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Whisky Words

Age statement

When made, the age statement is the age of the youngest component of the whisky that is in the bottle – it doesn’t matter if that component is <1%.

Amylase

The enzyme that converts starch into maltose in the mash tun.

Angels Share

The whisky that is lost to the angels due to evaporation during maturation in the cask – normal loss is around 2% per annum.

Backset

In North American whisk(e)ys, alcohol-free liquid left at the bottom of the still after distillation (see Thin stillage) is added to the mash tub and fermenter to ward off bacterial contamination.

Ball of Malt

A glass of whiskey in Ireland.

Barrel

A type of cask which holds approximately 159 litres (35 Imp gallons, 42 US gallons). This is the standard size for maturing bourbon.

Beading

A quick but imprecise way of judging alcoholic strength. If you shake a bottle of whisk(e)y tiny bubbles appear. The greater the alcohol content the bigger and longer-lasting the bubbles will be.

Beer

Also known as wash. The alcoholic liquid that goes into the still.

Beer Still

Also known as wash still. The first still used in the distillation process.

Blended Whisky

Whisky that is made from the products of more than one distillery and are a mix of grain whisk(e)y with malt (or bourbon or rye according to the country of origin). In Canada 9.09 per cent of the blend may be whiskies/whiskeys from other countries, or even distilled fruit juices.

Bothie

A building that housed an illicit still in the Scottish Highlands. Most had only a single room, or were even hidden underground.

Bottled in Bond

North American whiskey, usually bourbon, bottled after four years in cask, at 50 per cent abv or more. Bourbon: US whiskey made from at least 51 per cent corn, distilled to a maximum of 80 per cent abv (160 proof) and put into charred new oak barrels at a strength of no more than 62.5 per cent abv.

Bourbon

US whiskey made from at least 51% corn, distilled to a maximum of 80% abv (160 proof) and put into charred new oak barrels at a strength of no more than 62.5% abv.

Brewing

The process of mashing grain in hot water and fermenting the result with yeast to produce wash or beer.

Butt

A type of cask which holds approximately 472 litres (104 Imp gallons, 125 US gallons). This is always used for maturing sherry in Spain and is the largest cask generally used in Scottish Distilleries.

Cask

Used to store the distilled spirit during maturation. These come in different sizes and are made with curved wooden staves supported by flat circular ends and bound together by metal hoops.

Cask Strength

Whisky bottled at the alcoholic strength at which it aged in cask, without being diluted with water to 40 per cent abv. In practice most is very slightly reduced in order that strength may be consistent.

Charcoal Mellowing

Used for Tennessee whiskey. The new spirit is filtered through charcoal before going into cask. Some may be filtered through charcoal again after cask ageing but before bottling.

Charring

The inside surfaces of new barrels are exposed to flames as part of the barrel-making process. This charring affects the flavour and colour of the spirit aged in the barrel. Old barrels are sometimes re-charred to prolong their useful life.

Chill Filtration

Whisky is often chilled before bottling to remove congeners which would otherwise cause hazing if the whisky were stored at low temperatures.

Column Still/Continuous Still

The cheaper and faster alternative to the pot still.

Congeners

Chemical compounds produced during fermentation and maturation. Congeners include esters, acids, aldehydes and higher alcohols. Strictly speaking they are impurities, but they give whisky its flavour. Their presence in the final spirit must be carefully judged; too many would make it undrinkable.

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 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. The foreshots and feints are re-distilled.

Cytase

Enzyme in barley that breaks down the cell walls, thus making 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 process whereby a liquid is recovered from another by heating until it becomes a vapour that is then cooled and collected to make whisky.

Doubler

The pot still used for the second distillation, where batch distillation is used.

Draff

In Scotland, what is left of the grain after fermentation. It is used for animal food.

Dram

A glass of whisky in Scotland.

Drum Maltings

Maltings where malting is carried out in large drums that turn the grain mechanically.

Enzymes

Compounds in grain produced during germination. See Amylase and Cytase.

Feint

The third fraction (part) of the distilled alcohol from the spirit still which is returned to the sprit still for redistillation. Also known as tails, or after-shots.

Fermenter

The vessel in which the mash is distilled into alcoholic liquid, or wash.

Fillings

Newly distilled spirit in barrel. It is not whisky until it has matured for the legal minimum of time.

