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Terroir in Whisky

December 27,2022


The world of whiskey is colorful, with classic regions represented by Scotland, Ireland and the United States, as well as emerging regions represented by Japan, India and China. There are distilleries that follow the tradition of using malt and grains as raw materials, aging in oak casks and then maturing and bottling, but there are also whiskey distilleries that are constantly innovating, exploring the unknown and trying new ways to play.

Dave Bloom in the “World Whisky Map” said in the twists and turns of whisky history, the present is not the first decisive moment. The beverage that dominated the spirits market for much of the 20th century is about to face a more demanding and indignant consumer with better market reading skills.

 How can whisky succeed in a time of fast food consumption?


All whiskies have their own style, whether in classic or emerging regions. There are new distilleries in many places and we are living in the most exciting times in the long history of whisky, and I think we are making history.

The original code of style or flavor is terroir.

What are the elements of terroir among the raw materials, the processes, the distillation equipment, the barrels, the philosophy of distillation and so on, and how do they affect the flavor of whisky?

And it all goes back to the whisky itself – making a highly creative, natural spirit made from grain, yeast, and water in oak barrels.

One of the most important ingredients in whisky is water, and the terroir directly determines the quality of the water. Whether it is Scotland, Ireland, or the United States or Japan, for many distillery sites, quality water is one of the requirements for building a distillery. Water not only feeds the plants growing in this land, the land through which the water flows, the mineral content, seasonal changes to the crops, especially the growth of whisky raw materials personality, but also in the distillation process water, especially the mineral content of the water, in the fermentation process of saccharification to produce effects and affect the final flavor. In addition, whether it is saccharification, distillation condensation, or whisky bottling will be used water. Good water makes good wine, water is one of the indispensable conditions for winemaking.

Clouds, snow, rain and fog unique temperature climate, seasonal changes in temperature will also have an impact on the production of whiskey, is also one of the terroir of whisky factors.

The various enzymes invisible to the naked eye can have a huge impact on fermentation, and the temperature affects the fermentation process.

Low temperatures produce nectar aromas, high temperatures produce fruit and nut flavors; hot and hot regions can accelerate the maturation of the wine in oak barrels, the flavor of the wine is rich and full, while the low temperatures of the high latitude regions will make the aging slow and the wine more delicate. Just like the difference between Northeast rice and Thai rice, climate has a subtle influence on the growing process and taste.

In addition, humidity, the moisture in the air, will have an impact on whisky maturation. The humidity in the air can indirectly regulate the temperature, but also affect the process of whisky making. A high humidity environment tends to let the raw materials and oak barrels breeding mold, but also will accelerate the rate of replacement of moisture in the cellar air and alcohol in the barrels, the evaporation rate increased.

Considering temperature alone is not the perfect answer to the angel share ratio; the humidity in the warehouse must be taken into account. When the temperature increases, the evaporation of both water and alcohol will increase: however, high humidity causes more evaporation of alcohol than water, resulting in lower alcohol strength; more evaporation of water than alcohol, resulting in higher alcohol strength. This in turn is related to the way the barrel aging environment is stacked.

Overall, barrel-aging environment is divided into external environment and internal environment. Whether the cellar is by the sea or on top of a mountain, in the high latitudes with severe cold or in the low tropics with hot climate, tall and grand or plain and conventional, it will be different. The microenvironment in the cellar also has a subtle impact.

The common stacking methods in wineries are stacked, palletized, and traditional paved.

 The barrels “breathe” through temperature, humidity and other factors, but even in the same warehouse, each layer of each barrel behaves differently, and the ventilation of the warehouse affects the rate of evaporation. Each warehouse also has its own microclimate.

The top floor of the wooden frame is affected by sunlight, raising the temperature and lowering the humidity, while the bottom floor is the same as the traditional warehouse, maintaining a high humidity level steadily. As a result, the total amount of evaporation from the barrels on the top shelf is higher than the bottom shelf, but the alcohol intensity in the barrels is also higher than the bottom shelf.

Some distilleries continue to use traditional warehouses, mainly due to seasonal variations, convinced that the higher the humidity, the longer the maturation time and the better the quality of the wine. On the other hand, the effect of ventilation is not easy to assess.

In contrast, the wineries in Taiwan and India are early maturing and impactful, but are unable to react slowly to the interaction.

In addition to water, temperature, humidity, barrel stacking method, I am afraid that the people who make the wine is the biggest influence factor. The understanding of whisky, distillery flavor positioning, and the professionalism and character of the distiller directly determine the quality of the spirit. Professionalism requires study and precipitation, while character is related to the land.

What are the unique elements of the terroir of the Goalong distillery?

(I) The water source of Goalong Distillery

Goalong Distillery, located in the middle of the Liuyang River Canyon Basin, surrounded by mountains, is about 2.5 kilometers south of the distillery from the Liuyang River and north and south of the Luoxiao Mountains and Lianyun Mountains, where clouds, snow and rain flow through the shale formed over billions of years in all seasons, revealing a natural flavor in its clear sweetness.

Under this low latitude winter snow mountain, we found the most suitable land for whisky, which can represent the terroir of Changsha – the source of Liuyang River.

Why did Goalong choose Liuyang to build a whisky distillery? It is because of the excellent quality of the water source.

Liuyang, located in the eastern part of Hunan Province, is named after the county town located north of the Liuyang River (the Yang side). Liuyang is located at the border of Xiang-Gan, north of the eastern part of Hunan, which is the ancient “throat of Wu and Chu”, with an annual rainfall of 1680 mm, abundant water resources around, and soft water, making it an excellent area for making whisky.

