Glossary of Whisky and Distillation


You will be able to discover many photos illustrating the main terms of this glossary in the pages explaining the making of whisky.


A B C D E F G H I K L M N P R S T U V W Y - Go to page bottom

A
Abv. Or alcohol by volume. The strength of an alcohol or spirit measured as the percentage of pure alcohol contained in the liquid. For instance, a whisky of 40% abv. will contain 40% of pure alcohol, the rest being made up of water mainly plus various congeners.
Age The minimum age for a whisky in Scotland and Ireland is 3 years old. The age figuring on the label is always the one of the youngest whisky contained in the bottle if it is the result of a blending or a vatting. Once bottled, a whisky does not mature any more.
Ageing See maturation.
Angel Share The name given to the alcohol which evaporates from the casks during the ageing process, and amounting to approximately 2% per year of the cask's content.
B
Barley The cereal from which Malt is made.
Barrel A term refering to a cask in general. Barrel is also often used to refer specificaly to the traditional American type of cask with a capacity of about 180 l.
Blend Or Blended Whisky. The result of the blending of Malt Whisky with Grain Whisky, the latest being largely predominant in proportion.
Brewing mashing.
Butt A type of cask currently used for the maturation of Scotch Whisky or Irish Whiskey, with a capacity of approximately 500 l.
C
Campbeltown More than 30 active distilleries were to be counted in Campbeltown at the end of the 19t century. Although only two are now only 2 currently in being operational, Campbeltown is still recognized as one of the traditional Scottish regions for the production of Scotch Whisky.
Cask strength Is said of a whisky which has not been diluted with water and has been bottled at its original abv when emptied from the cask.
Charring Or "burning" of the inside of the cask. Not to be confused with he heating of the staves which enables their bending when assembling them together for building the cask. The intensity of the charring will have a direct influence on the aromas and colour which the cask will impart to the whisky during its maturation.
Chill filtration The elimination of some congeners by the filtration of whisky which has been previously chilled to a temperature more or less close to 0° C. It improves the clarity and prevents hazing at low temperatures (Which has strictly no consequence) at the price of the loss of some aromatic components.
Coffey still See Patent Still.
Condenser The part of the still made as a copper coil or as vertical tubes, immersed in a flow of cold water, where the alcohol's vapours running through it are condensed back to liquid.
Congeners Chemical compounds created during fermentation and distillation which provide to the whisky its character, its qualities… or its defects.
Continuous distillation The distillation of grain Whisky in a plates still or Patent Still working on a continuous process, as opposed to distillation in Pot Still which is a batch process.
Cooler Cooling device into which enters the hot wort drawn from the mashtun. The wort's temperature will be lowered to about 20 to 24° C before entering the washbacks. At higher temperatures, the yeast cells responsible for the fermentation process would be killed.
Cut The critical moment when the stillman will stop collecting the Middle Cut, which is the only fraction kept to become whisky. The alcohol distilled after the cut is known as tails.
D
Distillation The separation of alcohol and water as being achieved in a still. Distillation does not create any alcohol, the latest is produced only during fermentation.
See also an illustrated description of distillation in the pages covering the making of whisky.
Double maturation Is said of a whisky having benefited from a finishing, or second maturation, in a second cask of different origin and characteristics.
Draff The solid particles laying in the mashtun after the wort has been drawn off. Draff are a sought-after food for cattle.
E
Exciseman Officer form H M Customs and Excise who is in charge of controlling the conformity of operations run by spirit manufacturers, and of the payment of relevant duty taxes.
F
Feints Generic term for the fractions of distillation which are put aside to be redistilled eventually. They are the foreshots and tails, as opposed to the Middle Cut.
Fermentation The transformation of sugar contained in the wash under the action of yeast, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide [C6H12O6 —> 2 (C2H5OH) + 2 (CO2)] with an emission of heat.
Fillings Spirit as it comes off the still, which has yet to mature before becoming whisky. Fillings are bought by companies to let them mature until they will be used for preparation of the blends.
Finishing After its initial maturation carried out in the traditional manner (Usually in a former Bourbon cask), a whisky is finished when it is transferred in a cask of different origin and characteristics to benefit from a further maturation. Finishing will produce a Double Maturation whisky to which it will bring enhanced complexity in nosing and tasting, it may also provide a new balance to it.
Foreshots The first fraction of the second distillation preceding the Middle Cut, and which is not kept for the whisky.
G
Grain whisky Whisky produced by a continuous distillation process, from a wort usually essentially made up from wheat or maize, including a very limited proportion of malt.
Green malt Malt which has not yet gone through the kilning stage.
Grist Crushed malt, looking like a kind of flour, which will be mixed with hot water in the Mashtun to produce the wort.
H
Heads See Foreshots.
Heart of run See Middle Cut.
Highlands The part of Scotland situated North of the line Greenock-Dundee, as opposed to the Lowlands. They are mainly mountainous lands producing Malt Whiskies which have benefited for a long time of a high reputation.
Hogshead Traditional scottish cask, generally of rather squat proportion and whose capacity, which somewhat varies according to the area, is usually about 250 l.
I
Irish Whiskey Whisky distilled and aged in Ireland for a minimum of 3 years.
Islay An Island, part of the outer Hebrides, producing peaty whiskies of justifiably very high reputation. A mythical place for any real lover of whisky.
K
Kilning The last operation during the process of making malt, during which the green malt will be heated for a rather long time, in order to stop its germination and bring it down to a final stage of 3 to 4% of humidity.
L
Lautertun A modern alternative to the traditional mashtun, originating from the brewing industry, and allowing for a better extraction of sugars contained in the malt, and therefore an improved yield through the brewing stage.
Liquor Name given to the hot water mixed with the grist in the mashtun during the mashing process.
