GlossaryGlossary of popular whisky terms used

For the purpose of Liquid Sunshine, this section is reserved towards a glossary of words which are used in the whisky world, your ready reckoner for whisky jargon!

A

ABV (Alcohol by volume) – Its the percentage of alcohol in a bottle, termed as a % of the entire volume

Acrospire – This is the green shoot which begins to grow during the first step of the malting process. It is only when the acrospire has filled 3/4th of the husk that the barley is put into the kiln to dry, in order to stop the germination further.

Amylase – An enzyme which during fermentation begins the conversion of starch into sugar

Angel’s Share – Its the share of alcohol lost as evaporation while in the cask during the process of maturation. This is estimated to be approximately 2% of the casks content per annum.

B

Barley – Cereal which is germinated to produce malt, the raw material from which malt whisky/whiskey is made.

Blended Malt – Malt whiskies taken from more than one distillery and vatted together.

Blended Whiskies – These are whiskies which are a result of a mix of grain & malt whiskies.

C

Cask Strength – This is the strength at which the whisky comes out of the cask after maturation. This can vary according to the age of the whisky. The ABV varies from 50 to 61% of a bottled cask strength whisky.

Charring – An important step in the production and refurbishment of the bourbon casks, the act of firing to the interior cask lends sweetness and enhanced vanilla to the resultant spirit.

Chill-filtration – Chill-filtration involves chilling the spirit to an extremely low temperature and then passing it through a very fine filter. At such temperatures the fatty acids, proteins and esters are too large to pass through the filter. It is for this reason that non chill-filtered whiskies show a gentle cloudiness and residue especially on adding water to the dram.

Cooper – The person who builds and refurbishes casks for the maturation of spirits.

Cytase – The enzyme in cereal grains which breaks down the cereal walls during the germination process to allow an easy access to starch

D

Distillation – This process is based on one basic principle that alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. As a result, once the right temperature is provided, the alcohol gets evaporated without water, below water’s boiling point. Once this is condensed, its a far more alcoholic liquid.

Draff – Its a byproduct from the first stage in the production of malt whisky where the malted barley is mixed with hot water in the mash tuns to extract soluble sugars. The liquid ‘wort’ is drained off to be fermented and distilled.  The residue which remains is called “Draff” and is used as cattle feed.
Its rich in digestible fibre and also contains concentrated protein and oil from the malted barley.

Dunnage Warehouse – Traditional warehouses, with small buildings and short heights, earthen floors, thick stone walls, which have a natural temperature control. The height is just enough to stack about 3 barrels at a time and provide optimum air circulation. The running costs are extremely high, since each barrel is hand carried, though it is said that such warehouses provide better whiskies given the humidity levels.

E

Ethereal – The aroma of ether. Easily detectable on first nosing.

Endosperm – Its that part of barley which holds starch

F

Feints (Tails or Aftershots) – Last part of the distillation, with many impurities and hence unusable and unpotable

Fermentation – The process where yeast is added to the sugary liquid called ‘wort’ to produce carbon dioxide, alcohol and esters

Finish – The flavour of a whisk(e)y after is has been swallowed. The finish is measured in length, meaning how long the flavour is retained. Usually, a longer finish is preferred.

Floor Maltings – A very labour intensive process, where barley malting is done on the floor at a distillery manually. Its often debated about its efficiency vs its control. There are very few distilleries in operation now which carry this process, since it can be done industrially at a much quicker, larger scale. Spingbanks, Bowmore, Laphroig, Highland Park are some of the examples in this direction

Foreshots (Heads) – The first part of the second distillation run. It is diverted back into the spirit still to get the desired output. The characteristic aspect of the foreshot is that the beginning is a bit laden with impurities however the end contains desirable fruity esters.

G

Grain Whisky – Whiskies produced from cereal grains and distilled in continuous stills. These whiskies form a base for a majority of the blended whiskies and are also much cheaper to produce.

Green Malt – Its that stage of barley which has just initiated germination and the green shoot has grown to fill 3/4th of the husk.

Grist – A fine flour produced by grinding malted barley

Grist Mill – The machine used to grind barley into flour.

H

Hard Water – Water with a very high mineral content. Hard Water occurs when the water travels over soft rock.

Heart – The middle part of the first distillation.

K

Kentucky Bourbon – While Bourbon can be produced anywhere in America, Kentucky is the only state which can put the name of the state on the label.

Kiln – The place where malted barley is dried using hot air

Kilning – It is the process of drying the barley to stop further germination, to prevent it from using its starch for food. instead the kilning process preserves this starch for the next step of fermentation.

L

Low Wines – The distillate produced from the first distillation process in the wash still.

Lyne Arm – The arm pipe which connects the top of the still with the condenser. The angle of this arms effects the body of the new make spirit.

M

Malt – Barley which has been through the malting process.

Mash Tun – A vessel in which grist and hot water are combined together to create a sugary liquid called wort and prepare it for the next stage of fermentation.

Mashman – The distillery worker who oversees milling, mashing and fermentation procedures,

Master Blender – The individual who decides and plans the composition of whiskies and/ or blends. One of the primary endeavours of his job is to maintain standardisation of taste and flavour over the many years while carefully making the selection of malts.

