Whisky Glossary

See ‘Alcohol By Volume’
» Age
The age stated on a whisky bottle is that of the youngest whisky in the blend.
» Ageing
Whisky is aged (matured) in oak casks: once it is bottled no further ageing takes place.
» Alcohol By Volume
The alcohol content of a whisky expressed as a proportion of the total volume of liquid.
» Amylase
The enzyme that converts starch into maltose in the mash tun.
» Angel’s Share
A certain amount of whisky stored in barrels evaporates through the wood: this is known as the angel’s share. Roughly 2% of each barrel is lost this way each year, most of which is alcohol.
» Aquavitae
The Latin for “water of life”.
» Backset
In North American whiskeys, alcohol-free liquid in the bottom of the still after distillation (see Thin Stillage) is added to the mash tun and fermenter to ward off bacterial contamination. Sometimes referred to as sour mash, stillage, spent beer, or setback.
» Ball Of Malt
A glass of whisky in Ireland.
» Barley
The only cereal grain used to produce malt whisky.
» Beading
A rough method used to tell the alcoholic strength of a whisky. When a bottle is shaken, bubbles or beads will form. The bigger they are and the longer they last, the greater the alcoholic strength of the spirit.
» Beer
Also known as wash, this is the alcoholic liquid that goes into the still.
» Beer Still
Also known as wash still. This is the first still used in the distillation process.
» Blended/Blending
See Types of Whisky. Blended whiskies are a mix of grain whisky with malt (or bourbon or rye according to the country of origin).
» Bond
Whisky is held in bonded warehouses until excise duty has been paid.
» Bothie
A small house in the Scottish Highlands, sometimes used for making illicit whisky.
» Bottled In Bond
North American whisk(e)y, usually bourbon, bottled after four years in the cask, at 50% abv or more. In the UK all whisky is bottled in bond – meaning before excise duty has been paid.
» Bourbon
American whisk(e)y that is produced from a mash of not less than 51% corn grain, distilled to a maximum 80% abv (160° American proof) and put into charred new oak barrels at a strength of no more than 62.5% abv. Bourbon casks are new oak barrels, charcoaled on the inside before use to impart flavour to the maturing spirit.
» Brewing
The process of mashing grain in hot water and fermenting the result with yeast to produce wash or beer.
» Cask Strength
The strength at which the whisky comes out of the cask after maturation. This can be variable according to the age of the whisky. It is not defined by law but some companies use the term to describe whiskies which are stronger than 40 or 43%.
» Casks
Constructed of oak, casks used for whisky maturation come in a variety of sizes. Usually casks are second fill or third fill – first fill (new, unused wood) are seldom used. Ex-Bourbon casks made from American oak and ex-Sherry casks made from Spanish oak are often used because of the additional characteristics they give to the matured whisky.
» Charcoal Mellowing
Used for Tennessee whisk(e)y. The new spirit is filtered through charcoal before going into cask. Also known as mellowing, leaching or the Lincoln County Process. Some may be filtered again after cask ageing but before bottling.
» Charring
The inside surfaces of new American barrels are exposed to flames as part of the barrel-making process. This releases vanilla from the wood which sweetens the whisky and the char itself helps remove off-notes. It does not however add colour.
» Chill Filtration
Whisky is often chilled before bottling to remove fatty acids which would otherwise cause hazing if the whisky were stored at low temperatures.
» Coffey Still
(Continuous Still/Column Still) Invented around 1830 but patented by Aeneas Coffey, this still produces high strength, very pure alcohol from a variety of cereals by a continuous process. This spirit contains less Fusel Oil than pot still whisky.
» Congeners
Chemical compounds produced during fermentation and maturation. Congeners include esters, acids, aldehydes and higher alcohols. Strictly speaking they are impurities, but they give flavour.
» Corn Whisk(e)y
An American term for a whisk(e)y made from a mash containing at least 80% corn and, if it is aged at all, must be done in used or un-charred oak barrels.
