BE406 Whiskey Production: A Comparison With Beer Production

Whiskey Production: A Comparison
With Beer Production
Names: James Murphy & Brendan O'Mahony
ID: 52563631, 52322706
Abstract – 2
Introduction - 2
Whiskey and Beer: A Brief History - 2
The Process of Whiskey production - 4
Step 1: Malting - 4
Step 2: Mashing - 6
Step 3: Fermentation - 7
Step 4: Distillation - 8
Step 5: Maturation - 10
A Comparison: Beer Production Vs. Whiskey Production - 10
Conclusion - 11
References - 11
In this essay, the aim is to describe in detail the processes involved in the
production of whiskey, and then to compare this process with that of beer, and to see
what, if any differences lie within each. The origins of Whiskey and Beer are quite
old, but the principles behind the production technique are still the same today, albeit
the technology has changed to ensure improvements in quality etc. The six steps in
the production of whiskey are Malting, Mashing, Fermentation, Distillation and
Maturation, and these will be covered in great detail. The comparison between the
two alcoholic beverages will focus solely on the production process changes, and does
not embody and difference between the characteristics of each particular drink. It is
from this comparison that it is hoped that the differences, if any in production process,
will be clearly illustrated.
Whiskey is a barrel-aged alcohol made from grains or malts. It acquires its
colour and flavour from the wooden barrels over time, and in this way whiskey differs
from other grain alcohols. Through the distilling process, it keeps most of its flavour
from the fermented mash by being distilled at a lower proof, and in this way has a
stronger flavour than vodka. It has no other ingredients added to it, unlike other spirits
like gin, etc.
Beer has many definitions, amongst them are:
A fermented alcoholic beverage brewed from malt and flavoured with hops.
A fermented beverage brewed by traditional methods that is then
dealcoholised so that the finished product contains no more than 0.5 percent
A carbonated beverage produced by a method in which the fermentation
process is either circumvented or altered, resulting in a finished product
having an alcohol content of no more than 0.01 percent.
A beverage made from extracts of roots and plants: birch beer.
A serving of one of these beverages.
Whiskey and Beer: A Brief History
The origin of whiskey is somewhat unclear, but the general consensus is this:
In 6th century AD, Irish missionary monks journeyed to the Middle East where it is
thought they observed the Arabs using the alembic* to distil perfume. Modern
distillation process can be traced back to the Arabs, however it is the distillation, and
production of Whiskey that is accredited to the Irish people. The monks brought back
the new method of distillation back to Ireland, where they then developed their own
version, the “Pot Still”. The knowledge quickly spread throughout the church, and
over the monastery walls.
Beer on the other hand is quite an ancient tradition, with archaeological
records dating back to the time of the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, about 6000 years
old, where a tablet depicts people drinking a beverage through reeds and becoming,
“blissful, relaxed and exhilarated”. Another mention of beer from ancient times is in
the “Epic of Gilgamesh” a 3900-year-old poem in honour of the goddess of brewing,
“Ninkasi”. Beer developed independently throughout most of the world, with different
cultures having there own take on beer, for instance the pre-Columbian civilisations in
the America’s used corn instead of barley. Beer was quite popular with the Romans
and Greeks, until wine became freely available in the empire. Beer was deemed a
barbarians drink, and few places in the empire brewed it. In the middle ages,
European monks were the guardians of literature and science, as well as the art of beer
making. Both whiskey and beer production today are hugely profitable products, and
are controlled by multinational conglomerates such as Diageo.
The actual development of production of Irish whiskey has not changed
enormously. Production still follows the same principle steps as initial distillation
practices, albeit the technology has changed, and has become more refined. These
changes were introduced also to brewing, and so a common bond is shared between
them historically. One particular difference between whiskey and beer is the addition
of hops to beer. This took place only recently (with respect to beer’s history), around
the 15th century.
# Industrialisation of beer really took off with the invention of the steam engine
in 1765.
