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Legal issues aside, how is whisky made?

Do you make a beer (presumably without hops), ferment it with regular beer yeast and then distill?

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closed as off topic by baka Feb 22 '13 at 18:28

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Since this site's inception, distillation has been considered off-topic. –  baka Feb 22 '13 at 18:28

3 Answers 3

If you're talking about Scotch whisky, the answer is yes! And it's known as "distiller's beer", made from just barley, yeast, and water.

Some more info here: http://www.maltmadness.com/malt-whisky/beginners-guide-04-distilling.html

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Very interesting read on the linked page. One thing that appears to be clearly different on the process is the lack of a boil stage. Is it so that Whisky wort is not boiled before going to ferment? –  Cleber Goncalves Feb 22 '13 at 9:11
    
It could simply be that boiling that much wort would take too much time. –  Elliott C Bäck Feb 23 '13 at 21:18

Whiskey is typically made primarily from corn (fermented in the same way as beer) and then distilled. The trick is, after distillation it has to be aged in wood barrels for a couple years, which is what gives it the flavor and color.

Technically you can distill beer. If you do it a couple times you'll basically end up with the same spirit, which can then be aged in a barrel the same way, but corn is much easier, cheaper and traditionally the main ingredient.

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Wouldn't be Bourbon whiskey which is made mainly from corn? –  Cleber Goncalves Feb 21 '13 at 14:51
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Corn is the primary ingredient for Bourbon, but it also includes many grains that are used in beer, like malted barley. Bourbon is also a regional product (similar to Champagne), it has to be made in Bourbon Country in Kentucky (US) and aged at least four years in oak, otherwise it is just normal whiskey. –  thanby Feb 21 '13 at 14:58
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Corn is the primary ingredient in some (but not all) American whiskeys, but is certainly not for most types of whiskeys around the world. There's a reason for the term "Single Malt" –  jalynn2 Feb 21 '13 at 16:17
    
@thanby: That is not totally true, Bourbon only has to be made in the United States. There have been no distilleries in Bourbon County KY since prohibition. –  whatsisname Oct 26 at 0:23
    
I'm not perfectly familiar with the geographic contents of Bourbon County (which is sad because I live 30 minutes away from it) so you may be right about that, but I was always under the impression that's the way it was. The distilleries are, however, along the Bourbon Trail (I'm not sure of its relation to actual Bourbon County), though I can't confirm whether or not any exist outside of that region or whether that's a requirement. –  thanby yesterday

One big difference is that distilled spirits are fermented at relatively high temperatures (70s-80s) to speed up the yeast and produce as much alcohol as possible. This also results in undesirable components like higher-order alcohols and methanol which are later removed in the "heads" and "tails" of distillation.

This is why homemade "bathtub gin"-style liquor during prohibition could be dangerous, because the people making it often skipped this step.

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The amount of methanol in the distilled spirit is equal in proportion to what was in the source wine or beer. Unless you're drinking just the heads, methanol is not concentrated. Here's a quick rundown on methanol toxicity. Not surprisingly, the biggest risk from home distilled spirits is simple alcohol poisoning. And explosion. Bathtub gin was dangerous because unscrupulous moonshiners would cut the ethanol with methanol to improve profits. –  Tobias Patton Feb 22 '13 at 0:36

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