Floor Maltings

Maltings where barley is malted by spreading it out on a large floor and turned by hand. Floor maltings have been largely replaced by drum maltings.

Foreshot

The first fraction (part) of the distilled alcohol from the spirit still which is returned to the sprit still for redistillation. Also known as heads.

Furfurol

Flavour compound that gives a burnt taste. Undesirable in large quantities.

Fusel Oil

A congener produced during fermentation.

Gauger

The old name given to the exciseman whose job it was to uncover illicit distillation and smuggling.

Grain Whisky

Whisky that is made from barley and other cereals in Patent Stills (also known as Coffey Stills). The distillation process is also known as continuous distillation. The barley can be either malted or unmalted. Grain whisky is not influenced by location and can be made in any distillery.

Green Malt

Barley that has started to germinate and has not yet been dried.

Grist

The coarse flour that is produced when grain is ground ready for mixing with hot water to make the wort.

Heads

Also known as foreshots.

Heart of the Run

The second fraction of the distilled alcohol which is collected ready to be matured into whisky.

Hogshead

A 236 Litre (52 Imp gallons, 62.5 US gallons) cask. This is the ideal and most common size of cask in which to mature Scotch Whisky. Barrels imported from the US are usually rebuilt as hogsheads.

Legs

The trails left on the inside surface of the glass when the whisky has been swirled around. This is usually used to determine the amount of malt in blended whiskies.

Low Wines

These are the product of the Wash Still which are run into the Spirit Still for further distillation. They are usually about 25 per cent alcohol by volume.

Malt Kiln

Malted barley is dried using peat smoke, burnt in a kiln. The smoke filters through a fine mesh to the barley above. The degree of smokiness (or peatiness) is largely controlled during the drying operation. Some distilleries don’t use any peat.

Malt Whisky

Whisky that is made from 100% malted barley.

Malting

The natural process which modifies the starch contained in barley into fermentable sugar.

Mash Tun

The large circular container in which grist (ground barley) is soaked with hot water before distillation to produce a sweet sugar liquid known as wort.

Maturation

The process whereby distilled spirit is aged until it has the right flavours, strength and mellowness for whisky.

Patent Still

The large copper column in which grain whisky is continuously distilled. Also known as a Coffey Still.

Pot Still

The (traditionally) copper vessel used for the batch distillation phase of malt whisky production.

Proof Spirit

A measure of alcoholic strength. The initial definition (a very practical use of technology at the time) is “that concentration of alcohol that just supports the combustion of gunpowder”. Today, we define that as approximately 57.15% by volume of alcohol. The Americans (who just have to be different) define 50% as proof. So a whisky of 57.15% alcohol is 100 degrees proof (in the proper system) or 114.3 (in the American system).

Puncheon

A 500 Litre cask (110 Imp gallons, 132 US gallons).

Scotch

A whisky (malt, grain or blended) that has been matured in Scotland in oak casks for a minimum of 3 years; bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume – it does not have to be bottled in Scotland, though.

Single Malt Whisky

A blend of malts of different ages from a single distillery – but the distillery doesn’t have to be named, nor does there have to be an age statement.

Slange Var

Pronounced [Slan je varr]. This is the Scottish for cheers (santé). “Slainte Mhath” in Gaelic. Still pronounced [Slan je varr]

Spirit Safe

The distillates pass through the spirit safe, whose locks were traditionally controlled by the Excisemen. The stillman uses all his years of experience to test and judge the various distillates.

Spirit Still

The 2nd still used in the process. The low wines from the wash still are redistilled here to produce the foreshots, the heart of the run and the feints.

Steep

The tanks in which barley is soaked in water at the beginning of the malting process.

Uisge Beatha

Scots Gaelic for aqua vitae or the ‘water of life’, from the first part of which the word ‘whisky’ is thought to derive.

Vatted Malt Whisky

A blend of malts from different distilleries. The distilleries do not have to be named. No age statement is required.

Wash

The liquid which is formed when yeast is added to wort (hot water and barley) to form crude alcohol; wash is like a strong beer.

Washback

The large container in which the wort is fermented using yeast to produce wash.

Wash Still

This still receives the wash for the first distillation. The low wines are collected for redistilling in the spirit still. The stills are critical for determining the character and the flavour of the whisky.

Wort

The sweet sugary liquid which is produced when ground grain (grist) is mixed with hot water to extract the sugars prior to fermentation. This is the same step as in beer production.