# Prior to the late 18th century, malt was primarily wood-roasted, which gave it a
dark colour and smoked flavour, but with the increasing availability of coal,
when used in production processes, it lightened the colour and eliminated the
smoke flavour.
An Alembic is an alchemical still consisting of two retorts connected by a tube. Technically, the
alembic is only the upper part (the capital or still-head), but the word was often used to refer to the
entire distillation apparatus.
# The invention of the thermometer and hydrometer in the 19th century,
improved quality control, with regards to increasing efficiency and
# In 1817, Daniel Wheeler invented the drum roaster allowed for the creation of
very dark, roasted malts, contributing to the flavour of porters and stouts.
# In 1857 Louis Pasteur discovered the role of yeast in fermentation. This gave
more control in preventing the souring of beer by undesirable microorganisms.
# In the1950s, Morton Coutts developed the technique of continuous
fermentation. This process revolutionised the industry. During the continuous
brewing process materials are added to one end of the system and
continuously withdrawn from the other end. The standard system for brewing
beer had ingredients put in together and then after a period of time (15 weeks)
the brewed beer is removed and bottled altogether at the same time. This
process is still used by many of the world's major breweries today, including
The Process of Whiskey Production
The production of whiskey as a process is actually is quite simple. The most
important part in making whiskey is the three main ingredients; Malted barley, water,
and yeast. These ingredients undergo a process, which consists of five major steps, to
produce whiskey. The steps are as follows; Step 1: Malting, Step 2: Mashing, Step
3: Fermentation, Step 4: Distillation, and Step 5: Maturation. We will now look at
each step individually to show practices involved in modern whiskey production.
Step 1: Malting
Malting is the first step in whiskey production and it is a step that is made up
of many smaller steps. It usually takes up to 5 - 7 days. The object of malting is to
develop Enzymes from the barley and modify the starch present in the grain into
fermentable sugars. First off the barley is collected from the fields, dried and stored.
The drying and storage of barley is an important process in itself, as the moisture
content must be lowered to prevent the germination of the seeds. This is very
important in the likes of Ireland as the field barley tends be typically high in moisture.
The barley, on intake, is dried for 2~3 hours at an air temperature no higher than
52°C. The barley can then be stored at 25°C for 1-2weeks in an airtight silo or
concrete bunker. For long term storage the temperature must be lowered to about
15°C and respiration in the barley grains maintained by keeping silos aerobic. Simply
moving the grain from silo to silo can do this.
The next step involves the steeping of the barley grain in water. In steeping the
coat or husk of the grain is penetrated by the water, which increases the moisture
content of the grain in turn increasing the grains metabolism and subsequent
respiration. When these factors are increased the aeration of the grain must also be
increased to insure that the metabolism does not become anaerobic. If this where to
happen toxicity in the grain would increase in the form of CO2 and Ethanol. During
steeping the early stages of embryonic growth are initiated, and this growth is
continued through germination. It should be noted that regular aeration of the grain is
carried out during the steeping process.
A grain of barley consists of two main parts, the Embryo and the Endosperm.
The embryo is the most important part of the grain as it houses all the organs that
would develop into plant. The embryo is made up of three parts, the cotyledon (seed
leaf), the epicotyl (shoot), and the radicle (root). The barley seed is a monocot due to
it having only one cotyledon. The Endosperm contains the food source for the
embryo, starch, protein, and its cell wall. The endosperm is utilised by the Embryo in
the early stages of germination. The starch is converted, hydrolytically, to fermentable
or simple sugars by enzymes that are secreted by the barley during germination.
Below is a diagram of what a grain of barley looks like, and the subsequent reactions
undergone during germination.
Two forms of starch exist in the grain, amylase and amylopectin. The
following enzymes degrade to starch into smaller polysaccharides; α-amalyse, βamalyse, α-glucosidase, and phosphorylase. The most important of the enzymes
would be α-amalyse and β-amalyse. α-amalyse is synthesised once germination
begins while β-amalyse is present in the grain in an inactive form, which subsequently
becomes active during germination. α-amalyse is involved in the modification of the
starch, attacking it randomly and cleaving it into short polysaccharides known as
dextrins. β-amalyse attacks non-reducing ends of the starch producing maltose.
