How we make our whisky
At Kingsbarns Distillery, we have increased our production to around 200,000L of spirit a year and filling an average of 33 casks per week. Here's what happens in our distillery.
Water is of prime importance when it comes to the production of Scotch Whisky and we are lucky to have water of outstanding quality sourced from an aquifer 100m beneath our feet. The water fell as rain decades ago and filtered through layers of rock, purifying it. This precious resource is drawn to the surface and harnessed to produce Kingsbarns spirit.
We use the Concerto variety of barley, grown here in Fife.
Barley goes through a process called malting before it is delivered to us. The barley is first steeped (soaked) in water for two days to start the germination process - breaking down the protein, releasing the starch and synthesizing enzymes. The germination process takes 5 days.
The barley - now termed green malt - is then laid on a floor and dried over a kiln to stop the germination process. Some distilleries add peat to the fuel to create a smoky whisky, but we use unpeated barley at Kingsbarns.
1.5 tonnes of malted barley is used for every mash and our four row "Buhler" mill processes one tonne of malt per hour turning The four row mill will process the malt into husks, grist and flour in the proportions of 20%, 70% and 10% flour respectively.
Mashing takes the grist from the mill and adds hot water to convert the starch into sugar, or what we now call worts.
For our daily mash, we take 1.5 tonnes of ground malt from our mill and initially add 6000L of water at 64°C. The second water of 2700L is then added at 76°C, with a final third water of 5800L at 87°C to extract the maximum amount of sugar. The third water is used as the first water in the next mash.
The sugary wort from the mash tun is cooled to 20°C and transferred into one of our four washbacks and turned into alcohol by the addition of yeast. We use two types of dried yeast: Anchor and SafWhiskyM1 types of yeast to promote fruitiness in our spirit.
Our washbacks here at Kingsbarns are stainless steel, and although the more traditional wooden vessels (usually Douglas Fir/Oregon Pine or Scottish Larch) hold their temperature better, stainless steel washbacks are cleaned and sterilised more effectively, contributing to a more consistent end product. The time length and temperature of fermentation contributes more to spirit character than the type of vessel used.
By the end of this fermentation process of around 65-85 hours, the wort is now known as wash and resembles a strong beer of around 8% alcohol. We have a long and slow fermentation to produce a fruity character.
The wash is now boiled up twice in copper pot stills. The copper helps create certain flavours and remove unwanted compounds. The first still is called a "wash still" and the second distillation is in the "spirit still". The spirit travels through the spirit-safe where the purest part or the "cut" is taken and the rest drained away or re-distilled. What we now have is new make spirit.
The last ingredient needed for production of whisky is time. By law spirit must be aged in an oak cask for a minimum of 3 years and 1 day before it can be called whisky. New make spirit is completely clear and colourless on the day it is filled into the casks and this oak maturation plays a crucial role in contributing flavour and colour to the spirit. Oak, being a porous wood “breathes” as the whisky matures and as a result around 2% of the contents are lost through evaporation each year- the angels share. The size and shape of cask influence maturation as does the history of the cask and its previous contents. Here at Kingsbarns, we use ex-bourbon barrels shipped whole, directly from America, some ex Port barriques which have been Shaved, Toasted and Recharred and also some Sherry Butts.
We will start distilling in January 2015 and filled our first casks in March 2015, so it will at least April 2018 before we can bottle Kingsbarns Single Malt Scotch whisky which we expect to be an elegant, fruity and light Lowland whisky. Our very first bottles will be available only to members of our Founders' Club - details of membership are here.