Whiskey Terms and Definitions from A-Z

A-Z Whiskey Terms

While drinking whiskey is easy, remembering all the different terms and definitions to discuss and define whiskey can be a more daunting effort. To help alleviate any confusion and help shed some light on some of the stranger terms we whiskey enthusiasts use I put together a a comprehensive list from letter A to Z (which was more difficult than I thought it would be, especially the letter Z).

Angels Tax: Apparently a certain amount (roughly 4%) of whiskey evaporates in the barrel. This is commonly blamed on Angels taste testing the whiskey – hence the term Angels Tax (or Angels Share).

Bottled In Bond: In order for whiskey to be labeled “Bottled-in-Bond” the distiller must follow the Standards of Identity set forth in the US Governments Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 including been aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. The bottled product’s label must identify the distillery where it was distilled and, if different, where it was bottled.

Cask: The wooden barrel used to store whiskey. Usually done in Oak casks whiskey can be finished in other previously used casks as well.

Column Still: Also known as a continuous still or coffee still, these large industrial stills allow for continuous distillation which creates the largest amount of whiskey than pot distilling methods.

Distilling: The process of evaporating a mildly alcoholic wash into a much higher proof alcohol by collecting the alcohol vapors.

Dram: Name for a small glass of whiskey – traditionally Scottish.

Exciseman: Old term for those charged with uncovering illegal distilling and smuggling of whiskey.

Finishing: After whiskey has spent significant time in it’s original cask it is then transferred into a previously used cask of another alcohol to create a mixed flavor profile (for example sherry or port).

Grist: Mixture of crushed grains from malted and unmated barley used in the making Irish pot still whiskey.

Hooch: A generic term used in reference to liquor that is illegally distilled and distributed.

Islay: A term usually reserved for whisky distilleries on the island of Islay typically known for their very peaty whiskies.

Jigger: Defunct term for an 1.5 oz. measurement of whiskey (usually an American term).

Kiln: The room where malted barley is kept warm in order to stop the germination process and dry out the barley to prepare it for milling.

Lincoln County Process: The mellowing process used by some Tennessee whiskies (most commonly Jack Daniel’s) where this whiskey is filtered through a column of charcoal chips before entering the casks for aging. The name comes from the process originating in Lincoln County, Tennesse.

Moonshine: Illegally distilled liquor, usually clear. Made without a license in order to avoid paying taxes. The name originates from the term “moonshiners” because those who made the liquor usually did so at night to avoid getting arrested. Legally made Moonshine is now available.

Nose: The aroma or bouquet of the whiskey, often used when in rating and reviewing whiskey.

Oxidation: Highly debated term to define the (possible) change in the taste of whiskey when a bottle has been opened / exposed to air.

Palate: The taste of the whiskey, often used when in rating and reviewing whiskey.

Peat: Material formed by decaying matter in bog lands. Commonly used as fuel to drying malted barley. This is often used in the process of making scotch known for it’s smokey “peat” flavor.

Pure Pot Still: Traditionally refers to single malt Irish whiskey that is produced in a  copper pot still from malted and unmated barley.

Quality Price Ratio: Or QPR refers to the quality of the whiskey for the price paid.

Run: The clear alcohol liquid produced during distillation.

Sour Mash: Is a common term used in reference to the distilling process where an older batch of mash is used to start fermentation in a new batch. This process helps control the fermentation process and improves the consistency of taste from bottle to bottle.

Tennessee Whiskey: Very similar to Bourbon except that Tennessee Whiskey must be made in Tennessee and is filtered through sugar maple charcoal (bourbon is not mellowed) commonly referred to as the “Lincoln County Process”.

Uisce Beatha: Celtic meaning “water of life”.

Vatting: When identical whiskies from the same distillery but different casks are mixed together to create a more consistent flavor profile for an individual brand of whiskey.

Wash: The raw fermented brew before distillation.

White Dog: Term for unaged American whiskey bottled for sale. While considered a novelty most distillers are now selling a version.

XXX Shine Whiskey: Whiskey made by Philadelphia based craft distiller.

Yeast: A substance that feeds on sugar forming alcohol as a by product used in the production of whiskey by adding it to the mashed malted barley in the mash tuns.

Zilch: the amount of Pappy Van Winkle I can find for sale.

Whiskey or Whisky – Let’s Talk History.

These days it seems just about anything can pass grammatically – from shorthand text messages to new acronyms popping up daily (YOLO anyone?) but for serious whisk(e)y drinkers the words just aren’t interchangeable and represent entirely different spirits.

While there are rumors surrounding the Irish or the Americans adding the “E” in an attempt to differentiate their product apart from the original Scottish spelling “whisky” there is little historical information to substantiate the claim. Additionally there are some popular American brands that still use the alternate spelling today including Maker’s Mark, George Dickel and Old Forester.

As I understand it, the simplest rules to follow are to use the spellings as follows:

Typically used when the spirit originates from the United States or Ireland.

The original spelling of the spirit and is generally used when it originates from Scotland, Canada, Japan, and Wales (however this is also the official spelling in America according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms).

It would seem that looking to the country of origin is a great way to figure out which way to spell whisk(e)y and if you’re still unsure you can’t go wrong using the same spelling printed on the bottle.