Germination is usually carried out in drum or Box maltings. In Box malting
the air temperature, which is saturated with moisture, is controlled and passed through
the grain via holes in the box floor to maintain aeration of the grain. Turners are also
employed to keep the grain free and to assist in the equal passage of air throughout the
bed from the floor. This system provides ideal conditions for the germination of the
barley irrespective of the atmospheric conditions.
Once the barley grain begins sprouting, it is termed “green malt”, and is ready
for drying. The “green malt” as it is termed on the completion of germination
transferred to a malt kiln, which is a large drum with a furnace at the base, for drying.
Hot air, from a hot air chamber located above the furnace and beneath the kiln, moves
up through the grain, usually assisted by a fan. This heat is distributed evenly through
out the grain. This drying step stops germination (denatures the enzyme β-amalyse)
and changes the malt to a condition suitable for milling. Depending on whether the
kiln is an open or closed kiln and what fuel is used in the furnace a flavour can be
imparted to the malt. E.g. peat is usually burned for a scotch whiskey, while the likes
of Jameson use a closed kiln allowing no smoke to come in contact with the drying
malt, ensuring that the taste of the malt and barley are present in the final product.
Step 2: Mashing
The grounded malted barley or grist is then added to a mash tun along with a
precise amount of hot water. The mash tun is a circular metal vessel, which has
mechanical stirrers that revolve and rotate to ensure thorough mixing of the grist and
hot Water. The objective in mashing the malt is to dissolve as much of the valuable
malt as possible. Enzymatic actions are undergone in the mashing process to convert
starch to sugar. This enzyme action is influenced to a large extent by the
concentration of the mash, its pH, and the water temperature. The resulting product is
a sugary liquid known as the wort. The wort will contain intermediate products as
well sugars.
The wort is then collected in a wort receiver, which is located beneath the
perforated floor of the mash tun. This allows the wort to drain and the grain to be
retained in the tun. This process usually involves application of more water to ensure
that no wort is left with the grain.
The water used tends to play an important part in the final product. As water’s
quantity in regards to type’s of minerals and organisms varies from region to region
the location of production is as important as the barley grain used as to ship water
would be costly and involve a lot of time and labour. Jameson whiskey is produced in
Midleton cork (also the home of Irish Distillers Ltd) due to the waters being generally
soft, as hard water would be unsuitable for the process. Regular analysis of water
sources such as springs and burns assists in the prevention of contamination.
It should be noted that there is also a technique employed by American
distillery’s known as “double mashing” that uses low levels of cereal adjuncts, such as
rice or maze, that are high in starch. These cheaper sources of extract are employed
due to their ability to exploit high enzyme activity. This process also dilutes any
unwanted nitrogenous compounds. Another technique used in the making of bourbon
and Tennessee whiskeys is “sour mash”. This involves the use of a portion of a
previous mashing batch to start the next batch. Its quite similar to what is mentioned
above with reference to the final wash, except this portion tends to come from the
final mash product. The ides of this practice is to maintain consistency. The reason for
the name is because the practice is quite similar to the making of sourdough bread.
Step 3: Fermentation
Fermentation is the conversion of sugars, contained in the wort, to alcohol.
This is done under the action of yeast, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide
[C6H12O6 —> 2 (C2H5OH) + 2 (CO2)] with an emission of heat. Yeast, upon
introduction to the wort, can convert fermentable sugars in three ways i) aerobically
through respiration, but only if there is a high abundance of oxygen available through
out the process, ii) growth or multiplication, by utilising the sugars to form new cell
materials, or by iii) fermentation. Fermentation is an anaerobic reaction.
