Monday, 28 August 2017

Whisk(e)y Distillation process

Pot distillation versus Column distillation

The first of questions that come up about whisky distillation is regarding pot distillation versus column distillation. Pot distillation (figure 1 a) is where the beer mash is heated in kettle like large copper pots and column distillation (figure 1 b) is relatively new, and more efficient way of mass producing alcohol. Bourbon whiskies, vodka and gin are produced in column stills. While there are several blog posts about the difference of these two distillation processes [Ref 1, Ref 2 ], in this post I am more focused on its effect on the taste of the whisky.

                   Figure 1 (a) pot still at Auchentoshan               (b) A Column still used to make Gin

Grain Whiskies vs Malt whiskies

No two single malts will taste the same. However to conquer international markets scotch whiskies had to be consistent. This consistency was achieved through blending. Grain whiskies came in to play to act as ingredients for blended whiskies.
While malt whiskies are made from a beer that is made of malted barley, grain whiskies are made of either barley (unmalted), wheat, corn or rye.
Jamesons, the popular Irish whiskey, is a single distillery blend of malt whiskies, corn and barley grain whiskies.
In a typical blended scotch whisky the ratio between malt to grain is approximately 30/70.
As of 2015, while there are nearly 109 malt distilleries there are just 7 grain distilleries in Scotland. However, grain whisky production is much higher than malt whisky production [Ref 3].
Column stills are used to produce grain  whiskies, and are purified to a higher degree than malt whiskies.

Why use copper for stills?

A by-product of the fermentation process produces Hydrogen sulphide, which may cause  a bitterness in the whisky. When copper stills are used, these sulphur components react with the copper and form copper sulphate, which gets deposited in the still. These can be washed away after the distillation process. Hence, the spirit distilled in copper stills will have less sulphur components. In the figure 2 you can see the result of a copper still wash, with the top layer containing a residual copper sulphate. 

Figure 2: The copper sulphate that residues on the copper still. 


[1] serious eats blog post
[2] Whiskey wash post
[3] whisky invest post
[4] post

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Monkey Shoulder Whiskey

When I was in Australia for the first time in Summer this year, I got to try a blended whiskey that I had never heard of before: "Monkey Shoulder". It was an incredibly easy drinker and wanted to find out a little bit about it. So here's what is special about it that I was able to find from some quick googling.

The name of the whiskey it self has a historical meaning to it. In the old days when malt men used to turn the barley by hand, some of them picked up a condition where their hand hanged down like of a monkey. This condition was called "monkey shoulder". However, due to the improvements in working conditions this is not a condition that is experienced now a days.

The blend:  The "Monkey shoulder", is called a "triple malt". Where the blend comes exclusively from malt whiskies from three speyside distilleries. The single malts which make up the "Monkey shoulder" comes from Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kininvie distilleries. Interestingly, the blend does not contain any grain whiskies.

In the future, the monkey shoulder will not disclose the distilleries from which the constituent blends will come, as William Grant and sons are expected to use malts from their other distilleries for Monkey Shoulder.

"Each batch of Monkey Shoulder blend has only 27 casks, which is why there is a label on the neck of the bottle saying Batch 27" [3].

Producers Tasting notes:
Nose: Zesty orange meets mellow vanilla, honey and spiced oak.
Taste: Mellow vanilla with spicy hints.
Finish: Super smooth.


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The tasting of Highland Park

During our most recent visit to Scotland, we visited a whisky distillery. Namely, the "Auchentoshan" distillery, the only scotch whiskey that is triple distilled!. I am a whisky drinker, but not an acquainted chap. I fell in love with the drink again. I decided to my self, if I drink whisky again, I will learn to taste it, and appreciate the natural process, but never for the sake of getting drunk. I wanted to learn what goes in to each whisky I drink, at least until I get bored with learning about whisky anymore. I will do a post about our visit to Auchentoshan distillery later. While we plan to 'taste' a bottle of Highland park 12 year old, I thought I will find out a little about its taste as a precursor to our party.

A brief description of the whisky making process is described in a succinct text here. To summarize there are just three ingredients to any scotch whisky: barley, water and yeast. Quality of each ingredient feeds in to the taste.

There are mainly 5 steps in whisky making: Malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation and ageing (or maturation). I will go through these steps, according to what I would like to write about "Highland Park". I will only relate to specifics related to the taste of the whiskey.

Malting process and the ageing process is key to the taste of the Highland Park whisky.

Malting Process

You get the barley soak it in water and lay out on malting floors (Figure 1) for 6-7 days. The germinating barley is turned regularly by hand (Figure 2). Not every distillery do this process, they buy the malt from factories specialized in the process. Highland park is one of the few distilleries that have their own malting floor, and produce their own malt. Germination is necessary to generate enzymes to convert the starch to sugar (more on this the next stage).

