From computerized stills and bar-coded casks to mechanized bottling lines, many spirits brands have embraced cutting-edge technology. But there are a few holdouts around the world that continue to use old-fashioned techniques. Here are some of our favorites.
The first step in producing Scotch is to convert the barley’s starch content into more desirable sugar by malting it. To save time, most distillers buy already-malted barley, but a handful of brands — The Balvenie, Bowmore, Highland Park, and Laphroaig — still carry on the traditional floor-malting process (pictured). While it’s back-breaking work, it preserves a piece of whisky history.
The Tahona Wheel
Tequila is, of course, made from agave, but before the plant’s juice can be fermented and distilled, it must be baked and then crushed. A number of spirits, including El Tesoro, Olmeca, and Patrón, keep in operation giant stone grinding wheels called tahonas instead of modern shredders.
The Sloe Way
Don’t be fooled by its bright-red hue: There’s no artificial coloring or dye used to make Plymouth Sloe Gin. Each summer, wild sloe berries (the fruit is a tart relative of the plum) are harvested and then macerated for about four months with high-proof gin, spring water, and a bit of sugar. Try the result in the classic and delicious Sloe Gin Fizz.
It Takes a Village
It would be hard to write a story about timeless methods and not mention Del Maguey’s line of award-winning mezcals. These spirits are carefully crafted in small villages across the Mexican state of Oaxaca using the most authentic and historic techniques, including cooking the agave in pits with hot rocks instead of in ovens.