Whisky School

Planning a trip to Australia’s whisky isle, or just want to know what makes this spirit so special? Brush up on your whisky lingo here.


Beer is made by converting the sugar found in malted grain into alcohol. Whisky is distilled beer that has not had hops added. Barley is grain of choice for most Tasmanian whisky-makers.


After the grain has been collected it is malted – a process where the grain is soaked in water then allowed to partially germinate. This converts the starch in the grain into sugars.


Once the grain has been malted, it’s usually heated and dried in a kiln. This stops the grains from continuing to germinate otherwise the growing plant would consume all the sugars.


A type of decayed vegetation. Whisky-makers sometimes use it to it fuel the kilns they dry the barley in. The end result is a whisky that’s packed with smoky flavours. While it’s most commonly associated with Scotland, Tasmania also has a plentiful supply of peat that some of the distilleries use.


Once it’s been kilned, the grain is crushed to a coarse grist . It is then mixed with hot water in a mash tun, releasing the sugar. The resulting mix is called the mash.


The sugary water is then drained out through a lauter screen in the bottom of the mash tun and into a washback or a fermenter. The sweet water is now called wert.


Yeast converts the sugar in the wert into carbon dioxide and alcohol. This process is called fermentation, and it’s what makes whisky alcoholic.


The fermanted wert is now called the wash, (beer without hops) and is between 6 &10% alcohol.


Distilling is essential to making whisky. Using a still, the whisky-maker heats the wash until it boils. The vapour contains much more alcohol than the wash because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. The alcoholic vapour is then condensed and collected.


A pot still is a very simple still usually made of copper. Copper is essential in whisky distilling, mainly to absorb sulphur compounds that would otherwise make the whisky taste a bit like turnips. Traditional pot distilled whisky is distilled twice (3 times in Ireland) The result being a liquid called new-make spirit. It is clear as pure water.


Whisky is aged in oak barrels. This gives it its colour, as well as significantly changing and mellowing the spirit. Usually the barrels used in Scotland and Tasmania had previously been used to house sherry, port or bourbon. Some of the residual flavours from the previous contents seep into the whisky, giving it additional complexity.


Bourbon is whisky that is made from corn (maize) and usually has some rye and malted barley included in the mash. To be called “Bourbon” it must be made in the USA.


Each year it’s ageing in barrels, around 2% of the whisky evaporates. This lost whisky is called the angel’s share.


Once the whisky is taken out of casks, it usually has water added to reduce the alcohol level. Whiskies that aren’t diluted are called cask strength whiskies. Depending on the storage conditions, the “angels” can remove more water or more alcohol which means the final strength of the matured whisky can be higher or lower than the original spirit.


A single malt is whisky made at a single distillery using only malted barley This is the most pure form of whisky (and something Tasmania is exceptional at).


Rye whisky uses rye – as opposed to barley – as its primary grain. Rye whisky is especially popular in Canada and the United States, but Tasmanian distiller Peter Bignell is also a deft hand at crafting it.

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The Tasmanian Whisky Trail © 2016