Whisky Magazine Issue 28
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Ian Wisniewski reveals the secrets behind this rather complex stage of whisky-making: malting
It's easy to romanticise floor maltings, but anyone who has turned the malt and pulled a plough (as I did at Bowmore) knows this is a demanding, not to mention expensive, practise.
Commercial maltsters, who provide for the vast majority of the industry's requirements, have been around since the 19th century, though it wasn't until the 1960s to ‘70s that business began to boom. That's when various distilleries added new mashtuns, washbacks and stills to increase production capacity, though malting floors were not increased accordingly. It simply wasn't financially viable, and many malting floors were closed, as commercial maltsters equipped with modern technology offered more consistent quality at a more competitive price. Among the few distilleries retaining malting floors are Bowmore, The Balvenie, Highland Park, Laphroaig and Springbank.
Malting comprises three essential stages: steeping, germination and kilning, which provides the distiller with direct access to the grain's starch content. Starch is present within the endosperm (the main interior section) and serves as a food source, enabling the grain to produce the energy required to develop roots and an acrospire (shoot). The starch is initially enclosed within protein-lined cell walls, which the embryo begins to break down as it grows, in order to utilise the starch. Once the starch has been liberated, further growth is arrested by kilning (applying heat), otherwise a lower starch level would reduce the yield of a...