Whisky Magazine Issue 19
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Ian Wisniewski explains how differing still designs influence the style and flavour of whisky
Knowing that stills of a certain size and shape yield spirit with a particular flavour profile is all very well, but applying this knowledge the other way around is far more challenging. In fact, designing stills in order to produce a spirit with specific
characteristics is merely a starting point, as this is only one factor in a complex (and not always fully understood) equation, which also includes the spirit cut, heating method, rate of distillation and type of condenser.
Even the relationship between the wash and spirit stills is difficult to quantify beyond stating that new make spirit is shaped by wash stills and refined by spirit stills. But if the low wines aren't right, the spirit stills can't correct them (and if fermentation is mismanaged, distillation can't fix that either).
Although wash and spirit stills can be twinned and constructed to the same ‘tech spec', numerous distilleries have a medley of variously shaped stills (an historic legacy of course, not a strategic master plan). In fact, Mortlach has such an individual line-up that every wash and spirit still differs from all its neighbours.
As the degree of reflux (condensation) is a key factor in establishing the profile of the spirit, the length of the neck is an important consideration. The taller the still, the greater the degree of reflux. This is because heavier, denser, oilier flavour compounds have a higher boiling point than lighter flavour compounds and as they rise up the still the temperat...