A-Z Whisky Glossary

The world of whisky can be confusing and full of technical and industry terms or jargon. Here, we try to break down some of these barriers by having an alphabetical A to Z listing of some important whisky and whiskey terms, in the form of a glossary.

The word glossary comes from the old English word 'glossarie', which in turn is derived from the Latin word 'glossarium'. This translates literally as 'a list of specialised words or terms with their simplified definitions'.

Angel's share
This is the name given to the alcohol that evaporates from a cask as the whisky is maturing in a warehouse. In Scotland and Ireland, this is approximately 2% of the contents of each cask each year, although this amount is higher in other countries with warmer climates.

The abbreviation for Alcohol By Volume – the term used to describe the percentage alcohol level in spirits.

Blended whisky
A whisky made by blending together any number of single malt whiskies and grain whiskies to create the required flavour and characteristics. These whiskies can be from different distilleries and be of different ages.

The once bustling Scottish whisky producing region that is now home to just a couple of distilleries. It lies on a spit of land called the Campbeltown Peninsula on the western coast of Scotland .

The wooden barrel used to mature the whisky. These are traditionally made from oak. The most used types of oak are American, European or Japanese.

Cask strength 
The strength of whisky as it comes from the cask. It is not diluted further before bottling and the strength can be anything between 40% and 65% ABV, depending on age. The younger a whisky is, the higher its ABV will generally be.

The process of burning the inside of a cask. This blackens the inside of the cask, accelerating the natural compounds in the wood to come out once the cask is filled with spirit. The level of charring can be controlled so as to control the amount of flavour compounds that pass from the wood to the whisky during maturation.

Chill filtration 
The process by which natural substances that make whisky go cloudy when cold or diluted with water are removed before bottling. The whisky is chilled, the natural substances coagulate and are then removed by being passed through a series of metal meshes.

Column still
A large industrial still that allows for continuous, mechanised distillation. Column stills are mostly used in the production of grain whisky and are modern and cost effective. May also be called a Coffey still, continuous still or a patent still.

The process where the alcohol vapours turn into the liquid spirit, with the help of cooling apparatus that form part of the still.

A highly skilled person who makes the casks for whisky maturation by perfectly locking staves of wood together to make a watertight container. This art is called coopering and it takes place in a building called a cooperage.

The process of turning the mildly alcoholic wash into highly alcoholic spirit. The wash is heated in a still and the alcohol vapours evaporate and rise up the neck of the still and travel along the lyne arm, where they are condensed to form a liquid again.

The residue from the mashing process. It consists of barley husks and other bits of the grain that are then collected, dried and compressed in to pellets and sold as animal feed.

The traditional Scottish name for a glass of whisky.

Drum malting
This modern method is used to produce malted barley in most malting facilities. The barley is put in to a large drum and soaked with water. It is then turned consistently for a number of days until the barley starts to germinate and becomes 'malt'.

The process of turning sugar in to alcohol. In whisky production, a sugary liquid called wort is put into a container called a washback and yeast is added. This triggers the start of fermentation and after a couple of days, all the sugar has turned to alcohol and is called wash. The liquid has a strength of between 5-8% ABV.

Floor malting
A traditional method of producing malted barley that is only still practiced in very few distilleries. The barley is soaked in water and then laid out on a wooden floor for about a week until germination starts to take place. This is very labour intensive as the barley has to be regularly turned by hand so as to ensure even germination.

Malted barley that has been ground up into a powder, so that it can be added to water to become mash and the natural sugars present will dissolve.

The Scottish whisky producing region, which covers the large geographical area roughly from just north of Glasgow and Edinburgh up to the far north coast. This region includes the sub-region of Speyside, which lies roughly between the cities of Inverness and Aberdeen.

The Scottish whisky region that covers all whisky produced on an island. Most of these lie off the west coast of Scotland, plus the Orkneys which lie to the north of the far northern coast. Most are well known for their peaty, smoky characters as peat was traditionally the only fuel available.

The most famous of the Scottish island for whisky production. The whiskies from Islay are famous for their peaty, smoky qualities and the island is home to eight whisky distilleries - more than any other island.

The large room where malted barley is heated to stop the germination process and to remove moisture so that the barley is ready for milling. Traditionally, these were fired by peat but now most are powered by coal or oil. A number of the island distilleries still use peat to give their traditional smoky flavour characteristics.

The Scottish whisky producing region that covers the Central Belt between the major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and everywhere south of that. Once a traditional powerhouse region, now just a few distilleries remain.

Lyne arm
The part of the still where the spirit vapours are transported to be condensed back in to a liquid. This arm is normally horizontal or close to horizontal, although some distilleries have odd shapes or steeper angles for the arm and this allows some liquid spirit to travel back down into the still to be redistilled.

Barley grains that have been through the malting process (see Malting below).

The process where the starch in barley is converted to sugar, which in turn can then be turned in to alcohol during fermentation. Malting is achieved by soaking the barley grains in warm water and then allowing them to germinate, which turns the starch present in to natural sugars. This takes place in a drum or on a malting floor. The malted barley is then dried and ground up, with the resulting substance being called grist.

The procedure where grist is added to warm water and the natural sugars are dissolved to form a sugary solution. This takes place in a large tank called a mash tun. The solution is then called wort and is passed to a washback tank for fermentation to take place. Any grain husks and other residue are known as graff and are collected, dried and formed into animal feed.

Mash tun
A large tank or vessel that is made from cast iron, stainless steel or wood, where the mashing process takes place. The mash tun is filled with a mixture of grist and warm water and the soluble sugars in the grist dissolve to form a sugary solution. This is then passed through the perforated floor of the mash tun to go to the washback tank to under go fermentation.

