New Insights into an Old Method

Scotch whisky has always been made using methods that have been passed down through the generations and refined through the careful cultivation of time-honored traditions. However, a major shift has occurred over the past few months. Yeast, a vital ingredient in whisky production, is experiencing a flavor renaissance as distillers begin to tap into its latent possibilities.

Remember that yeast is one of the three main ingredients used in making Scotch whisky along with malted barley and water. It is the microorganisms’ job to turn the sugars into alcohol during fermentation; in the process, they also produce carbon dioxide and heat. Despite the obvious benefit it provides, its potential for flavor development has been largely disregarded for decades.

Up until now. “The Scotch whisky industry has been somewhat conservative and has maintained a traditional stance when it comes to whisky fermentation,” says Victoria Muir-Taylor, associate distiller at the emerging Port of Leith distillery. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t given the issue any thought or looked into it. The opposite is true, in reality. I think the unwillingness to reveal it is just stronger now.

Yeast: An Unappreciated flavoring Ingredient

Whisky is fermented with a strain of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is a fungus with only one cell that occurs in various varieties. For a long time, yeast has been studied primarily for its ability to increase alcohol production rates, with little consideration given to the yeast’s potential impact on flavor profiles.

Simon Thompson, one of the brothers who own the Dornoch distillery, claims that yeast may produce over two hundred diverse flavor by-products despite this. He says, “There is enormous potential beyond the contemporary distillers’ yeasts.” Our behaviors diminish the results of our labor. Fermentation times can vary greatly from batch to batch, but our techniques never take less than seven days. Primary fermentation concludes after 48 hours, but subsequent effects from bacteria and wild yeasts are still developing.

Experimenting With Several Yeast Strains is a High-risk Endeavour

Whisky distilleries just getting started on their own are sparking a yeast revolution because they are eager to try new things. They are more interested in exploring the potential of yeast to affect the spirit’s overall personality than they are in increasing production.

Glenmorangie, a reputable producer, has introduced a new whisky named Allta to keep up with the times. Wild yeast harvested from local barley fields was used to produce this whisky. Glenmorangie’s head of whisky stock aging, Brendan McCarron, outlines the revolutionary impact this yeast had on the company’s modern production process. He says it smells like flowers, is spotless, and tastes like a mix of fresh strawberries, cereal, and other fruits. The new yeast made it taste much more floral and much less fruity. It contained a larger quantity of cereal but had a more savory flavor, and it also included hay and very dry grass.

What Japan and the United States Can Teach Us

Scotland is not alone in its love of tinkering with yeast. Japanese and North American distillers have been using yeast to make unique spirits for thousands of years. The Four Roses Distillery in Kentucky, for instance, utilizes five different kinds of yeast to make 10 different kinds of alcohol. After that, numerous iterations of Four Roses are made by adjusting the proportions of the individual ingredients.

Although there aren’t many distilleries in Japan, Nikka Whisky still uses 10 different yeast strains to create a wide selection of whisky variations. To put the significance of this strategy into context, Nikka’s chief blender, Tadashi Sakuma, notes, “In Japan, we do not have this culture of exchange nor the number of distilleries would make that possible.” Furthermore, he states, “In Japan, we do not have this culture of exchange.”

Yeast is Still the Engine of Change

We have faith that as our whisky makers carry on with their one-of-a-kind research and development, exciting discoveries lie just around the corner. Yeast, long overlooked, has recently come into the spotlight due to its possible importance in Scotch whisky’s flavor diversity.

An employee named Muir-Taylor from the Port of Leith distillery recently revealed the business’s plans: “We’re working with strains of brewers’ yeast as well as distillers’ yeast, and we’re exploring mixing strains to create a bespoke version – or versions – for the Leith distillery.” The ultimate goal is to brew and distill more than 20 distinct yeast strains, of which we now have samples from 13. When the new distillery is complete, a laboratory will be established there for just this purpose.

In conclusion, we may taste a greater spectrum of flavors inside Scotch whisky than has ever been observed before if distillers continue to explore and disseminate their discoveries. Finally, here’s to whisky flavor’s unsung hero and the promising future it portends.

Danielle’s expertise is as diverse as the whiskey she adores. Join her at Leoa for a deep dive into the artistry behind crafting this liquid gold. Discover the intricate processes and dedication that result in the finest whiskeys.