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Chapter 9: Fermentation; "Whisky Eretico - Silvano S. Samaroli"


The ancient and magical process of fermentation in foods dates back many a millenia. Silvano Samaroli briefly describes the role of fermentation in whisky-making.


A traditional distillery finds itself with a series of characterizations that has already been ingrained to its infusion at this point, while a modern distillery is only just beginning, through the process of fermentation, to personalize its product.



The wort passes through a refrigerator that lowers the temperature so as to avoid an untimely decomposition of the maltose, remaining intact for the chemical transformation known as fermentation .

Unlike malting, enzymes are not produced by the wort itself during fermentation, but, in order to speed up the process, they are introduced via a specific type of yeast.

Fermentation enzymes mix with the wort in very large fermentation tanks and erode the maltose turning it into dextrose (crystalline sugar) which, in turn, will undergo a further transformation into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

There are two types of yeast enzymes: maltase, which changes maltose into dextrose (otherwise known as "glucose"), and zymase, which acts on dextrose to transform it into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

The transformation is tumultuous and often risks spillage from the tanks.

The liquid produced by the fermentation , which lasts a day and a half on average, is technically named "wash" . The Scots use the more appropriate term "low wine" , to indicate the low percentage of alcohol - which is around 5% - of this yellowish, foamy liquid, rich in carbon dioxide and very similar to beer.

In truth, Whisky could be considered the result of a distillation of beer, though not flavored with hops. The fundamental difference is in its nature and in the percentages of various cereals. 

In my day, Edinburgh was a thriving city, but that died at nightfall. Pubs closed early, and at alternating hours; there were no discos, except for some run-down nightclubs. Only in the summer time the city came alive with outdoor events, dances and festivals. In the evening, at the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs at the George Hotel, you could enjoy a typical lunch with haggis, a traditional Scottish dish made up of sheep innards, particularly the heart and liver, beef and mutton, all of it washed down with copious amounts of smooth Whisky. Other dishes would vary from traditional Scottish barley soup to exquisite, fresh salmon. The evening was evocatively kindled by Scottish dances, accompanied by the languid and piercing sound of bagpipes.

Another local restaurant to pleasantly spend the evening at was Cramond Inn, a rather exclusive place at the time, looking over the sea and not far from Edinburgh. Leaving at around midnight you could enjoy the sun setting on the sea in the suggestive atmosphere of the old village.

However, in other seasons, this city offered nothing but the casino. The only thing that was left to do before heading to bed was a stroll down Princess Street. At that hour there isn't much to see, and that's when you notice all those things that you wouldn't even dream of finding during the day. You look at the closed shutters and doors of nearby houses, billboards, the few cars trundling along in the left lane and the garbage cans. After a while you start feeling cold and sniff the air. A pungent and sweet smell permanently hovers over the city, but is only noticeable in the evening. It is the scent of newborn Whisky, the aura of wort and wash emanating from the distilleries.


Written by Silvano Samaroli


The text is an excerpt from "Whisky Eretico" (pp. 55 - 58), written by Silvano S. Samaroli, published 2017 by The Whisky Library, The Library Group Limited.