GLOSSARY OF WHISKEY TERMS
Sometimes it seems like distillers have a language all of their own, so here's a guide to the lingo.
Usually referring to Irish or American made Whiskey.
The legal definition of Irish whiskey is a spirit distilled on the island of Ireland from a mash of cereals, fermented by yeast and distilled at less than 94.8% ABV and aged in a wooden cask for 3 years. Therefore, there is a very wide variety of styles permitted. See the History of Spirits for a fascination read on how this has changed over the years. Keep reading below for explanation of some of the terms used above.
Irish whiskey is dominated by the large blended whiskey brands but some single malt whiskey made. American Whiskey is subdivided into Bourbon & Rye.
Referring to Scotch, Japanese, Canadian and other world aged grain spirits.
Note: From here on out in this glossary, Whiskey & Whisky can be used interchangeably.
A whiskey made from only malted barley in the mash.
Vatted Malt Whiskey
Also called Blended Malt Whiskey. If the word 'single' is not present before 'malt whiskey' then the product is likely to be malt whiskey sourced from several different distilleries and blended together.
Note that blended malt whiskey is different from blended whiskey.
Single Malt Whiskey
Malt whiskey made in a single distillery. In short, the good stuff!
A mix of malt whiskey with cheaper grain whiskey.
Pot Still Whiskey
For centuries the term pot still whiskey was interchangeable with the terms single malt and Irish whiskey as Irish distillers would make nothing other than malt whiskey in pot stills. For a long explanation, read about the rollercoaster history of Irish Whiskey.
More recently some brands have decided to apply the term to a whiskey made using a blend of malted and unmalted barley in the mash.
Whiskey which has been made using barley which has used turf (also called peat) during the malting process. Turf and wood would have been the fuel sources for most of Irish history before the introduction of coal and oil. The smoke from the earlier fuels would have been allowed to billow through the barley as it dried, however as the smoke from coal and oil is poisonous, processes were changed to ensure that no smoke mixed with the product. This significantly altered the taste of the original whiskey.
During 'peating the malt' the smoke from the smoldering turf has billowed through the barley as it dries and the whiskey has a distinctive flavor as a result. The level of peat smoke used and therefore 'peatiness' of the whiskey can vary significantly.
Peat (commonly called 'turf' in Ireland) comes from bogs, which are very special areas of wet land, common in the West of Ireland. These areas grow plants such as mosses, shrubs and heathers and as the plants decay each year they add another layer to the bog. Over millions of years this continual natural process forms what looks like thick, wet dark soil.
The bog can be cut, traditionally by hand in small sections known as 'sods', and left to dry in the wind and sun. Once dry, it is used as a fuel for open fires much like wood logs.
Bogs are abundant in the West of Ireland and the turf requires no processing to be ready to use, other than natural drying. It is little wonder then that turf fires have been the traditional heat source in County Mayo for millennia.
As the turf burns a beautiful earthy aroma is released. See how turf is used in malting barley for whiskey.
Distilled twice. The output of the first distillation is the input to the second distillation. Could be done using the same still twice, but usually 2 pot stills are used the first (and larger) one called the wash still and the second one called the spirit still. Most pot still Scotch is double distilled.
Distilled three separate times. Could be achieved using the same still three times, but 3 pot still are used in sequence - the wash still, the feint still (also called the low wines still) and the spirit still. Triple distillation is carried out to achieve a smoother spirit.
A common term for the vessels used in fermentation. Also sometimes called Fermenters.
The residue remaining after the wort has been drained from the mashtun. Sometimes called the draff. The mixture is high in proteins so Nephin give this to local farmers who use it as animal feed, so there are no waste products.
The common name for Feints. This is the last section of the flow coming from the pot still. It is not allowed into the next still (assuming a double or triple distillation) but is mixed back with the wort or low wines of the next batch coming through. This action is repeated continually.
The cuts refers to both the heads and the tails which do not make it into the spirit or onto the next step of distillation. The moment where the distiller chooses to seperate the heads from the spirit and the spirit from the tails are called the cut-points.
Nowadays this is measured very exactly, but historically would have been judged by an estimation of the alcohol content in the run (the liquid flowing from the worm). Have a look at the Making of Poitín and watch for the distiller sampling some of the run and throwing it onto the still with the fire burning underneath. If the splash took fire it indicates a high alcohol content and distillation continues, when the splash does not light and quenches the fire the distiller now knows the run is in the tails section.
The residue remaining at the bottom of the wash still after first distillation.
The residue remaining at the bottom of the spirit still after distillation. Nephin distillery mix this with the pot ale and give to local farmers who spread it on fields as a natural fertilizer.
Stands for Alcohol By Volume. It is the measure of how much alcohol a liquid contains expressed in a percentage. So 1L of whiskey at 45% ABV contains 450ml of alcohol and 550ml water. Often written as %ABV or Alc. / Vol. or % Vol all of which are the same.
A way of expressing the alcohol strength of a spirit. It is always 2x ABV or another way to say that is 1 proof is equal to 0.5% ABV. So, cheaper blends will typically be 40% which is 80 proof, non-chill filtered single malts will often be 46% which is 92 proof and cask strength may be 60% which is 120 proof.
A cask that has been used previously for the maturation of Bourbon. It is almost always AB size and made from American Oak. As bourbon demands that fresh oak is always used, this means that the cask is only used once for bourbon making and is now available for other whiskey makers who prefer not to use fresh oak. The overwhelming majority of Irish and Scotch whiskey and especially the blended whiskey is aged in ex-bourbon barrels as they are cheaper than other options.