» Couch
After barley has been soaked in water in the steep to make it germinate it is put into a second tank (the couch) to dry. This stops any further growth.
» Cut
The middle portion of the spirit coming off the spirit still. The cut is the best part of the distillate and is saved and put into barrel(s). The foreshots and feints are re-distilled.
» Cytase
An enzyme in barley that breaks down the cell walls, thus making the starch accessible.
» Demisting Point
The point at which spirit coming off the spirit still no longer goes cloudy when water is added. It is the point at which the cut begins.
» Distillation
The vaporisation of an alcoholic liquid by heat, followed by the collection by condensation of it’s alcohol content.
» Distiller’s Beer
The fermented mash that is transferred from the fermenter to the beer still for the first distillation
» Dona Tub
A vessel in which jug yeast is grown to produce enough yeast to ferment a whole batch of mash. Pronounced ‘doe-nah’.
» Doubler
A large copper still which looks somewhat like a small water tank with an upturned funnel on top, used to distill high wines or new spirit from low wines.
» Doublings
The spirit produced by a secondary distillation. Often referred to as high wines.
» Draff
In Scotland, this is what is left of the grain after mashing. It is used for animal food.
» Dram
A Gaelic term commonly referring to a large glass of whisk(e)y!
» Drum Maltings
This is where malting is carried out in large drums that turn the grain mechanically.
» Enzymes
Compounds in grain produced during germination. See ‘Amylase’ and ‘Cytase’.
» Ethanol
The primary alcohol produced during the fermentation of the yeast, water and cereal in whisky production.
» Feints
Also known as tails, or after-shots. The final spirit from the spirit still at the end of distillation. The feints are high in undesirable congeners and low in alcohol, and are re-distilled.
» Fermenter
The vessel in which the mash is fermented into alcoholic liquid or wash.
» Fillings
Malt or grain whiskies which will be used in a blend.
» Floor Maltings
Floor maltings have been largely replaced by mechanical maltings (Saladin boxes, drum maltings or SGKVs – steep, germinate and kilning vessels).
» Foreshots
Also known as heads. The first spirit to come off the spirit still. The foreshots are high in alcohol (75-80 % abv), contain too many volatile compounds and are re-distilled.
» Gauger
Once a name given to an exciseman.
» Grain
The seeds of a cereal crop such as maize, corn, rye, wheat, barley, etc.
» Grain Whisky
(See Types of Whisky) Whisky distilled from wheat or maize in a continuous still.
» Green Malt
Barley that has started to germinate and has not yet been dried.
» Grist
Malted barley which has been ground in a mill.
» Heads
See ‘Foreshots’.
» High Wines
The product of the first distillation in a batch or pot still process. The high wines are distilled for a second time in the spirit still, or doubler. In the UK the product of the first distillation is known as low wines.
» Hopped Yeast Mash
The mash flavoured by cooked hops in which the yeast is propagated.
» Irish Malt Whisk(e)y
Produced in the same way as Scotch malt whisky except the majority is triple-distilled.
» Jigger
US spirit measure of 1.5 fl.oz. Also an old name for an illicit distillery.
» Kieve
In Ireland, the old name given to the mash tun.
» Kilning
In malting, the process of arresting the growth of the germinating barley before starch can be used up.
» Leaching
See ‘Charcoal Mellowing’
» Lincoln County Process
See ‘Charcoal Mellowing’. The filtration of Tennessee whisk(e)y before it is aged, through a minimum of 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal. Sometimes referred to as mellowing or leaching.
» Liquor
Hot water used in mashing.
» Lomond Still
An unusually squat pot still, first used at the Lomond Distillery. It produces oilier, heavier spirit.
» Low Wines
The spirit to come off the wash still. Its strength is usually about 21% abv.
» Lyne Arm
Found in a pot still, the lyne arm runs from the head of the still through to the condenser.