The Liuyang River runs through it and flows westward into the Xiangjiang River. There are three main mountain ranges in the area, namely Lianyun Mountain, Dawei Mountain and Jiuling Mountain. The highest point is Qixingling, the main peak of Dawei Mountain, with an altitude of 1608 meters, and there are more than 50 peaks above 800 meters above sea level and 13 lakes.

The source of Liuyang River is Huamen River in Dawei Mountain Canyon, starting from Huamen Longwangtan Waterfall in the east to Yangshuwan in Shuangjiangkou in the west, with a total length of 7 kilometers. Drifting along the water, the rapids are selected from deep pools, dangerous peaks, strange rocks, ancient trees, flowers, blue sky, and white clouds reflecting on the water. Its hydrological characteristics present rapidity, danger, wonder and beauty.

The upstream and middle of the river are covered by the fully enclosed big forest, the whole river is free from pollution and the river is clear all year round. The riverbed is lush with cliffs and forests on both sides. The sun is isolated by the cliffs and the forest, and the trickling spring water in the canyon collects, which is crystal clear and freezing cold.

According to Hunan General Records, the Liuyang River, also known as the Liu River, was formerly known as Liu Shui (Liu), a clear and bright appearance. It is called Liuyang because the county is located in the north, “the south of the mountain and the north of the water is called Yang”.

Liuyang River is also called Liuyang River because of Liuyang City. There are two sources of the river, Da and Xiaoxi, which come from the northern and southern slopes of Dawei Mountain respectively. The two streams converge at 10 kilometers east of Liuyang City and are called Liuyang River. It is also famous for the song “Liu Yang River”.

(2) Climate of Liuyang

Liuyang City has a humid mid-subtropical monsoon climate, with an average annual temperature of 17.4℃, 28.4℃ in July, and 5.8℃ in January, the coldest month. Generally speaking, Liuyang is a city with abundant sunshine and heat, abundant precipitation, and the climate change varies significantly with the vertical differences in the mountains. The snow-capped Dawei Mountain in winter and the 99% deep forest cover allow every drop of water flowing through the land to be purified by nature numerous times.

The distillery is located in a basin valley with long hot summers, hot summers and cold winters. The cellars are stacked in a 5-story steel frame structure, which means that compared to the 3% evaporation rate in Scotland; the cellars in Goalong will reach 4-6%, which means that the wine matures faster and the wine can acquire the color and aroma given by the oak barrels more quickly.

(3) Distillery cellars

The fifth building of the distillery is the whiskey cellar. The cellar is divided into 4 Barrel aging area, take 5 layers of steel barrel racking, design storage capacity of more than 6000 barrels, a single partition can store about 1800 barrels of whiskey. Here according to the difference of the sunlight orientation and duration of the temperature, each cellar room temperature has obvious differences. We divide it into large wine cellars in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

There are many barrel types, such as bourbon, sherry barrels, Chinese brandy barrels with Chinese characteristics, rare Mizunara barrels, Laphroaig quarter peat barrels, and a variety of red wine barrels (STR red wine barrels, Sauvignon Blanc barrels, Chardonnay barrels, Port barrels and regional barrels such as Bordeaux and Burgundy), etc.

As a new whiskey distillery, we are bold and careful to explore the different types of oak casks to find out how the whiskey will look like in the dialogue with time.

We have set up a special whiskey tasting classroom in the cellar of “Qiu De秋得”. Right here you will be immersed in the sea of whiskey, in the jungle of oak barrels arranged on all sides, to taste the unique charm of whiskey.

At the beginning of the plant, the exploration of whiskey aging was conceived, and the design of the constant temperature cellar of Goalong Laboratory No.1 is the work of design. The cellar has an average year-round temperature of 25° and an average humidity of 60%, with a fresh air system, alcohol sensing and fire alarm system installed. This is an attempt on whiskey making, to study the changes brought by the environment on aging, the impact on flavor, and we use experimental data to discover the law behind.

And in the future, after the completion of the second phase of the project, the distillery will have a storage capacity of 100,000 barrels of space to carry on the gift of time – whiskey.

(4) Flavor exploration and setting

Full-bodied or light? To follow the traditional Scottish process or to innovate and develop like Japanese whisky?

This is a very important question for any distillery founder to think about. Smoky peat flavor is the main, or like the American whisky is its own style, choose new barrels or old barrels, general type of oak barrels, or niche flavor barrels, innovative use of barrel strategy?

From the idea of Chinese whisky in 2011, the introduction of equipment in 2014 for up to three years of research and development exploration, Goalong Laboratory No. 1 whiskey won the industry experts likes. Mr. Alan Gao, the founder of Goalong Distillery, visited dozens of distilleries in Scotland, the United States, Japan, to learn from the excellent experience of predecessors, the location of Hunan Liuyang, in 2019 Goalong whiskey distillery groundbreaking, in 2021 to start batch production.

The original style setting of Goalong is floral and fruity based, going sweet style. Distillers in the saccharification, fermentation, distillation, oak barrel selection and use and so on are designed accordingly.

Hunan people dare to be the first, and so do the people of Goalong. With the original intention of making happiness, we are moving forward for our dreams.

We believe that the terroir is the best distiller, and the beautiful things will be recorded in the terroir! In this best era of whiskey, our mission is to make Goalong whiskey that represents Changsha terroir and China.

Reference:

Liuyang city people’s government website

Baidu encyclopedia entry-Liuyang

CCTV’s “China Image Fangzhi” Hunan Liuyang chapter-190

The search for their own 12 make believers ” Lin Yifeng

Whiskeyology” by Qiu Defu