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Glossary of Whisky terms

Age In whisky terms this is the number of years the whisky has spent in a wooden barrel. Where the whisky has been blended it is the age of the youngest component.
Blended Scotch A whisky made from a blend of malt and grain whiskies to produce a standard repeatable whisky usually in large volumes.
Campbeltown Term used to define whiskies from the Campbeltown region of Scotland. This is on the famous Mull of Kyntyre. There are only two distilleries remaining in this region (Glen Scotia and Springbank). 
Cask Wooden barrel used to store whisky. Whisky is stored in oak casks and aged to soften the whisky. The process of aging is complex but can be described simply as taking bad things out of the whisky and putting good things in. Casks for whisky have generally been used previously to store other alcoholic drinks and can impact character to whisky. It is not unusual to age whisky in barrels originally used for bourbon, sherry or rum and more recently distilleries are experimenting with a wider variety of casks. Whisky stored in casks will lose alcohol content very slowly depending on the environment where the whisky is stored and the type of cask it is stored in.
Cask strength Whisky is stored in casks at its original strength from the still of over 50% ABV and is normally watered down during bottling. However, many whiskies can be bought at the original cask strength. It is normal to water down the whisky at the time of drinking although an additional taste experience can be obtained from the cask strength. 
Caramel Sometimes used as a colouring agent in whisky. It is made from sugar.
Charring The process of charring the inside of barrels. The contact of the flame opens fissures that help with the aging process. It does not colour the whisky.
Chill filtration Whisky is often chilled before bottling to remove congeners which could cause the whisky to become cloudy if stored at low temperature.
Congeners Chemical compounds produced during whisky making that give the whisky character. They include esters, acids, aldehydes, and higher alcohols.
Dram Small glass of whisky (or other spirit).
Fermentation The process of converting sugar to alcohol using yeast.
Grain whisky Whisky where the raw material used is unmalted barley, wheat or maize produced in a continuous process. These are usually used in blends and generally (but not always) produce an inferior whisky.
   
Highland Term used to define whisky from distilleries in the highland region in the northern part of Scotland. Often dry with some peatiness.
Island Term used to define whisky from distilleries in the islands of Scotland (excluding Islay). They are typically peaty, smokey nose with a salty, briney and smokey flavour
Islay Term used to define whisky from distilleries on the island of Islay. Typically these are very peaty whiskies with iodine and seaweed flavours.
Kiln Used in whisky to dry the germinated barley before all the sugars are used up.
Lowland Term used to define whisky from distilleries from the lowland region in the southern part of Scotland. Typically they are soft and approachable.
Malt Barley or other grain prepared by steeping, germination and drying. The process of germination converts starch to sugars that can then be fermented.
Malt whisky Whisky made from barley malt fermented with yeast and then distilled.
Nosing glass A glass used to imbibe whisky. It is a small glass with a narrow opening that can be used to swirl, nose and taste the whisky.
Organic whisky Whisky made from organically grown barley (free of inorganic fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides)
Peat Used to dry malt during the whisky making process. The peat can impart a smoky flavour to whisky. Peaty is a common tasting term and typically applies to islay whiskies.
Pot still A common still for double distilling malt whisky. They are usually made of copper or stainless steel. 
Proof Proof is a measure is the specific gravity of whisky and measures the alcohol of the whisky by means of a hydrometer. These days alcohol is more usually given as Alcohol By Volume (ABV). British "proof spirit" contains 57.1% alcohol by volume.
Quaich Traditional two handed Celtic drinking vessel of Scotland. It is an open squat cup that can come in various sizes often used for communal drinking.
Scotch Whisky that is distilled and matured in Scotland and is define by the The Scotch Whisky Act 1988:

"Scotch whisky" means such whisky (distilled and matured in Scotland) as conforms to a definition of Scotch whisky contained in an order made under this subsection by the Ministers;

"whisky" means spiritsó

 (a) which have been produced by the distillation of a mash of cereals which has beenó

 (i) saccharified by the diastase of the malt contained therein, with or without other natural enzymes; and

 (ii) fermented by the action of yeast,

to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8 per cent by volume so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used; and

 (b) which have matured for at least three years in wooden casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres.

Single malt A whisky made at a single distillery in Scotland. Each distillery has a style or style of whiskies due to the ingredients used, production techniques, aging and blending of batches. These styles may or may not be representative of the region in which the distillery is based.
Slainte "Cheers" for whisky drinkers. The correct response is "Slainte Mhor" (cheers even more).
Speyside Term used to define whiskies from distilleries in the Speyside region of Scotland. These are alongside the river Spey. Speysides can be huge and sherry wooded, with smokiness, great length and complexity. Often the nose is enough to entrance.
Still Distilling apparatus consisting of a closed boiler and condensing chamber. This converts the wash to cask strength whisky in a two stage distillation process ready for storing and aging.
Top dressing Addition of higher quality malts to blends to improve the whisky's character.
Unfiltered Whisky that has not been chill filtered. Filtering can remove some of the whisky characteristics but does prevent the whisky going hazy if stored at low temperature.
Vatted malt Blend of single malts from two or more distilleries. This is usually to produce a consistent and repeatable product.
Wash Raw fermented liquid prior to distillation.
Whiskey Variation of whisky usually of US or Irish origin
Whisky Spirit distilled from malted barley or other grains.
Year Year in which the whisky was first distilled and entered into barrels. Unlike wine, whisky does not have vintages. However, the year helps define the process used and resulting whisky characteristics.
Yeast A fungal type organism that lives off sugar and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. It is used to convert the sugar from malted barley into alcohol prior to distillation.


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 Last updated: 5th February 2013