Figure 1. Barley Germinating on the Highland park malting floor

Figure 2: Hand turning of malt in the highland park distillery ( )

The result is a germinated barley, and now after 6-7 days the germinating process need to be halted. For this the germinated barley is dried over a klin. At Highland park they use a certain peat coming from the orkney islands  to create the fire in the klin. This heating process also leads to smoke the malt, leading to a smokey finish to the whisky. 

Aromatic Peat Used in Klin Drying

Peat is decaying plant material buried and compacted under the earth for thousands of years. What plants and shrubs decayed over this long period, determine the chemical nature of the peat. Hence when it is burnt, the phenols released could be different, leading to the taste of malted barley. Thus, peat will serve as territorial signature. More information about peat can be found in a very descriptive blog post here

According to Highland park the peat they use to dry the germinated barley, is responsible for the smoky aromatic sweetness of their whiskys. According to their website "The Orkney Islands have an abundance of this sweet, heathery peat, which is around 4000 years old and is carefully selected from Hobbister Moor. The peat we cut is a mixture of textures and aromas ranging from a more floral heather-rich top layer, to a darker, denser material, the mixture giving the resulting smoke a slow burning and complex aroma." [Ref 1] The specialty of this peat is that it contains decaying heather and plants, as compared to decaying trees that contain in normal peat. Highland park owns the part of the moor they cut their peat from. 

Furthermore, @ Highland park they combine the peat cuttings taken from three distinct levels to achieve the required character. "The top layer is taken from just below the surface is rich in heather and rootlets.The second layer is darker and more compacted; and generates less smoke and more heat. The deepest layer, of course, the oldest; it is lumpy and coal-like. On Islay and Skye they have peat with decomposing tree stumps, branches and roots, which are heavier and burn more slowly giving more smoke."[Ref 2]

Figure 3: A Heather plan
Heather as shown in Figure 3, is an evergreen shrub. The heather plants usually grow together, forming a thick, bushy carpet, sometimes up to half a metre tall. "This helps the plant to survive strong winds. Nectar from heather flowers makes excellent honey, and local beekeepers often bring their hives on to the moors in late-summer when the heather comes into bloom." [Ref 3] 

Here you will find the blog of a person who visited the Highland park Distillery . 

Maturation Process

Once malted, the malt is mashed, fermented (like beer), distilled and next comes the ageing/maturation process. The maturation process is responsible for around 70% of the taste of the whisky.

The distilled spirit is now matured in wooden casks. Most of the whiskys are matured in ex-Bourbon casks (Eg. casks once used to store the likes of Jack Daniels / Jim Beam) and sometimes followed by maturing in Shery oak casks.  This process leads to the distinct color and flavors that the whisky derives over the years. The wood with which the casks are made will dictate some of the flavors the whisky derives over time.

The highland park whiskies are matured in oak casks matured with Olorosso sherry. (Casks can be of different sizes [Ref 5]: barrels being the smallest.) Now Olorosso sherry is a kind of fortified wine. " Spanish oak casks seasoned with sherry give colour, spice and dried fruit character, whereas American oak sherry seasoned casks give lighter, sweeter vanilla and butterscotch flavours. Sherry oak casks are far more expensive but the view at Highland Park is that they are worth it for the rich character and natural colour they provide to the maturing spirit." [Ref 6]

Furthermore, the climate in which the maturation takes place is responsible for the taste. The cool temperature in which it matures, breaks some of the harsher secondary compounds left during the distillation process. Not all whiskies are matured in the same place as the distillery, but the Highland park does.

Tasting of Highland Park 12 year old

The following video will give you a hint or two of how to taste your highland park 12 year old.

[1], Accessed 26/04/17
[2], Accessed 26/04/17
[3], Accessed 26/04/17
[5], Accessed 26/04/17

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Chick pea rice..

It is also known as Channa rice if I am not mistaken. Completely got this recipe from my Pakistani friend Zargham. Very easy, quick and delicious.

Here we go..

1. Get 450g rice and soak it in water. Use the amount of water you would use to cook this amount of rice.

2. Dice 2 medium onions, 400g tomatoes (What I used was a tin of chopped tomatoes.), 3-4 green chilies, half a pepper (or if you cant get a capsicum), few cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of chopped ginger (grinded would be of course better). Also one potato cut in to 1 cubic cm pieces.

3. Make ready 240 g of chick peas almost done. What I used as a tin of ready made chick peas, of which the drained weight was 240g.

