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The Malting Process

Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey

For those of you that have visited the Santa Fe Spirits tasting room (and those of you that haven’t), you may remember that when describing our mesquite smoked single malt whiskey, Colkegan, we mention that it gets is mesquite flavor during the malting process. But what exactly IS malting? The malting process is something that has been around since the dawn of whiskey making. Well, actually even longer than that. Malts can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt, Sumeria, and China, where they were used to make beer. More recently, malting became a key component to the process of making Scotch Whisky.

To begin the malting process (that of turning barley or other grains into malt), the grain must first be dried (keeping the moisture content below 14%) and then stored. After about six weeks the grain is then immersed in water several time in order to force it to begin sprouting.

Once the grain has reached about 46% moisture content, it is moved to the malting floor. This floor is huge space where the grain can be spread into a single layer in order to be dried. The floor is perforated, so that when fires are lit on the floor below, the smoke can make its way through the floor above, heating and drying the grain. This stops it from sprouting any more than it already had and can be used to dry it to the color preferred by the distiller to then be used to make whiskey.

Traditional Malting House
Traditional Malting House

However, it is the fires themselves that make the whiskey what it is. In Scotland, dry wood is not a common occurrence, and so Peat (accumulated decayed vegetation) is burned instead. This peat gives the grain a smokey, earthy flavor that it would not otherwise have had. It was found that by smoking the grain for longer or shorter periods, it was possible to create a smokier flavor within the whiskey itself.

Today, it is possible to find VERY smokey Scotches as well as non-smokey Scotches. We at Santa Fe Spirits decided that we liked the smokey flavor that Scotch has, but that we didn’t want to try to find peat to create that flavor. Instead, we took our inspiration from our surroundings. Throughout New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona it is possible to find mesquite trees growing. It is definitely a southwestern flavor, especially in that nice barbeque smell. We substituted the mesquite for the peat, giving the barley a smokey flavor unique to our region of the world.

Our Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey is an American take on a Scotch classic. It cannot be called a Scotch as it is not made in Scotland, but we prefer the American Single Malt title anyway. American, with a distinctly southwestern flair!

Mesquite Tree
Mesquite Tree