Bil Lumsden: Whisky making is as much a science as an art
THE Scotch whisky industry is booming, with the latest figures putting exports at a record high of £4.2 billion – a rise of 23 per cent. We all know that whisky produced here is enjoyed the world over, but how many of us fully appreciate the art and science behind it?
As The Glenmorangie Company’s head of distilling and whisky creation, my job is to ensure that every dram of our two whiskies (Glenmorangie and Ardbeg) reaches our customers in perfect condition. This means harnessing a minimum ten-year maturation process to deliver complex and distinctive flavours for each brand.
Whisky is a complex chemical compound, which is why we try to break down its tastes and aromas in a way that people can relate to and enjoy. For example, we’ve identified as many as 140 different aromas in our best-selling single malt Glenmorangie Original alone, so the possibilities are endless.
So, is creating the perfect dram an art or a science?
Much of my time is spent in our lab controlling the science we use in the production process. Science is at the heart of our story, whether it’s the complex range of biochemical reactions that takes place in the mash tun during the fermentation process, or the air-drying or flame charring of our oak casks. The science has to be right at every stage when you factor in a ten-year wait for maturation.
I am therefore delighted to be part of this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival and lifting the lid on some of the scientific “alchemy” of making whisky.
But science will barely take you half way down the road to the perfect dram. Your nose and your tongue guide you the rest of the way and this is where the artistry lies.
The more familiar you become with whisky the more you can develop your palate and appreciate its subtleties. This year we launched a whisky that had spent 18 years maturing inside casks which once held French Sauternes wine, Château d’Yquem.
So, next time you enjoy a whisky produced from these shores, pause for a moment, forget the myths, and savour the art and the science behind your dram.
• Dr Bill Lumsden is The Glenmorangie Company’s head of distilling and whisky creation.
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