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Issue 65 - The heart of the matter

Whisky Magazine Issue 65
July 2007


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The heart of the matter

In the latest in the series on whisky terms,Dominic Roskrow looks at the letters H,I and J

If you can't make heads nor tails of the distillation then it's not really surprising – there are so many terms floating about for the various stages of spirit that it's a nightmare to put it into logical order. Two of the key terms used begin with H – heads and high spirits. Let's go through it in logical order.

After barley, water and yeast have been mixed together and fermented in the washback to make a sour brewers' beer, the liquid, known as wash, is transferred to the first pot still, known as the wash still, where it is heated to distil it.

This process separates the alcohol from water, and the evaporated liquid is recondensed and collected. This liquid is often referred to in the United Kingdom as the low wines. This will have an alcoholic strength of a little more than 20%, a strength short of the ideal needed for second distillation. To bring it up to the right strength for distilling – somewhere in the high 20s ABV – rejected spirit from a previous second distillation is recycled and mixed in.

The liquid is now ready to enter the second still, known as the spirits still, and this liquid is often referred to, particularly in American terminology, as high wines.

It is during the second distillation that the distiller must divide the evaporating spirits in to three separate parts. The first alcohol to boil off is the strongest and by definition the most volatile. It also contains compounds that are at best unpleasant tasting and at worst poisonous, and the...

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