During fermentation yeast can be seen to act in three stages. The first stage is
the lag stage where not much fermentation is observed, due the yeast generally
adapting to its new environment. Precautions need to be taken during the addition of
the yeast to the wort as were bacterial contamination to occur it would cause a great
deal of damage to the batch leading to poor fermentation, poor yield of spirit, and
poor quality/taste in the final product. To prevent such an event strict cleaning and
sterilisation is performed to ensure that the mashing and fermenting process remain
bacteria free at all times.
The second stage is the stage of rapid fermentation or the log phase. During
the log phase the fermentation rate is at it’s highest. Temperatures sore during this log
phase and should be monitored with great care. If the temperature increases to rapidly
or exceeds 35°C the yeast will be denatured and a high percentage of spirits lost. In
this phase rotating metal blades, known as switchers, are usually used to quell the
froth caused to the production CO2.
The final stage is the slowing and termination of the fermentation reaction, which
tends to be down to there being no fermentable sugars left in the wort. Generally
fermenting never lasts more than 48 hours and any fermentation that may occur past
the mark is considered to be insignificant. This being said the rate of fermentation is
variable and down to such factors as temperature, type and amount of yeast used, its
condition, type of malt, purity of water and amount of suspended solids in the wort.
The product yielded after distillation of the wort is a weak beer substance known as
the wash.
Step 4: Distillation
Distilling of the wash (product from fermentation) involves vaporisation and
condensation. This simple means heating the liquid to vapour then cooling it back to
liquid. Distillation is a means of separating the alcohol and the solids/liquid/residue in
the wash. The reason this separation is needed is because the wash is made up of dead
yeast etc from the fermentation process. It is necessary that solids/residues from the
fermentation process remain suspended during the distillation process so that they do
not stick to the sides and burn the still. To prevent this three rotating arms attached to
brass and copper chains are used, inside the still, to keep the wash agitated and
constantly moving. This device is known as a rummager.
The still is two large copper pots of different sizes that are bridged (connected)
at the top by what is known as a swan neck. Below is a picture of a simple two copper
pot still.
Swan neck
Spirit still
Still containing
The wash is placed in one of the copper pots, usually the large of the two and
is heated to high enough temperatures that promote the formation of alcohol vapour.
This varies from whiskey to whiskey as it relies upon the percentages of alcohol, litres
of wash, and measured distillate collection of the still. A more accurate way of
measuring cut off point is % of alcohol rather than temperature. Anyways, the alcohol
vapour will rise to the swan neck and subsequent condenser, which is a series of pipes
wrapped in a cooling (cold-water) jacket. It is here, in the condenser, that the alcohol
vapour will condense into liquid and be collected in the smaller of the two copper
pots. This pot is known as the spirit still. The newly condensed alcohol tends to be of
about ~20% and termed low wines. This percentage will differ from distillery to
distillery depending on materials, methods, and desired product but his is the general
figure expected. This alcohol strength is measured in the spirit safe. Prior to the
alcohol flowing into the spirit still it passes through the spirit safe, which is a control
point of distillation. It is here in the spirit safe that the alcohol may be tested for
strength by an internal hydrometer located in the safe.
The height of the wash’s froth is monitored during distillation as high
temperatures may cause the froth to reach excessive heights and spill into the spirit
still via the bridging swan neck. A small window in the first pot monitors this, and
adjustments to temperature are made accordingly.
The majority of whiskeys undergo a second distillation of the first distillation
product. The original Irish distillation process dictates that a triple distillation be
performed in the making of whiskey. This is employed by most if not all whiskey
produced in Ireland, such as Jameson’s distillery, Midleton, Co. Cork. “The
distillation of Jameson follows the traditional method employed for whiskey
distillation in Ireland. Distillation is carried out using traditional techniques in Pot
Stills. The Irish tradition requires three distillation stages… Grain Whiskey, is also
distilled through three columns. Unlike the practice elsewhere, the columns include
a Beer Column, Extractive column, and Rectifying column… By products from the
plant are dried and sold as distillers dried grains. All residual process liquid streams
are finally processed through an on site effluent plant.” – Barry Crockett of
Jameson Distillery, Midleton, Co. Cork.
