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Issue 64 - Welcome the underdog

Whisky Magazine Issue 64
June 2007


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Welcome the underdog

In the latest in his series looking at the whisky glossary, Dominic Roskrow turns to the letter ‘G' and to grain whisky

Pity poor grain whisky. While malted barley is the golden boy in the shiny new uniform, grain whisky is forced to stand in the corner, resentfully tolerated and rarely loved.

More than that, grain whisky has continued to receive a limited or bad press. In one feature in Whisky Magazine some 10 years ago, the writer managed to fill four pages on the subject without actually saying what a grain whisky was.

But this Mr Nasty and Mr Nice act isn't how it should be. Truth is, grain and malt are whisky partners that need each other.

And while some very distinguished writers indeed have tried to restore some balance and focus on the positives of this style of whisky, the message still hasn't got through.

So what exactly are we talking about here?

Grain whisky refers to whisky made with maize (corn) or wheat. A proportion of malted barley is used in the distillation process because it is the malting process that releases the enzymes and sugars required to make alcohol.

Unlike the ‘batch' method of making malt whisky, grain whisky is made in a continuous process invented by Robert Stein and improved by Aeneas Coffey. The grain solution, which is more like soggy cornflakes in a warm milk solution than the zesty unripe apple fruitiness of the malt equivalent, is poured through column stills, where it comes in to contact with steam under intense pressure and at very high temperatures. This produces alcohol that is of a very high strength (much higher than twice distilled malt whi...

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