Uncovering the Ancient Art of Floor Malting
You may have cradled a dram of single malt whisky, swirling it gently before taking a swig. But have you ever wondered how malt whisky is made? Of course, it goes without saying that single malts are made from malted grains. And, the process of malting used for the purpose goes way back to the Egyptian era! The Egyptians were brewing beer from malted grains as far back as 4000 BC. And, the method by which they malted their grains was floor malting. Yes, floor malting is as ancient as it can get. Up until the 1850s, floor malting was the only process used by breweries across the world for alcohol production, be it beer, or whisky. And, till date, it remains the oldest known process used to make single malts.
Floor malting is no misnomer, instead, it is exactly what is sounds like. This process makes use of tiled or concrete floors upon which the grains of choice are dumped in heaps. For making whisky, steeped barley is piled onto a suitable surface, which is then allowed to partially stew in its own heat. This causes partial germination of the grain, after which wooden shovels are used to upturn the barley, to release some of the built-up heat, and aerate the grains. Aerating barley helps in drying up the grains. Floor malting barley is no easy business, it requires a lot of elbow grease. It’s no wonder that the introduction and subsequent use of turning machines in the 1880s caused the process of floor malting to die a slow, but inevitable death. But, some of the oldest distilleries of Scotland, like the Springbank Distillery, Campbeltown continue using the age-old method of floor malting, in an attempt to keep the good old days of past alive.