Jameson believes each distillation lends to the final whiskey products
smoothness and superior quality. Once triple distillation is completed the product is
termed “new whiskey” and is ready for the maturation stage.
Step 5: Maturation
Oak casks tend to be the standard used for maturation of new whiskey, as well
as blending of different whiskeys from different distillation batches and matured
whiskeys, and the process of maturation can take anything from 3 to 15 years
depending on the quality desired. The reason for oak casks being used opposed to
other wooden casks is oaks ability to absorb impurities and its ability to allow the
whiskey to breath. An interesting part of the maturation process is the loss of alcohol
through evaporation. This is generally termed the “angels share”, and it is usually
about 10 to 8 percent of the alcohol in the first year, with a loss of 4% every year
after. A good whiskey is estimated to lose approximately 30% of its original volume
before being bottled. The process of maturation tends to change from distillery to
distillery depending on what flavour, quality, and final taste is desired. Traditions of
production also tend to dictate maturation process used for the whiskey.
The maturation of Jameson whiskey is done in oak casks that have been
previously seasoned by holding bourbon and sherry. This is done to make the final
taste of the whiskey more distinct with a smooth after taste. Jameson also employs
blending of different batches of whiskey to acquire good flavour in taste.
A Comparison: Beer Production vs. Whiskey Production
Beer production and whiskey production are very similar in the fact that they
both require malted barley. The initial ingredients for production of both drinks are
the same, although inferior American beers choose to substitute barley with rice, corn,
or other cheap starch rich grains. Brewery malt is usually manipulated in various ways
(e.g. roasting) to create different flavours and colours, creating a range that stretches
from Pilsner or light beers to dark lagers and stouts such as Guinness. For beers, hops
are added to the wort prior to fermentation to add taste. It is this addition of hops that
makes beer what it is and gives it its flavour. Once the hop flavour has taken to the
wort it is then cooled the hops extracted prior to fermentation.
The production process of fermentation for both beer and whiskey undergo the
same reactions except that the fermentation of beer tends to go for a much longer
period of time, 7-10days, and at a much lower temperature of 7-25°C depending on
the type of beer being brewed, opposed to whiskey fermentation, which is run at a
temperatures as high as 25-30°C and lasts for only 48 hours yielding a weak hopless
beer that is known as wash. However continuous fermentation can be used to speed
up the fermentation of beer to times as quick as 24 – 30 hours. Fermentation is the last
step of brewing; it is then blended and matured for anything from 1 to 4 weeks in oak
The yeast used during the fermentation of beer tends to be recycled and used
in the brewing of other batches of beer. In some cases the yeast is not full extracted
from the final beer resulting in what is known as a “vice-beer”. Vice beer tend to be
very white in colour and sometimes cloudy, and example of a vice beer would be
Stella Artois Beer from Belgium. Neither of these methods are practiced in the
production of whiskey.
Due to production processes and final maturation processes being quite
similar, in the use of oak casks, similar flavours can be observed in good whiskeys
and good beers, independent of actual alcohol levels.
From the above, it can be seen that both Whiskey and Beer are very similar in
the production processes, though distillation and maturation really separates the two
products. While both have similar production backgrounds, their histories are quite
different, whiskey being a homegrown effort for the Irish. Although not really
touched upon in this essay, both drinks are quite different, and the different varieties
ensure a multitude of ways to make a mess of yourself, especially when mixed. The
best and worst whiskies come down to a matter of taste, though Midleton was one of
the more highly regarded whiskies available. As for beer, the numerous brands, and
styles make it impossible for one to recommend any brand in particular.
The dictionary of beer and brewing, 2nd edition, by Dab Rabin and Carl Forget
1000 years of Irish whiskey, by Malachy Magee
Malting and brewing science, 2nd edition, by D.E. Briggs
Barry Crockett of Jameson Distillery, Midleton. Co. Cork, and The Old Jameson
Distillery, Smithfield village. Co. Dublin.