Whisky Magazine Issue 122
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Sourdough fermentation and its parallels in whisky production
Louis Pasteur seems like he was a sound chap. Granted, he somewhat rudely refused to shake hands and maintained what maybe described as an anti-social distance during conversations. We do however have him to thank for a life unmarred by rabid mouth-foaming, the enjoyment of a bacteria-free glass of ice cold milk, and stamping out several other ghastly maladies. As fans of whisky, we can also be grateful that he took a break from his milk bothering ways in order to study the process of microbial fermentation. His work on aerobic and anaerobic fermentation forms the basis of understanding how many of the tastiest foods are produced and importantly, how alcohol is created in our favourite drams.
What our ancient ancestors knew, long before Louis fired up his bunsen burner, is that fermentation is transformative. It unlocks flavours naturally existing in the substrate of foods and coaxes them out, developing depth and unravelling richness. Tasting grain from the malting floor of the distillery is rather disappointing, but that same grain, once fermented by yeast is transformed and well on its way to becoming tasty whisky.
Since fermentation is also one of the oldest methods of food preservation, it is used throughout the world, with each culture having its own tradition. From tangy Teutonic sauerkraut to the earthy richness of miso, the dark bitterness of coffee, and the breathy esters of certain whiskies, fermented products typically have a strong terroir, a sense...