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Issue 57 - It all comes out in the wash

Whisky Magazine Issue 57
July 2006


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It all comes out in the wash

Every part of the distillation process is crucial to making good whisky. Ian Wisniewski explains

With the character of the new make spirit being a focal point of distillation, it's tempting to assume that the low wines are simply an interim stage.

But if the low wines didn't comprise the right parameters to be refined by a second distillation, the new make spirit wouldn't attain a consistent character and quality. Nor can spirit stills correct anything ‘untoward' in the low wines.

“I think the wash distillation is a much undervalued part of the process,” says Douglas Murray of Diageo.

“The wash still conditions everything so that the spirit still works. If you don't have the right flavour potential in the low wines you won't get the character you want in the new make.

There are some compounds you don't want and it can take two distillations to deal with them.” But then again, reaching the right specification after the first distillation is equally dependent on a successful fermentation.

“Wash is fermented at a specific gravity, all distilleries are a bit different, this determines the alcoholic strength which has quite a bearing on distillation, says William Grant's John Ross.

“If we change the original gravity this alters the alcoholic strength of the wash, which changes the strength and flavour profile of the low wines.” As there are no ‘cut points' during the first distillation, it's a case of collecting low wines until the strength reaches around 1% ABV. This may make it seem simpler than managing the spirit cut during the second distillation,...

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