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How Long Does It Take To Make Whiskey? (2022 Updated)

Last Updated on August 22, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Alcohol, like whiskey, can easily be purchased at liquor stores. However, making homemade whiskey allows you to create different flavors that may suit your taste. But really, how long does it take to make whiskey at home? 

Stop looking elsewhere and save your time searching for a solid answer. Keep scrolling to learn more about the whiskey-making process.

How Long Does Producing Whiskey Take?

Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail on desk with fruits

Producing whiskey takes about four months, beginning to end, depending on how you want your whiskey to taste. Making whiskey is a time-consuming process that requires several whiskey ingredients and a lot of patience. 

It starts with malting, which takes about 3-4 days. Then, it goes through distillation which can take up to six hours. Finally, the whiskey must mature in barrels for at least three years. 

Disclaimer: The Federal Law states that making beverage alcohol at home is illegal.

Length of Whiskey-Making At Home

Length of Whiskey-Making At Home

Malting

Whiskeys start as raw grain. When making malt whiskey, barley undergoes special treatment to obtain its sugars.

Malting refers to raw material preparation for brewing, employing controlled grain germination in moist air [1]. Malting is where the grains are allowed to germinate between 48 and 72 hours. It is when the enzymes in the malted barley convert the starch into fermentable sugars. 

Once the barley begins to rupture, it’s spread out in a room with controlled temperature and humidity to allow the grains to sprout. The germination stops once the grains start to germinate and are dried by heating.

Mash Bill Preparation

Mash Bill Ingredients on table

Before fermentation, mashing happens to extract the sugars in the grains used. The grains, like corn, wheat, rye, or malted barley, will be placed in a large tank for hot water steeping. 

The grain used is heated and agitated. The water seeps into the starch granules and is eventually activated and gelatinized. Drain the mash. Add more hot water to extract more sugars. Then repeat the “wash” 3 to 4 times. 

Different grains have different temperature requirements to gelatinize correctly. The final product is a porridge-like mixture. Once the sugars have been extracted, the fermentation stage follows. 

Fermenting

If the mixture is strained of solids, it is now called mash or wort. The mash will then be transferred to washbacks to begin fermenting. During this step, add yeast. You can use any yeast as long as it converts starch into sugar. 

During fermentation, the yeast will convert sugars into alcohol. The resulting liquid is like beer. It is called the distiller’s beer or wash. It can last up to 48 to 96 hours with different yeast strains and fermentation times. 

Distillers can choose to ferment the liquid longer to add more character and complex flavors. After fermentation, the mash will have an alcohol concentration of about 7 to 10%.

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Distillation Process

Distillation Process

To start the distilling process, transfer the concentrated liquid into stills, which will be heated with hot steam, evaporated, and re-liquified. Use Copper stills to remove unwanted flavor and aroma compounds in the spirits. The concentrated liquid undergoes distillation twice to control the alcohol concentration.

Pot Still Distillation

The liquid can be distilled through a pot still and column still. It is a batch process when done in pot stills. Pot stills are like large kettles with a heat source on the bottom or by the steam coils within them [2]

The alcohol is brought to a boil. Alcohol evaporates, and the vapor is separated into a condenser through the pot’s long neck. The water continuously runs in the condenser, which brings the vapor back into liquid form.

Column Still Distillation

Column Still Distillation

The distiller’s beer or wash is fed into column stills or Coffey stills. Coffey stills can be used to produce bourbon and, nowadays, even Irish whiskey. The wash enters the top and descends, passing through perforated plates steamed from underneath. The hot steam heats the liquid, evaporating it and causing the lighter alcohol vapors to rise. 

As the vapors hit the plates, they condense, removing heavier compounds and increasing the alcohol content. The lighter compounds rise to the column, purifying and refining the liquid. A distiller will not need the batch process of pot stills because column stills work continuously.

Maturation Process

Typically, in a distillery, whiskies are generally stored in oak casks. Corn whiskey, being the exception, can either be aged or unaged. Meanwhile, bourbon, rye, and other American whiskeys must be matured in new charred oak barrels. 

Some distillers source wooden containers that have stored another spirit from another distiller to give the spirits added flavor. Ensure that the alcohol content is between 58% to 70% alcohol by volume (ABV) before transferring it into the casks.

Bottling

Bottling

Once the whiskey reaches the desired maturation, it is ready for bottling. The whiskey is bottled at no less than 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). It is the legal minimum ABV that whiskey must meet to be sold. However, it can also be bottled at cask strength with around 60% ABV. 

When bottling, it may be chill-filtered to prevent the spirit from becoming too cloudy when ice or cold water is added.

FAQS

How long does whiskey have to age to be straight bourbon?

Whiskey must be aged for two years to be called straight bourbon. It must also be made from a mash bill of at least 51% corn.

How long is whiskey aged in barrels?

Whiskey is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. The length of the liquor aging varies with the type of whiskey. A bourbon must be at least two years of age to be called straight bourbon. Meanwhile, Irish whiskey must mature for at least three years and no more than four years.

Does it take longer to make wine than whiskey?

No, making whiskey doesn’t take longer than making wine. Whiskies take more time to create than wines. Whiskey uses distilled fermented grains, such as rye, corn, or wheat. It’s then stored in oak containers for at least two years. Wine is made by fermenting grapes, which takes about a month. Aging wine can take an additional one to twelve months.

So, How Long Does It Take To Make Whiskey?

It takes about three years for whiskey to be ready for consumption. The process varies by region or distillery since each distillery has different traditions and techniques.

However, consider that making your whiskies at home is illegal in the United States under federal law. Like making bourbon, you need to have proper licensing. Head to your local distillery to know more about making whiskey and how to secure a permit.

Reference:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/food-science/malting
  2. https://www.britannica.com/topic/distilled-spirit/Distillation

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