The Starting Point of the Malt Whisky Production
Alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar. The barley grain contains primarily starch. In chemical terms, starch is a multiple sugar (single sugar molecules forming chains). In order to release the sugar, the starch must be split into sugars (maltose – malt sugar). Traditionally, the barley is steeped in water and left for germination on malting floors.
After steeping, a water content of 45% is ideal for the barley starch to be converted into sugar. The barley must be turned over by hand in carefully timed intervals so that all grains germinate equally. Germination takes about five days. Among the most important distilleries that still produce their own malt are Balvenie, Bowmore, Highland Park, Laphroaig and Springbank. Except for Springbank, the other distilleries produce only parts of their malt by themselves. They get the rest from large modern maltings.
After the barley grain has opened and the germ has reached approximately 2/3 of the length of the grain, the starch has turned into sugar. Now the germination process is interrupted by spreading the still wet barley on grids in the kiln and drying it with hot air from below. Drying is stopped at 4% humidity. This stage contributes significantly to the character of the whisky. If you add peat to the fire, the malt gets a smoky peat note. The steam is discharged through the pagoda roofs of the distilleries.