Type (strain) of barley
Malting level (ppm)
Proportions created in milling process (grist, flour, casing etc)
Number and temperature of waters used in Mash Tuns
Type of Yeast used in Washbacks
Time spent 'brewing'
Size and shape of low wine and spirit stills
Lower and Upper %s of alcohol at which 'Middle Cut' of spirit is taken
Addition of caramel or not
Chill filtering or not
Type of wood used in casks
Previous content of casks
How many times casks have been used
Size of casks
Length of time spent in cask
Where cask is stored*
* = some people deny they have any effect on the whisky
Any more to add??
The material that various implements/machinery is made from: i.e. wood or stainless steel etc
How wet/dry the barley is after malting
Whether the germinating barley is turned by hand or mechanically
Whether water is purified or filtered before use
Size of the batches made
Whether water is reused in mash-tuns
Whether organic ingredients are used
The extent to which the process is automated or decisions are made by 'real people'
Whether bottles are filled by hand, or mechanically
However the extent to which the above will actually effect flavour is probably minimal.
Then you get into decisions taken by the master distiller that will affect taste:
How long whisky is left in casks
Whether to mix whisky from different types of casks together
Whether to mix whisky of different ages together (multi-vintage)
Whether to mix whisky of different peating levels together
Whether to 'finish or ACE' a whisky in another cask (could be sherry/port/wine, or a different type of wood, or smaller cask)
Whether to bottle whisky from a 'single cask'
What strength to bottle the whisky at (i.e. how much water to dilute it with, if any)
I'm sure there's much more.
For a quick intro on how whisky is made, see here, but there are books that will go into much more detail:
My opinion (based on what I've gleaned from books and tours) is that the things that affect taste most are:
Level of peating in barley
Shape of low wine and spirit stills
The 'cut' of the new spirit taken
The wood used and all the variables related to casking
The final strength of the whisky (although you can change this by adding water yourself)
Green Hornet wrote:From my limited exposure to how whisky is produced, I have seen the product after the distilling process is a colorless and odorless liquid, pretty much pure alcohol, that would not be recognizable as Scotch.
Not quite. It's colourless alright and is definitely worlds apart from the finished product, but new make has lots of aromas and flavours. I have some Bladnoch new make fresh off the stills - it's never seen the inside of a cask - that tastes a lot like you'd imagine plum liqueur or plum jam to taste, and the Kilchoman new make that you can buy in miniature bottles is incredibly peaty owing to the high peating level the malted barley was subjected to.
I also find Port Ellen to be peppery, although in a slightly different way to the pepper you find in Talisker. Whether it's down to casks or not I'm not sure, though I too find this quite hard to believe as every cask varies in the flavours it imparts. Also, a lot of whiskies don't have any pepperiness to them at all, and they're all matured in the same type of casks... I'd personally say it's down to the way the spirit is distilled, with maybe the shape/size of the stills being another reason.
I have never had the pleasure of tasting older Taliskers. I wasn't aware that the pepper level goes up and down.
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