into vessels called washbacks and yeast added to start the fermentation, after 56 hours we have a beer-like liquid of around 8.5 to 9.5% alcohol.
5. Distillation: at The Glenlivet we distil twice in copper pot stills. The stills are tall and wide allowing us to produce a wonderful fruity, complex spirit. After the second distillation the strength is around 68-70% alcohol.
6. Maturation: we fill the spirit into oak casks that have previously held either bourbon or sherry. The casks must lie in the warehouses for at least three years before the liquid can be called whisky but at The Glenlivet we wait a minimum of 12 years.
7. Bottling: in most cases the whisky will be reduced in strength to 40% alcohol then filled into bottles and sent to markets.

What role, if any, does peat play in creating your single malt?
Nowadays peat plays no part in The Glenlivet, and it has been that way for more than 40 years. I have tasted expressions of our whisky back to 1899 and even then the peat influence is very delicate.


Can you tell us a bit about the malted barley that you use? Is there a specific type of barley that produces a better whisky?
The barley varieties used today are Propino and Concerto. As distillers we look to obtain only the best malted barley we can, the main consideration is always yield (how much alcohol to the tonne) but we also have to consider dryness, nitrogen content, size of seed plus several other
key factors.

What do you think are the hallmarks of a great single malt — should it taste a particular way?
In my opinion I always look for balance in a whisky, or in other words how all of the flavours and aromas come together. The Glenlivet is historically famous for defining the profile of the Speyside region and our house character would be sweet, fruity and rich. In the past many distilleries in the region even added Glenlivet to their own distillery name in an effort to associate themselves with us and the high quality whisky we produce.

There are over 95 distilleries in Scotland and the teams at each one would tell you their whisky is great so there is really no defining specific answer and it is much more a personal opinion on what is great.

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