Single malt, malted barley, malt liquor, malted beer.
We’ve heard of these and seen the terms adorned on bottles through endless stretches of liquor-store shelving.
But, what exactly constitutes something being malted? And, why does Rabbit Hole Distillery take the extra time and effort to malt their secondary grains?
Let’s take a look.
Grains are small, hard seeds from specific kinds of grassy plants within the Poaceae family. Also called “cereal grains,” this family consists of some commonly used whiskey grains like: wheat, corn, barley, rye, and millet.
The bran is the outer layer of tough skin that protects the inner parts from from all the bad stuff outside, like contaminants and pests.
The endosperm is the built-in food-supply of the grain, providing it with energy to sprout through carbs, proteins, and minerals.
The germ is the embryo of the grain, and is what will eventually sprout into another grain plant.
Each little grain has everything that it needs to sprout and create new plants. But, it does still need a little help. And grain malters have been using nearly the same method to coax along this natural process for thousands of years.
The malting process that has been historically used, is that grain will be placed into a sack that allows water to pass through, and then they are set in water. Traditionally, the sacks were tied to rocks and left to soak in a mineral rich stream.
When the water permeates the bran and allows the seed to germinate and then sprout, the microstructure of the cell walls begin to break down.
Why is that important?
When these cells break down, it develops enzymes that are incredibly beneficial to fermentation, one of the early steps in the whiskey-making process.
After this process, the grain is kilned, meaning it’s dried down with heated air to stop the growth process and cure the grains, thereby preserving them. This drying process also generates new flavors and colors as the molecular structure of the grains shift.
So, why do distilleries like Rabbit Hole malt their grains in their whiskies?
Rabbit Hole Distillery focuses on transparency of their process. That’s why they have all their mash bills listed right on their website (you can click here to check them out).
The malting process creates enzymes and alters the flavors of the grains, giving them a deeper, earthier flavor.
As we know, the majority of the flavor that develops with the whiskey comes from the barrel, but there is still a good amount of flavor that comes from the retained oils, chemistry, and leftover flavor from the distillate itself. And, compounded over years, the effects of these subtle shifts magnify into significant differences.
That’s why the whiskey mash bills and recipes still matter.
Rabbit Hole Distillery has taken the time to malting their secondary grains in each of their expressions to bring these deeper and more bold flavors to their whiskey, as well as utilizing the enzymes during fermentation to more fully break down and develop their mash.
Each of their mash bills take advantage of this process, even though it takes extra time and effort to malt each of the grains.
It’s often the extra care, and the willingness to avoid shortcuts that can separate a good bottle from an exceptional one.
For Rabbit Hole, and owner and master distiller Kaveh Zamanian, shortcuts aren’t an option.
Whiskey is ready when it’s ready, and every step is vital to get the flavor profile, boldness, and drinkability that they envisioned.
Greg Sinadinos started his spirits journey writing a whiskey periodical for Fine Tobacco NYC Magazine. He began answering review requests under a social media page he named “Whiskey Culture,” which quickly merged with Greg’s passion for connecting with others and his interest in history.
Today, Greg travels the country not just looking for great whiskey, but also exploring the history and individuals that the whiskey community is founded upon. He has authored “Whiskey History From Around The World” and is the host of “The Rickhouse” web series.