4. On a pan heat some oil and when its heated up, fry few cloves (5-7), cardamoms (5-7), 1 teaspoon of cumin and few cinnamon sticks in it. Add in the garlic and ginger and fry.

5. Next add in onions, potatoes, chick peas, pepper, and green chilies and enough of masala (amu thuna paha) let it fry for few mins until onions are brown. When its done, add in the chopped tomatoes and let it cook for some time. Also, add in enough salt, some sugar to taste, and some corriander powder if you have any. This is what it will look like towards the end, it will be very thick.

6. By now the rice should be enough soaked. Add salt and some tumeric in to this rice and put all the contents (rice and water) in to the rice cooker, or to the hob. Next, add in the cooked chick pea curry on top of this. Do not stir. This is how it will look like.

7. Now cook as you normally cook your rice. Cook it until you have no evidence of no remaining water. Towards the end what you will see is something like below,

8. Finally, mix it and serve with raita (or yogurt)

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Sri Lankan Muslim Style Chicken Biriyani

This is also known as Shahi Chicken Biriyani in some other parts of the world. A muslim cook who worked for my father named Ajimi made this with so much of Expertise. This is a recipe I wanted to try for so many years, however, half cooked rice always haunted me. So I always restored to the 'Make the Curry and Mix with Rice Biriyani'. Its not wrong, but its not exactly what I wanted. Overall cooking time is around 1 1/4 hours. Here we go then..

Part 1: Marinade of chicken

- 30-40 pieces of chicken (any part) of size 1 inch.
- 4 tablespoons yogurt
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- roughly the same amount of ginger
- 4 green chilies
- 2-3 tablespoons mixed spices (thuna-paha as in Sri-Lankan, or dry garam masala as in indian)
- 1 stick of celery ( Not there in the original recipe but works just fine)
- 2 tablespoons Coriander leaves chopped ( I used the paste)
- 2/4 teaspoons chili powder (depending on how hot you want)
- 2 teaspoons tumeric
- 2 teaspoons coriander powder
- 2 teaspoons black pepper

grind garlic, ginger, green chilies, celery together to make a paste (need not be a smooth paste).

mix it with the pieces of chicken and then add in the rest of ingredients, mix well and leave for at least half an hour, while you prepare the next bits.

Part 2: Preparation of Rice

Get around 750g of Basmati Rice (not long grain, but may be a thin/small type of rice should do), wash it and add enough of water ( around 1 1/2 inch above the surface of rice) and boil with added salt.

Keep an eye on it constantly, and stop boiling it when it is half done (half tender), and drain the water.

Part 3: For the Biriyani curry

- 3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in to 1 inch squares (1 cubic inch :))
- 4 big onions ( cooking or red), sliced not chopped
- 3 tomatoes, again cut in to small pieces.
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon green cardamoms
- 3-4 1-inch size cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons oil (should be enough to fry the onions enough)
- 400ml coconut milk ( if you cant find or you dont like, water should do)
N.B. note this might vary with your amount of potatoes and rice. This is equal to the amount you would need to cook the other half of the rice and the potatoes.

By the time you are done with chopping these and starting to fry, it should be roughly half and hour, and chicken should be ready to use. If not please drag your time till it is half and hour :)

fry the onions until golden brown. Towards they being brown, add the cumin, cloves, cardamoms and cinnamon. let them fry for a bit until you get a spicy aroma.

Now, add in the marinade chicken and tomatoes and potatoes in to the frying pan. Then add in the coconut milk and let it cook until the chicken is tender, and potatoes are almost (3/4) done.

Part 4: Cooking of Biriyani

In a separate cooking utensil, big enough to cook the rice and the chicken, apply some butter on the bottom.

Now add in 3/4 of the half cooked rice in to it.

on top of that rice, add the curry you prepared in part 3.

Now, cover the curry, with the remaining 1/4 of half cooked rice.

Cover the utensil tight ( 'Ajimi' used to prepare a dough out of wheat floor, and paste with it the lid and the saucepan with it)

Timing is as follows, and is important for the right texture and outcome:

5 minutes in high heat (5/5)
10 minutes in medium heat (3/5)
15 minutes in low heat (1/5)

DO NOT STIR WHILE IT IS BEING COOKED. Do not worry too much, if you feel the bottom of the rice is being overcooked, it is a matter of not using the correct amount of water/coconut milk. This wont harm your dish much :)

Finally garnish the rice with coriander leaves. Some people hate coriander leaves, so know your guests before doing this. 

Part 5: Fancy stuff (Optional)

Garnish the cooked biriyani with fried onions, fried cashew nuts and sultana.

Get a small bowl full of rice from the top, color it with red and orange and then mix with the entire rice.

- Unhealthy bit: add butter on the top of the cooked rice.