Maturation – It is the process of ageing a whisky in oak barrels.

Micro Distilleries – Small scale operations, largely into being to propel the craft and hence focus more on quality than quantity. They have been more in news in the recent past.

N

New Make – This is a fresh distilled spirit. It cannot be called whisky, since it still has to live its minimum maturation period in oak casks.

Neat – Drinking whisky after having poured it out of the bottle, in the absence of any mixer or dilution, not even water or ice

O

Oak – Its a type of wood used for making barrels. Oak is from genus quercus, its is native to Northern Hemisphere, strong wood with high tannin content. The most overt flavours amongst others are vanillin.

P

Pagoda – Originally designed roofs for ventilation for malting rooms, these are now the signature facades of some of the most picturesque distilleries in Scotland. Originally designed by Charles Doig in 1889, Doig was a man who was quite inspired by the Japanese architecture.

Peat – The dark, partially decomposed plant debris and organic matter found in bogs. This peat contributes to the smoky, medicinal and intense character of whiskies in certain parts of Scotland, especially Islay, which have been peat fired during their malting process.

Peated Malt – Malted barley which retains a strong peaty-character after it is kilned over peat fires.

Phenols – These are chemical compounds which impart smoky, medicinal or burnt character in some malts. The husks absorb phenols during the kilning process

Pot Still – Its the traditional distillation still, made of copper, as the name suggests it has a pot shape bottom, its head ends in a swans neck, where it attaches itself to a lyne arm.

PPM – Parts per million. Used to note the intensity of phenolic content of a substance (phenol parts per million).

Proof – This is the American method of defining the alcoholic strength of a whiskey. It is twice the % of ABV

Purifier – Few distilleries make use of this device. Its attached to the lyn arm, enhances the reflux and hence produces a lighter spirit.

R

Racked Warehouse – Larger than dunnage warehouses, cheaper to run and can be managed via forklift trucks for moving the barrels.

Refill Cask – This is a cask which has previously been used for maturing whisky already. With each refill the influence of the cask on the whisky’s flavour starts to diminish.

Reflux – Reflux is an action that occurs when gases condense before they reach the lune arm and fall back into the still, thus they get re-distilled.

Higher reflux also means that the distillate is in contact with the copper for a longer duration, combined with the re-distillation, it produces a cleaner, delicate and lighter spirit.

Run – The liquid which leaves the still through the condenser.

S

Saladin Box – This device is used during malting to turn the grains in order to provide optimum air circulation through the moist barley.

Scotch – The whisky which is produced necessarily completely in Scotland, matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks and bottled at the least of 40% abv.

Sight Glass – A glass window provided at the wash still head to enable the stillman in monitoring the distillate and its boiling

Small Batch – combining few casks from a distillery which share same/ similar ages and similar characteristics

Soft Water – Water with a very low mineral content. Soft Water occurs when the water travels over hard rock.

Solera – A maturation method developed by the Spanish and Portuguese for their wines as a way to provide wines of a constant average age, as well as to ensure a certain homogeneity of product over different vintages.The same is now acquired by the whisky industry where barrels are filled at various times. Each maturing barrel is not emptied completely and each time gets filled up subsequently with the next maturing barrel. This process keeps getting repeated till the youngest barrel is topped up with a new make spirit. The endeavour here is quality and age consistency

Spirit – An alcoholic beverage whose abv is a minimum of 20%.

Spirit Caramel – More scientifically called E150, is a tasteless liquid used sometimes to artificially colour whiskies, to bring about a colour consistency or sometimes even to give an inference of an older product.

Spirit Safe – A brass cum glass casing under the vigilance of the excise officer, since its locked by them. It has external handles which enables the stillman to manoeuvre  the distillate without coming in direct contact with the spirit

Spirit Still – Next to the wash still is the the last and mostly the second still, called the spirit still,  which is used to re-distil the spirit produced in the wash still.

Steep – The vessel used to steep barley in water to commence the germination process

T

Triple Distillation – The process in which the alcohol is distilled thrice as against the standard norm of double distillation. This is done with the addition of the intermediate still in between the wash and spirit still. Triple distillation produces a light and clean spirit.

U

Unpeated Malt – Barley which has been malted in kilns not fuelled by peat.

V

Vatting – There are 2 scenarios where vatting has been in use, for bottling single malts, where various casks from a single distillery were used or for bottling blended malts, where various casks from different distillery were used.

W

Wash – Fermented Wort, with a very low ABV of 7% – 8%

Wash Receiver –  A vessel used to collect the wash prior to distillation

Wash Still – The first pot still used in distillation in which the Wash is distilled.

Washback – The vessel used for fermentation

Wheat – A primary cereal used in the production of grain whiskies. Since long it was grown and cultivated in Europe and later it gained a similar popularity in America as well. It has a characteristic smooth sweetness which it imparts to its whiskies.

Worm Tub – A large tub used to condense the alcohol vapours coming from the distillation stills. The tub has copper tubes coiled inside it and its kept generally outside the main still house, intact towards the outdoors.

Wort – The liquid generated from the first process of the malt production process, its drawn from the mash tun and used in later for the fermentation process since its rich in sugar(s).

Y

Yeast –  An extremely important component for the fermentation process since it acts on sugar and produces carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol.