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glossary A

By law, Scotch whisky must be matured in wood for a minimum of three years, as must Irish whiskey, while in the USA the minimum legal requirement for bonding is four years. Most reputable single malt whiskies are matured for at least eight years. If a blended whisky carries an age statement, that refers to the youngest whisky in the blend.

Age Statement
Labels declaring an age statement like '12-year-old' indicate the youngest component whisky in the blend. Whisky does not mature in bottle, so this is all time in cask.

Angel's Share
A distillers' term for maturation losses. In Scotland, some two per cent of all maturing whisky evaporates through the porous oak casks each year, but in hotter and more humid climates the losses may be much greater.

glossary B

The principal raw material used in the whisky-making process in Scotland, Ireland and Japan. See also

Sometimes used as a generic term for a cask, but in the Scotch whisky industry a barrel is specifically a cask with an approximate capacity of 40 gallons (180 litres).

Blended Scotch
Many countries produce blended whiskies, using a variety of cereals, some malted and some unmalted, but a Blended Scotch whisky is one made from a mixture of grain and malt spirit. Theoretically, the higher the malt content the better the blend, although this is not always the case. Much depends on the quality and age of grain and malt whiskies used.

Blended malt
Previously known in Scotland as 'vatted malt,' blended malt is a combination of two or more malt whiskies, and contains no grain spirit.

Classic American style of whiskey, which must by law be made from a mash of not less than 51 per cent corn grain. The spirit is matured in new, white oak barrels that have previously been charred, or thermally degraded.

Bourbon, small batch
Following the success of Scotch single malt whiskies, a number of American distillers have developed the concept of small-batch Bourbons, namely carefully chosen, exclusive bottlings of their finest whiskeys, which generally command premium prices.

The process which follows malting in the production of malt whisky, and consists of mashing and fermentation, though in Irish distilling circles it is usually taken to mean just mashing, with fermentation being considered a separate, successive operation.

The second largest size of cask regularly used by the whisky industry for maturation purposes. The butt contains approximately 110 gallons or 500 litres, twice the amount of the hogshead.

glossary C

The smallest of the generally recognised Scotch whisky regions, now boasting just three distilleries. Campbeltown is located on the Kintyre peninsula in Argyllshire.

A generic term for containers of varying capacity in which spirit is stored during maturation.

Cask strength
Whisky sold at cask strength has not been diluted to the standard 40% or 43%, but is bottled at the strength at which it leaves the cask. This will vary depending on the age of the whisky, as older whiskies lose considerable strength during extended maturation.

Chill-filtering The process of refrigerating whisky and finely filtering it to ensure it retains its clarity in the bottle and when water is added by the consumer. Many connoisseurs consider that chill-filtration detracts from the character of the whisky in subtle ways, and a number of bottlers now make a virtue of not chill-filtering their products.

Clearic New make spirit, straight from the still. Clear in colour and high in strength, this was a popular drink with distillery workers when the practice of dramming was still extant.

Coffey still
Patented in 1830 by former Irish Inspector-General of Excise Aeneas Coffey, this still revolutionised whisky making. Also known as the column, continuous or patent still, it allowed large quantities of spirit to be distilled much more quickly than in the traditional pot still, paving the way for the development of blended Scotch whisky. Essentially, the stills used in Scottish grain distilleries, in Ireland and in most US distilleries are very similar to Coffey's original, consisting of two tall 'columns,' the first being the analyser, which separates the spirit from the wash, while the second, known as the rectifier, concentrates the spirit to a greater degree.

Column still
Coffey still.

Continuous still
see Coffey still.

The cereal at the heart of most North American whiskies, notably Bourbon. 'Corn whisky' is also a generic term for a rural, unsophisticated form of US whisky, which has strong associations with 'moonshining' and is considered to improve very little with ageing. Once a staple of Scottish grain whisky, corn has now largely been replaced by wheat, as it is considerably less expensive to purchase and gives a higher yield of alcohol.

During distillation, the stillman, or stillhouse computer programme, 'cuts' from collecting foreshots to the middle cut or heart of the run, before then cutting back to collect feints. 'Cut points' are crucial to the character of the spirit produced, and every distillery has its own formula for them, based on alcoholic strength and/or timescale.

glossary D

Dark grains
Cubes or pellets of high protein animal feed produced by treating pot ale with dried draff. Pot ale evaporates into a dark brown syrup, hence the name.

A term usually applied to blended whiskies, and one with no legal definition. Any blended whisky, regardless of quality or age, may be labelled as 'deluxe,' although the consumer would expect a reputable deluxe whisky to contain a higher proportion of malt to grain and/or embrace older whiskies than a 'standard' blend.

Distillation follows the process of fermentation in whisky making, and is characteristic of all spirit production. During distillation the alcohol is separated from the wash by heating it in stills. Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water and is driven off as vapour, leaving behind the water. It is subsequently condensed back into liquid form.

The spent grist left behind in the mash tun after the mashing process has been completed. Being high in protein it makes excellent cattle food, and is either sold off to farmers in its 'raw' state or converted into dark grains.

A measure of Scotch whisky of unspecified size, although in some Scottish bars a 'dram' is taken to mean a large or double whisky. 'Dramming' in distilleries was the semi-official practice of offering employees amounts of spirit at regular intervals during the working day. The advent of drink driving laws and 'health and safety' legislation finally ended the custom.

Traditional warehousing for whisky maturation, which consists of a stone or brick building, ideally with an ash and earth-covered floor. Casks are stacked no more than three high on wooden runners. Most experts believe such warehousing creates the optimum maturation conditions for malt Scotch whisky.

glossary E

glossary F

The final flow of distillation, produced after the middle cut has been collected. The feints consist of the heavier compounds and less volatile components of the low wines, such as fusel oil. Although not desirable in large quantities, a small amount of feints contributes to the overall character of the whisky being made.

Along with mashing, fermentation is part of the brewing process of whisky production. Yeast is added to the wort in the washbacks and the result is wash. This is the first time during whisky-making that alcohol has been produced.

New make spirit, once filled into casks.

The practice of 'finishing' whisky is a relatively new phenomena. Essentially, after a substantial period of maturation in its original cask, the whisky is transferred into a different one, which has previously held another alcoholic drink, for a period of finishing. This provides variations on 'house' style. The most common finishes feature various styles of Sherry, but others include rum, Madeira, Burgundy and port.

The initial flow of distillation, produced before the middle cut is collected. It contains an excess of acids, aldehydes and esters, but, like feints, a small quantity of foreshots contributes to the character of the whisky. As with feints, the amount present depends on the distillery's 'cut points.'

glossary G

In Scotland grain whisky is distilled principally from wheat or corn in continuous stills. Although a number of single and blended grain whiskies are available, the vast majority of grain whisky distilled is used for blending.

Grain Whisky
The raw material for grain whiskies is unmalted barley, wheat or corn. See
malt whisky

Green malt
At the point when germination is halted during malting, the barley is referred to as green malt.

Ground, malted barley ready for mashing.

glossary H

Heart of the run
Middle cut

One of the principal regions of Scotch malt whisky production, the Highland area lies north of a theoretical line that runs between Greenock on the Firth of Clyde in the west and Dundee in the east. Although geographically part of the Highland region, Speyside is usually considered to merit its own classification.

Often colloquially referred to as a 'hoggie,' the hogshead is a common size of whisky cask, having an approximate capacity of 55 gallons (250 litres.)

glossary I

Irish Whiskey
By law, Irish whiskey (as it is customarily spelled) has to be distilled and matured in Ireland for a minimum of three years. Although Irish pot still whiskeys - usually made using malted barley and unmalted cereal - are still produced, most of today's readily available Irish whiskeys are blends of pot still whiskey and continuous still grain whiskeys.

An Inner Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland famed for its distinctive malt whiskies. Islay currently has eight working distilleries, and at their most extreme, Islay malts are characterised by brine, peat and iodine notes. In recent years Islays have developed a cult following among malt whisky drinkers.

glossary J

glossary K

During malting the green malt is dried in a kiln in order to prevent germination proceeding too far and using up the starch essential for the production of alcohol. During kilning, peat smoke may be introduced to flavour the malt, though the principal fuel used in the kiln is coke.

glossary L

Low wines
In the pot still whisky-making process, low wines are the product of the first distillation in the wash still. They are impure and weak, and a second distillation in the spirit or low wines still is subsequently necessary.

One of the principal whisky-producing regions of Scotland, the Lowland area has suffered from many distillery closures over the years, and now just three Lowland distilleries are in operation. Stylistically, Lowlands are light-bodied, gentle whiskies, ideal as aperitifs.

Lyne arm/pipe
also known as a lye arm or lye pipe, this is the pipe connecting the head of the still to the condenser or worm. The angle of the lyne arm has a significant effect on the style of spirit produced. See also

glossary M

The product of a distillery: whisky. See also New make.

Barley, or other grain, prepared for whisky-making by steeping, germinating and kiln-drying. The purpose of malting is to break down the cell walls of the cereal to release the starch and begin the process of converting that into sugars which will subsequently produce alcohol.

Malt Whisky
The raw material is barley which has been malted and distilled in a pot still. Generally speaking, Malt Whiskies are superior to Grain Whiskies. See
Grain Whisky

The practice of vatting whisky prior to bottling in order to achieve a greater degree of harmony. A selection of casks of single malt may be married before bottling, and many blenders marry their blends in a similar fashion.

Malt mixed with hot water to form wort. Mashing follows malting and precedes fermentation in the whisky-making process, and the mash of grist and hot water is mixed in a large, circular vessel, known as a mash tun. Mashing extracts soluble sugars from the malted grain.

The practice of storing whisky in casks in order to achieve a more mellow and well-rounded spirit. Many countries specify a legal minimum maturation period. During maturation the porous casks allow the whisky to interact with the external atmosphere, and the spirit takes colour and flavour from the wood. At the same time, some of the higher alcohols are transformed into esters and other compounds with attractive aroma profiles.

Middle cut
The most pure and desirable spirit collected during distillation. Also known as the Heart of the run. See

A term principally used in the USA to denote illicitly-distilled whiskey, often harsh and new. Originally distilled during the hours of darkness using the light of the moon, in order to minimise the chances of detection.

glossary N

Neat Unmixed or undiluted. See also

New make Freshly-distilled whisky. See Fillings.

Nose The aroma or bouquet of a whisky. Along with colour, body, palate and finish, the 'nose' is used to quantify and describe a whisky. Most whisky professionals, particularly blenders, use their noses as the principal means of analysing whiskies.

glossary O

glossary P

Patent still
Coffey still.

Peat has an important influence on whisky character when it is used to flavour malt in the kiln, but much of the process water used in Scottish distilleries flows over peat and this also plays a minor part in influencing the finished product.

The term applied to a quantity of germinating barley while it is on the malting floor.

Irish term for illegally distilled spirit. Often anglicised to poteen.

Pot ale
The high protein waste liquor felt in the low wines still after the fist distillation has taken place.

Pot still
A copper distillation vessel. The size and shape of pot stills varies from distillery to distillery, and pot still variables play an important part in determining the character of spirit produced.

Measurement of the strength of spirits, expressed in degrees, calculated using a hydrometer. Although still employed in the USA, the proof system has now been superseded in Europe by a measurement of alcohol strength as a percentage of alcohol by volume.

glossary Q

glossary R

During distillation some of the heavier flavours with comparatively high boiling points condense from vapour back into liquid form before leaving the still and are redistilled. This is known as reflux, and the greater the degree of reflux the lighter and 'cleaner' the spirit produced. Short, squat stills produce little reflux, compared to tall, slender stills. The angle at which the lyne arm is attached also affects the levels of reflux.

Apparatus fitted inside a copper pot still, consisting of four rotating arms that carry a copper chain mesh. The rummager prevents solid particles in the wash sticking to the bottom of the still when stills are directly fired, but with most stills now steam-heated, rummagers are comparatively rare.

The flow of spirit from a still during a specific period of distillation.

Grain used in whiskey-making, most notably in the USA, where rye whiskey was once more popular than Bourbon. Now something of a niche product, rye is making a stealthy comeback among US connoisseurs.


Whisky distilled and matured in Scotland, but usually with the colloquial implication of blended whisky.

A wooden shovel used for turning barley during malting in traditional floor maltings.

Just as a closed theatre is said to be 'dark,' so a closed, though potentially productive, distillery is described as 'silent.'

Single Malt
Single malts are the product of one distillery, and have not been blended with any other
malt or grain whiskies.

Single cask
Most bottles of single malt will contain spirit from between 100 and 150 casks, vatted to give consistency, but a single cask bottling comes from one individual cask. It is frequently sold at cask strength and is prized for its individuality.

The geographically defined region of north-east Scotland that is home to approximately half of all Scottish malt whisky distilleries.

Until it has been matured for three years in its country of origin, Scotch and Irish whisk(e)y is officially known as spirit. It is produced in a spirit still, monitored and separated in a spirit safe, and collected in a spirit receiver.

Spirit safe
A secure, brass and glass box within which cutting takes place, without the stillman being able to have direct physical contact with the spirit. The Spirit safe was invented by Septimus Fox during the early 1820s, and its use became compulsory in 1823.

The vessel in which barley is soaked or steeped during malting.

Whether a pot or continuous still, operation is on the principal that alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water and is driven off as vapour, leaving behind the water. It is subsequently condensed back into liquid form.

Unmixed or undiluted. See also

A mechanism consisting of rotating arms which is fitted to a washback to reduce excessive frothing during fermentation.

glossary T

Tennessee whiskey is made in the eponymous US state and is characterised by a charcoal filtration process that is intended to produce a purer, smoother whiskey.

Top dressing
A blending term used to denote high quality malts that are known to marry well and are used to give a blended whisky a veneer of depth and character.

Triple distillation
The practice of distilling whisky three times rather than the usual twice in order to achieve a light, pure style of spirit. Triple distillation is a traditional characteristic of Irish whiskey, and also of Scottish Lowland whisky-making.

A large vessel in which mashing takes place, usually known as a mashtun. However, in a distillery the 'tun room' is home to the washbacks.

glossary U

glossary V

The process of mixing or blending components in a vat. Regarding Scotch whisky, the term was formerly most often applied to 'vatted malts,' that is more than one malt vatted together prior to bottling. The term has now been dropped by the Scotch Whisky Association and most distillers in favour of the expression 'blended malt,' which is thought to be less confusing for consumers.

Vatted Malt
Vatted malts are blends of various
malt whiskies from one or more distilleries. Often seen as lesser whiskies to the single malts.

glossary W

The liquid at the end of the fermentation process, ready for distillation.

The vessel in which fermentation takes place, traditionally constructed of wood, but now often made of stainless steel, which is easier to keep clean.

One of the key components of whisky production. Water is necessary for steeping during the malting process, for mashing and for cooling the vapour from the stills back into liquid form. As a source of reliable, pure water is crucial to distilling, most distillery sites have been chosen with this in mind.

The Gaelic term "uisge beatha" means "water of life". Uisge is pronounced "Oosh-kay", so "whisky" is an English corruption of that.

Generic term for casks used in the whisky industry.

A long, coiled copper tube, attached to the lyne arm of the pot still, and fitted into a large wooden vat filled with cold water, known as a worm tub. Before the introduction of 'shell and tube' condensers, the worm tub was the only means of condensing alcohol vapour back into liquid form. A number of distilleries continue to use worm tubs, as experts insist that the character of whisky made using a worm tub differs significantly from that cooled in a modern condenser.

Essentially unfermented beer, wort is produced in the mashtun. See

glossary X

glossary Y

glossary Z

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