Articles, Blog

How Is Whiskey Made?

August 26, 2019

You might be a whiskey snob, or a whiskey
lover, but are you a whiskey nerd? Well sit back and watch because we’ve got
some whiskey science for you! All booze making starts the same way–by mixing
micro-organisms (usually yeast) and sugar. The microbes eat the sugar and makes alcohol
as a byproduct of their digestion process, which we call fermentation. And actually, that should be alcohols. The important one–the one that humans like
so much–is ethanol. Anyway, whiskey’s yeasts get the sugar for
fermentation from grains, however, which grain depends on what you’re drinking. Scotch whisky mainly uses malted barley. The malting process halts the grains’ growth
so it’s only partly sprouted. If it’s a single malt whiskey, that means
it came from a single distillery with only malted barley. Scotch grain whiskies and American whiskeys
use cereal grains like corn and wheat. Bourbon whiskey has to be made from at least
51% corn, while rye whiskey has to be at least 51% rye. There is all kinds of other whiskeys — we’re
looking at you Irish whiskey — but we don’t have enough time to cover everything. You’ll have to ask your bartender. What separates beer and wine from whiskey
is what happens after fermentation. At that point, they’re all about 5 to 10
percent ethanol. But liquors routinely get up to 40 or 50 percent
and even higher. How? Distillation. Distillation is a way to separate different
chemicals according to their boiling points. Ethanol boils at 173.1 degrees fahrenheit. Methanol–which is poisonous–boils at 148.5
degrees fahrenheit. So if you pour your mash — the fermented
water-grain mixture — into a pot and start heating it, the methanol will boil off first,
followed by ethanol. After that, you’ll be left with mostly water. Now onto the good stuff. Whiskey needs to retain the flavors from the
fermentation … otherwise all liquor would taste like vodka or worse, Everclear. Whiskey makers have ways to raise the ethanol
percentage while retaining all the yummy flavors. The mash is poured into a still and steam
is pumped in at the bottom. We should note the structure of the still
depends on the spirit – scotch is made in pots, but bourbon is made using columns which
separate out even more flavors. Inside these columns is a stack of chambers
separated by perforated plates. Ethanol-rich vapor rises from the pot. At the highest, coldest, points of the column,
the vapor condenses out and and drips back down into the hotter zones where the flavor
molecules easily dissolve in the ethanol-rich liquid. Flavor molecules like ethyl hexanoate, which
has an apple-like aroma, or diacetyl, which makes for a buttery taste. Over time that concentrates the flavor and
the alcohol. Thanks column still! But not all flavors are good flavors. So distillers usually make their column stills
from copper or give them copper linings. The copper reacts with sulfur-containing compounds,
which often have bad flavors and smells. Hydrogen sulfide is a common one. No one wants the smell of rotten eggs in their
glass. So distillation sends all those flavors and
ethanol up the column. Near the top, that alcoholic mixture drips
out this arm. Since most mashes start out the same, it’s
the distillery’s own unique distilling process that really makes their product stand out. Still designs and processing methods used
are carefully protected knowledge, putting each distillery’s special note on a mash
that starts pretty much the same for everyone. The key to whiskey’s flavor is the aging
process, not fermentation. Once we put whiskey in those barrels, it does
what it does best, thanks to ethanol. Ethanol is really good about dissolving flavor
molecules so once we’ve got whiskey in those barrels it starts leeching all those delicious
flavor chemicals out of the wood of the barrels. To get even more flavor into the whiskey,
the insides of the barrel are charred with flame. That causes chemical reactions in the wood
that produce a whole range of additional flavors. Charring is good for making more phenolic
compounds, exemplified by this structure. One of them, guaiacol, has a smokey flavor. Meta-cresol smells a bit like bandaids and
shows up in scotch, mostly thanks to the peaty smoke that’s used in scotch distilling. No, I don’t understand scotch drinkers either. Changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature
throughout the year force whiskey in and out of the wood as it ages, helping it pick up
more of those flavor molecules. That’s one reason connoisseurs insist aging
increases the depth of a whiskey’s taste. Actually, some whiskey makers are trying to
see if there’s a shortcut for that. Some high-tech distillers are experimenting
with using sound waves or varying pressure to artificially speed up whiskey aging, which
some traditionalists aren’t very into. But these newcomers think they can reduce
the aging process from years to mere hours. Who’s ready for a drink? The next time you’re enjoying whiskey with
your friends, you can regale them with all the whiskey chemistry you learned from today’s
video. A special thanks to District Distilling Company
for letting us film today and thank you for watching!


