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Issue 67 - All in the wash

Whisky Magazine Issue 67
November 2007


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All in the wash

Ian Wisniewski looks at the essential decisions behind choosing washbacks

As each stage of the production process entails options that influence the character of the new make spirit, every decision is significant.While the focus tends to be on the size and shape of the stills, and perhaps the length of the fermentation process, one essential decision is the type of washbacks used for fermentation, either wooden or stainless steel.

Wooden washbacks raise the issue of what type of wood to use, larch or pine, with Oregon pine and Douglas Fir the two names used when discussing pine.

However,both names refer to the same type of tree, which grows in North America.And while both names have been used in the past, Douglas Fir has become established as the standard reference,because this is the name used by timber suppliers.

A key difference between both types of wood is that larch has more knots, and a looser grain than pine.

“More knots in the wood means more chance of a leak, but even with knots larch is very durable.

Larch is Scottish grown,”says Ron Low, proprietor of Joseph Brown Vats of Dufftown.

Beyond the choice of wood, the size and capacity of a washback is determined by practicality, in order to streamline the production process, with one washback typically accommodating the contents of one mash tun.

Constructing a wooden washback begins with assembling planks for the base.

“I take off one eighth of an inch on each side in order to clean the planks, which gets them down to two and three quarter inches.

Then, laid out on trestles we...

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