Appreciating the Economics, Science of Whiskey

Nick Smith ’12 – The main attraction last week was a tour of a Scotland distillery. I am flabbergasted with the economics and science behind whiskey distilling. Distilling takes approximately 48 hours, but the actual whiskey takes twelve plus years to age in cask. This means distilleries are planning and producing for sales twelve years down the road. Seems to me that there is a fair amount of guess work being used.

I have learned many things about the whiskey business since I have been here.

  • The name scotch is reserved only for scotch whiskeys produced in Scotland. The scotch must distilled and aged in Scotland.
  • Scotch is simply a subset of the whiskey family.
  • Twelve year old Scotch means the youngest type of Scotch in the whiskey is twelve years old.
  • Many of the distilleries use American Oak cask because barrels are cheap to acquire. American law requires that bourbon be aged in new oak barrels. Therefore, the used barrels are worthless to bourbon makers.
  • Whiskey gets it flavoring from the wood and not the actual distilling.
  • American Oak, European Oak, and Sherry Cask are used to impart unique flavors.
  • American oak is famous for its vanilla taste and aroma.

I learned so much by visiting the distillery. The whole business really fascinates me. My chemistry minor served me well in understanding the chemical changes happening.

My experience at the whiskey distillery was amazing. I learned so much about the art and science of distilling whiskey. The final part of the tour was a whiskey tasting. After observing process of whiskey production, I had new found appreciation for the dram I was given. I savored the taste and the aromas all the more as I put the glass to my lips.

  1. Very interesting! I’ll have to use this as an example in 101 for the theory of the firm or something related.

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