  • Reply West Battaglia May 2, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    2nd or first IDK. Also I love this channel!

  • Reply Pentahydrate May 2, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    First haha

  • Reply Nacho ZombieKilla May 2, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Alcohol will destroy your organs, kids. Don't do it.

  • Reply Rainier Tayam May 2, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    5th comment

  • Reply Dragon Skunk Studio May 2, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    So why does JD Whiskey taste like turpentine?

  • Reply hatsune minecraft May 2, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Chemistry is the only thing I love more than whiskey

  • Reply Mort May 2, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    this seems a bit whiskey.

  • Reply Sentinal098765 May 2, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    I bet she…accidentally…flubbed the last scene several times so she'd have to do that shot again. lol

  • Reply Duy Tran May 2, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Organic chemistry lab taught a lot

  • Reply Chad The Gig Economist May 2, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Read Lew Bryson's book "Tasting Whiskey" for a lot more behind-the-scenes facts.

  • Reply CoriSparks May 2, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    0:19 – 0:25 May as well just say it: Alcohol is yeast poop. XD

  • Reply Andrei Bursuc May 2, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    How is beer made?

  • Reply Omer Magen May 2, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Love it!
    You should make a video about antibiotics, how they work, how they are made, and why they won't work in the future. (Ahhhh crying of fear from death)

  • Reply GAMING GODS May 3, 2017 at 4:47 am

    Whiskey dick

  • Reply Simon Duran May 3, 2017 at 6:15 am

    Love your chemistry videos on alcohol, thanks!

  • Reply Mauro Tamm May 3, 2017 at 11:30 am

    All this to make wood flavoured water with ethanol.

  • Reply Randolph Thomas II May 3, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    She's beautiful and smart. I'm in love! Thank you for the educational video, I never knew how they managed to raise the proof of alcohol.

  • Reply WhyNotGuy May 5, 2017 at 2:39 am

    Yo great video! I myself am a reaction channel. I like your style Keep it up 🙂

  • Reply Tom Chiarella May 11, 2017 at 3:11 am

    The pitch and cadence of this narrators voice makes it difficult to understand what she is saying. Most annoying!

  • Reply Anne Hildebrand July 6, 2017 at 2:30 am


  • Reply Michael Abraham August 17, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Ugh. Hire a voice actor. Or at least hire a better one.

  • Reply Muhammed -7- August 30, 2017 at 2:14 am

    This is fucking bullshitt

  • Reply SOMEX123 October 16, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Stoned and this is too goddamn complicated 420🤘🏾

  • Reply Chaudhry Alligood December 23, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    I made it myself last month. Just go to woodprix webpage if you'd like do it to.

  • Reply B.G2012 January 12, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Stupid people Who drinks this shit

  • Reply Jean Babtiste Clamence April 11, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    Stop talking so fucking FASTTTTT

  • Reply anexr June 1, 2018 at 2:03 am

    jesus christ that girls voice sucks

  • Reply Jmart26x September 29, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    wait so is there actual apples in whiskey? im allergic to apples and grapes trying to find out what i can drink

  • Reply Ryan Jack September 30, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Scottish whiskey is the best we invented it.

  • Reply shiny182 October 15, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    4:47 That's not how you enjoy a whiskey.

  • Reply Dhindara Vrel November 2, 2018 at 6:37 pm

    You can't make whisky from maize or wheat!

  • Reply Beatorama December 11, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    My favourite alcohol is water, I am so used to drinking water I'm immune to getting drunk nowadays. :/

  • Reply Tony Bacon February 15, 2019 at 4:21 am

    Talking way too fast

  • Reply Gabriel Dominguez February 28, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    A woman teaching me about a man drink!!! No no no

  • Reply earvase March 22, 2019 at 5:46 am

    From years to hours. Yeah okay.

  • Reply danimalplanimal April 13, 2019 at 9:37 pm

    Namco gonna sue for that Pacman graphic lol

  • Reply Paul Suresh June 5, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    Her voice is sickening, could not understand anything

  • Reply Alien kumar July 28, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    But still i have doubt…many whiskies r just artificial flavour of whisky….not original…

  • Leave a Reply