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Whisky is an oak-matured spirit that is produced mainly from malted barley, wheat and maize, although other substrates, including molasses and sorghum are used in certain parts of the world. In cereal substrates the carbohydrates necessary for the production of ethanol are bound up as unfermentable starch which needs to be broken down before fermentation can proceed. To do this, the starch is gelatinized by heating in the presence of water above the critical point of its gelatinization temperature. This gives the saccharifying enzymes access to the polysaccharide polymers, which progressively release fermentable sugars. Parallel proteolytic activities also release amino acids which facilitate yeast growth and are important in the development of flavour-active higher alcohols and esters. After fermentation, which can take as little as 45–55 hours to complete, the contents of the fermenter are transferred to stills for ethanol and volatile flavour recovery. The distillery may operate either in batch or continuous mode and the resulting spirit, which in many producing regions including Ireland and Scotland cannot exceed 94.8% alcohol by volume (ABV), is then diluted with water to maturation strength (typically 63.5% ABV) before being filled into casks for maturation. Whilst overall whisky production takes the order of years, the processes from crop-to-cask only take a few days to execute, with subsequent maturation often being the most protracted part of the production process.

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