Originally By Tony Ackland
Preparing Grain Worts or Mashes
To make a grain wort requires Malting, Gristing, Mashing, Brewing, and Fermenting. Check beer related books, homepages or discussion groups (eg Alan & Melissa's Homebrew, Spensers Beer page), http://www.howtobrew.com/ for heaps more details, but don't get put off by some the minutia they sometimes get into.
See also ...
Avoiding Post-Fermentation Problems
How the Mash Makes Wort
Boiling and Hops
Only use grains if you are after flavour (eg making a bourbon or whisky), or if for some reason they are really cheap for you to obtain. Generally, a reflux still will strip out all the flavours and leave a neutral spirit. But, you can actually use a reflux still to make flavoured spirits such as whisky, provided you detune them a little, and then carefully pay attention to how you make the cut. Details are given by Ian Smiley in his book "Making Pure Corn Whisky" (http://www.home-distilling.com/)
An excellent way to remove the grains after fermentation is to have used a "grain bag" - eg a large bag made of mesh or muslin to hold the grains. You then simply lift this out of the mash when they're all spent, and its easy to rinse them. Far easier than using strainers, seives etc.
Big tip ! It generally pays not to distill a grain wort with a still with an internal element. You get too many solids / complex sugars remaining that WILL burn onto the element. The whisky will stink, and the burnt flavour can't be removed. And its bloody difficult to clean the element properly & remove all the char (trust me). The one thing all the old time moonshiners always talk about is the skill needed to "fire a still without scorchin' the whiskey". Jack has a theory "everyone should have 2 stills: one column equipped, run on heating elements (for sugar spirit), and one stovetop potstill (for whiskey and rum mashes)".
The differences between Scotch whisky, Irish and American whiskeys is outlined at 'The Macallan' site:http://www.themacallan-themalt.com/.
It is now generally agreed that there are six regions and these are based on taste as well as geographical location. Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Campbeltown, Islay, Islands. The distillate is 75%abv, which is diluted to 63.4%abv and stored in oak casks (average is a 250litre hogshead). Depending on casks used, the spirit picks up color and flavor. Casks that held bourbon, sherry and port are reused.
Irish whiskey differs from Scotch Whisky in that it is usually distilled 3 times. The malting process is also different as the Irish use sprouted barley dried in a closed kiln which is then mixed with unmalted barley before being ground into a grist. This can be said to account for the lightness of Irish whiskey and its 'non peaty' taste compared to Scotch.
North American whiskies are all-grain spirits that have been produced from a mash that usually mixes together corn, rye, wheat, barley and other grains in different proportions, the resulting distillate then generally aged in wooden barrels. These barrels may be new or used, and charred or uncharred on the inside, depending on the type of whiskey being made. The U.S. government requires that all whiskies have to be made from a grain mash and be distilled at 90%abv or less. The whisky has to be reduced to no more than 62.5%abv before being aged in new oak barrels (American white oak) and then be bottled at no more than 40%abv.
For an extremely over-simplifed botany lesson: Plants exist to survive and reproduce. They are only tasty to us by coincidence. A kernal of grain needs to be mostly a sugar form in order to grow larger than a sprout. The kernal is meant to supply the necessary food so that it can grow. But sugar is prone to spoilage and to rapid fermentation from natural yeasts and from insects. So the food is stored as starch for safekeeping. When needed, the kernal produces enzymes to convert that starch to sugar. You add malted grain to mashed grains to convert the starches in the entire bunch to sugar. Mashing is the process of heating grain to the point where the starches are released from the solid kernal.
The reason to ferment grain is to get the flavor from the grains and save it in your beverage. The cut off points when distilling determine how much flavor or odor is included in your beverage. Same theory as getting too much instant coffee in the cup. Too much makes it a nasty sip. Just enough makes it pleasant. Not enough makes it weak and watery.
You need to use grains to make a traditional whisky recipe. Otherwise you are making a clear vodka and then adding syrups to flavor it enough to call it whisky. If you grind up a steak and drop it on a bun after frying it, is it still called steak or is it hamburger? If a tree falls in the woods with no one around does it still make noise? If a man speaks when no women are around is he still wrong? Lots of questions with out clear answers.
The payoff for the effort that is invloved is the satisfaction knowing that you accomplished something diffucult, and did it with a certain amount of skill. Bragging rights are important sometimes. The proof is in the cup.