Master blender
The person working for a company or distillery that scientifically selects and then mixes whiskies of different ages or origins together to form the required final flavour profile of the whisky.

The time taken for the whisky to gain the optimum amount of character from the wooden cask in which it is being stored. The whisky spirit draws natural oils and substances from the wood over time and the cask also pulls in air from the surrounding environment, as wood is a porous material.

The process where the dried malted barley grains are ground down in to grist.

The section of a still between the pot at the bottom and the lyne arm at the top. The width and height of the neck control the amount and type of alcohol vapours that are allowed to reach the top in order to be condensed back in to a liquid spirit.

The pyramid shaped roof that provides ventilation from the kiln where the malted barley is dried. Invented by architect Charles Doig, who drew inspiration from the similarly shaped designs used in Japanese architecture for centuries.

A layer of earth that lays below the topsoil and consists of grasses, plants, tree roots and mosses that have been compressed over thousands of years. It is a very dense substance that when dried is used as a fuel. The peat burns with a very consistent, high temperature with a thick acrid blue smoke. Used in the whisky industry to dry malted barley, with the thick smoke being absorbed in to the grains and the flavour getting carried through the rest of the whisky making process.

Pot still
A style of still that is the most common to be used in the production of single malt whisky. They are made of copper due to its excellent conductive qualities and is formed of the pot at the base (where the alcoholic wash is heated), the neck (where the alcohol vapours rise up) and the lyne arm/ condenser (where the vapours begin returning to the liquid form).

The abbreviation of Parts Per Million – the scientific measurement for showing the amount of phenols present in a whisky, that have been absorbed from the burning of peat.

A device connected to the lyne arm that condenses heavier alcohol vapours that are not useful in the whisky making process. It leads the liquids back down to the base, where they undergo further distillation.

A traditional Scottish whisky drinking cup that consists of a bowl with a short vertical handle on either side. They are associated with friendship and ancient Celtic stories say that if you share a drink from a quaich with someone, then you will be friends for ever.

The name given to the re-condensing of alcohol that then runs back in to the still and gets re-distilled. The amount of reflux is determined by the shape and size of the still and the angle to which the lyne arm is set.

Saladin box
An old method of malting barley, named after its inventor Charles Saladin. The box is a large automated trough that has a perforated floor through which air is blown. The germination process of the barley is controlled in the Saladin box by regulating the airflow and temperature between the grains.

Shell and tube condenser
A copper tubing that surrounds the lyne arm on a still. Cold water is fed through the tubing and this process cools the alcohol vapours and condenses them in to liquid spirit. It is the most common type of condenser used in distilleries today.

Single malt
Whisky that is made of 100% malted barley and is from just one single distillery location. They generally contain slightly different ages of whisky from numerous different casks within the distillery’s warehouse. These are then married together in a larger container to establish the required consistent flavour profile. The age stated on the bottle is the youngest age of any whisky included.

The largest Scottish whisky producing region in terms of amount of distilleries. There are approximately 40 of the 90+ Scottish distilleries operating in this area. The area stretches roughly between the cities of Inverness and Aberdeen, and is named after the famous River Spey that runs through it.

Spirit safe
A brass framed box with glass walls that is attached to the spirit still. It is used to analyse the spirit when it leaves the still. By law, the operator cannot come in to contact with the spirit and as a result the spirit safe is padlocked with a Customs & Excise officer keeping the key.

Spirit still
The second and usually smallest in a pair of stills. The ‘low wines’ from the wash still are re-distilled in the spirit still – this raises the alcohol level to between 64-69% ABV and clears the alcohol of unwanted impurities. Only the middle section of this distillate is collected for maturation. This section is called the cut.

Vatted malt
A whisky that consists two or more single malts that are blended together. Unlike a blended whisky, vatted malts contain no grain whisky and only single malts. These can be from the same or different distilleries and be of differing ages.

The area where whisky is stored during its maturation. There are two main types. The first is the dunnage or traditional warehouse which have earth floors and stone walls where casks are stacked no more than three high. The other is the racked warehouse which is a modern facility with temperature and humidity control and where casks are stacked on racks up to 12 high.

A large deep tub or vat in which the fermentation process takes place in a distillery. Traditionally made of wood, they are now commonly made of stainless steel.

Wash still
Stills normally operate in pairs and the wash still is the first and usually largest of the two. The fermented wash is heated and the alcohol vapours evaporate and are then cooled and reformed in to a liquid by a condenser. The resulting liquid has an alcohol level of 20-22% ABV and are called the low wines. These then move to the spirit still.

Worm tub
An older form of apparatus used for cooling alcohol vapours back to a liquid spirit. The worm tub is connected to the lyne arm of a still and is formed of a long downward spiralling copper pipe that is submerged in a wooden tub full of cold water. The tub is usually positioned outside and was traditionally filled with rain water. Less than 10 distilleries in Scotland still have this system in operation. Most others use shell and tube condensers.

A warm and sugary solution that contains the soluble sugars from the malted barley dissolved in warm water. Wort is the liquid that goes forward to the fermentation process, where the sugars are changed to alcohol.


John said...

Lucky you going on another holiday....any room in your suitcase? Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow for a catch up .
Cohiba Siglo III

Anonymous said...

Very interesting information after the mezcal, whiskey is my second favorite drink.

Anonymous said...

Your Glossary is very Scotch focused with precious little about Irish, Bourbon or others; pity.

Mezcalero said...

This information is very useful. It would be equally good information on distilled spirits: rum, vodka, Armagnac, tequila, mezcal, cognac, brandy, pisco, vermouth.

Anonymous said...

Full proof ?

Anonymous said...

Go on, cry!