Terminology

ABV:  alcohol by volume. Scotch is usually bottled at 40 – 60% ABV

Aldehydes: grassy, leathery aromas

Angels Share: the whisky that is lost due to evaporation during maturation in the cask: in Scotland, normal loss is around 2% per annum

Barrel: a 180 liter Bourbon cask

Bastard Malt: a questionable malt; a malt of suspicious origin

Blended Whisky: Whisky that is made from the products of more than one distillery and blended with grain whisky to achieve a consistent flavour and appearance

Body: mouth feel

Butt: a 500 liter sherry cask

Campbeltown: A region of Scotland, on the famous Mull of Kyntyre. There were once almost thirty distilleries in the region, but there are now only two (Glen Scotia and Springbank).

Caramel: Made from sugar, and sometimes used as a colouring agent in whisky. Better left out in my opinion (though I’ve never been consulted).

Cask: stores the distilled spirit during maturation. Casks come in different sizes and are made with curved wooden staves supported by flat circular ends and bound together by metal hoops (see Coopering).

Chill filtration: During the production of some whiskies, the product is chilled before bottling to remove congeners which may cause a cloudiness in the  whisky if stored at low temperature. This is done purely for esthetics and can — unfortunately — remove desired flavours, thereby weakening the character. I can stand a little cloudiness if it adds to personality.

Congeners:  Chemical compounds produced during whisky production that bestow character. Congeners include esters, acids, aldehydes, and higher alcohols.

Coopering: the craft of constructing wooden staved vessels, bound together with hoops and possessing flat ends or heads.

C/S: Cask Strength

Distillation: separation of one liquid component from another by heating the liquid to its vapour state, cooling the vapour, and collecting the different components such that whisky is separated from the other components (contaminants).

Dram: measure of whisky (the amount in the glass)

Dramming: drinking whisky

Esters: fruity, flowery aromas

Feint: the third fraction of the distilled alcohol from the spirit still. The feint is returned to the sprit still for re-distillation.

Foreshot: the first fraction of the distilled alcohol from the spirit still. The forshot is returned to the sprit still for re-distillation

Finish: i) aftertaste; ii) maturation in a second cask

Gorda: immense sherry cask (Spanish for fat)

Grain Whisky: whisky that is made from malted barley, unmalted barley, and other cereals. Grain whisky is not influenced by location and can be made in any distillery.

Grist: the coarse flour produced when barley is ground and ready for mixing with hot water to make the wort.

Heart of the run: the second fraction of the distilled alcohol, which is collected, and is ready to be matured into whisky.

Highland: A region in the northern part of Scotland. The whiskies from this region are known for their dry finish; some expressions have a light peatiness.

Hogshead: a 250 liter cask

IB: Independent bottling

Island: Refers to the island distilleries of Scotland (excluding Islay). Their whiskies are typically peaty; a  smokey nose with a salty, briney and smokey flavour

Islay: Refers to distilleries on the island of Islay (eye-luh). Typically these are very bold, peaty whiskies with iodine and seaweed flavours. Some Islay whiskies are referred to as peat monsters.

Kiln: Used in whisky to dry the germinated barley before the sugars are used up.

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

Low wines: the product of the Wash Still. The low wines are run into the Spirit Still for further distillation. They are usually about 25% ABV.

Lowland: Reference to distilleries from the lowland region in the southern part of Scotland. These whiskies are characteristically floral, light-bodied, and approachable.

Lyne arm: drinker’s elbow

Malt Kiln: malted barley is dried using peat smoke as fuel in a kiln. The smoke filters through a fine mesh to the barley above.

Malt mileage: the number of malts sampled

Malt whisky: made from 100% malted barley which is distilled and matured in Scotland for a minimum of three years.

Malting: a natural process that modifies barley’s starch into fermentable sugar.

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

Maturation: the distilled spirit is aged in casks until it has the right flavours, strength and mellowness (by law, the distilled spirit must be matured for three years (minimum) to be referred to as scotch malt whisky).

NAS: No Age Statement (must be three years (minimum) to be a scotch whisky)

Nosing glass: A small glass with a narrow opening that can be used to swirl (without spilling), enhance the nose, and taste the whisky. I prefer the Glencairn glass, but others have differing preferences (e.g.: a snifter).

OB: Official Bottling; or, Owner Bottling

Organic whisky: To appease the environmentalist/purist: whisky free of inorganic fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides.

Patent Still: a copper column within which grain whisky is distilled.

Peat: Used to dry malt during the whisky production process. Peat imparts a smoky flavour.

Phenols: peaty, smoky aromas

Pot still: Used for double distilling malt whisky. Pot stills are usually constructed from copper or stainless steel.

Proof: prior system for measuring ABV (proof = 2 x ABV)

Puncheon: a 450 liter cask

Quaich: a traditional, two-handled drinking cup

Skalk: the first dram of the morning

Sláinte: Cheers! (Gaelic: literally, health; pronounced slawn-chya, I think…)

SMSW: single malt scotch whisky

SMWS: Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Speyside: A region of Scotland alongside the river Spey. Speyside whiskies are often sherry-wooded, with smokiness, great length and complexity. Often highly ‘noseable’ (there are whiskies that I could nose all day long…)

Spirit safe: the distillates pass through the spirit safe, whose locks were traditionally controlled by the Excisemen (tax man). The stillman uses his/her numerous years of experience and judgement to test the various distillates.

Spirit still: the second 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.

Slange var: Scottish for cheers , pronounced Slan je varr (Slainte Mhath in Gaelic.)

Steep: a tank in which barley is soaked in water during the beginning of the malting process.

SWA: Scotch Whisky Association

Top dressing: the addition of higher quality malts to a blend to improve the character.

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.

Vatting: a blend of different whiskies; this term has been replaced by the term blended malt

Vintage: year of distillation

Wash: the liquid produced when yeast is added to wort (hot water and barley) to produce crude alcohol; wash is like a strong beer

Washback: a container in which the wort is fermented using yeast to produce wash.

Wash still: the still that 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 barley (grist) is mixed with hot water.

WIP: work in progress (unbottled)

Year: Year in which the whisky was first distilled and entered into barrels. Unlike wine, whisky does not have vintages; however, the year can be useful when determining the process used and the resultant personality.

Yeast: A fungal organism that lives off sugar and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. It converts the sugars from malted barley into alcohol prior to distillation.

YO: years old

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