In distilling, size doesn't always matter

William M. Dowd photos

When it comes to producing new make spirits, it really doesn't matter whether you're high- or low-tech. The initial result is the same, as these photos show.

The differences between a "moonshine" operation and a commercial facility are a matter of scale, then the process of aging and, in some cases, combining aged spirits to create a special blended whisky. However, the chemical process remains the same.

Ian Logan (below), brand manager for The Glenlivet, put on a demonstration of scaled-down distilling for visiting U.S. journalists on a recent tour of Scottish distilleries co-sponsored by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) and the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS). The first step was showing off The Glenlivet's towering stills (top photo); the second was setting up a specially-licensed "personal" still for comparison purposes.

Logan stokes the wood fire burning beneath the still to get to the proper temperature.

Logan explains the process that has been used by distillers in many parts of the world for centuries, creating vapors that rise from the still into the coils submerged in cool water to condense into a liquid distillate.

Nothing tricky about checking on the temperature of the liquid, just an old-fashioned touch of the apparatus to be sure the heat level stays uniform.

Large amounts or small, this is the final pre-aging product -- a crystal clear distillate with a rich nose of spicy grain and a hint of sweetness on the palate. The raw whisky begins with a light strawberry note, then moves to banana. At this point it is about 70% abv, or 140 proof, obviously far from the finished product consumers will find on shelves.

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