Low wines The alcohol produced during the first distillation, with a strength of approximately 25% abv.
Lowlands The part of Scotland situated South of the line Greenock-Dundee, as opposed to the Highlands.
Lyne arm The upper and bent part of a pot still which connects to the condenser.
M
Malt Barley after its starch has been transformed into fermentiscible sugars.
Malt Whisky Whisky which has been produced exclusively from the distillation of a wort of malt, usually in pot stills.
Malting The process through which barley is transformed into malt, by artificially starting up its germination process, which will eventually be stopped at the kilning stage.
See also the illustrated description of malting in the pages covering the making of whisky.
Mash The product of the mixing of grist with hot water in the mashtun, which will eventually become wort when it will be drawn off at the end of the process.
Mashing The process during which the wort is produced, by mixing the grist with hot water which will dissolve the fermentiscible sugars .
See also the illustrated description of mashing in the pages covering the making of whisky.
Mashing machine A device intended to ensure the correct mixing of grist with hot water when they are poured into the mashtun.
Mashtun A large circular vessel, usually made of metal, in which mashing is done. An arrangement of mechanical stirrers ensures the homogeneity of the wort, which is then drawn off through a double bottom finely perforated which holds back the solide particles or draff.
Maturation Or ageing. The process through which the whisky contained in its cask acquires its character. Some unfavourable components are eliminated through evaporation, at the same time as take place some complex exchanges between the spirit and the cask's wood, which are beneficial to the whisky's character and balance.
See also the illustrated description of ageing in the pages about the making of whisky.
Middle cut The only fraction of the second distillation which will be kept to become whisky, it is collected after the foreshots and before the tails.
N
New make Newly made spirit, yet perfectly clear, which has not yet been matured and is therefore not entitled to be called whisky.
P
Patent still Or Coffey Still. A type of still working through a continuous process. It is composed of an analysing column and of a rectifying column and is generally used for the production of Grain Whisky.
Peat Organic compound resulting from the partial decomposing of plants. Smoke produced during its combustion at the kilning stage allows the production of peated malt, which is used to produce whiskies of a particularly powerful character, which are held in a high reputation and whose origin is generally the island of Islay.
Phenol Chemical compounds acquired by malt from peat during the kilning process. It is responsible for the peaty flavour of Islay whiskies in particular.
Pot ale Residues remaining in the wash still at the end of the first distillation.
Pot still Device used for batch distillation process, which is a kind of large copper kettle filled with wash which is then heated. Alcohol, being more volatile than water, evaporates first before being condensed. The first distillation produces the low wines, with a strength of about 25% abv, and which are then distilled a second time to produce the spirit, collected at about 70% abv.
Pure Malt A whisky which has been produced exclusively from a mash of malted barley.
R
Rummager A mechanical device found in wash stills which are heated by a direct flame, as opposed to steam. An arrangement of arms and copper chains scour the bottom of the still, preventing solid particles form sticking to the bottom and consequently bringing unpleasant taste by getting burnt.
S
Scotch Whisky Whisky distilled and aged in Scotland for a minimum of 3 years.
Single cask Whisky which has been bottled from with content collected from a single cask.
Single Malt Malt Whisky originating from a single distillery, as opposed to a Vatted Malt.
Sparging The action of spraying the mash by above with hot water so as to extract all remaining sugars in it. The resulting part of the wort, rather week in sugar content, is usually kept in a vessel and used as the first water or first liquor for the next mashing.
Spent lees Residues remaining in the spirit still at the end of the second distillation.
Speyside The area of the Spey valley, situated in the Highlands. The highest concentration of distilleries in Scotland is to be found here, some of them being among the most famous one.
Spirit The Middle Cut collected from the Spirit Still on the occasion of the second distillation with a strength of about 70% abv. It is only after it will have matured in cask for a minimum of 3 year that it will become whisky.
Spirit charger Vessel in which the low wines produced during the first distillation in the wash still are kept before they are to be redistilled in the spirit still.
Spirit receiver Vessel in which the Middle Cut collected from the second distillation is kept, before being diluted to appropriate strength and put into casks for ageing.
Spirit safe A kind of safe made up from a copper framework and through which flows the alcohol coming from the stills. Closed by the padlocks from he fiscal authorities, it is nonetheless here that the stillman controls the characteristics and nature of the alcohol, and depending on the latest will redirect it to the next stage (Second distillation, holding vessel).
Spirit still Pot Still used for the second distillation and in which the low wines are transformed into Spirit.
Staves Longitudinal pieces of wood which are assembled for making the body of the cask.
T
Tails The last fraction of the second distillation, following the Middle Cut, and which is not kept for whisky.
U
Underback The intermediate vessel, situated below the mashtun, through which flows the hot wort before entering the cooler which will bring it down to the adequate temperature required for fermentation.
V
Vatted Malt Whisky produced from the vatting of Malt Whiskies originating from several distilleries, as opposed to Single Malt.
W
Wash The produce of the fermentation of wort, not unlike a rustic beer and with a strength of about 7% abv.
Wash still Pot Still used for the first distillation and in which the wash is transformed into low wine.
Washback A large circular vessel of important height, made of wood or of metal, in which fermentation takes place.
Whiskey Different spelling of whisky, usually associated to products from Ireland or USA.
Whisky A spirit obtained from the distillation of a mash of cereals at a strength lower than 94.8%, matured for a minimum of 3 years in an oak cask whose capacity should not exceed 700 l and bottled at a strength of not less than 40% abv.
Wort A sweet liquid resulting from the mixing of grist with hot water once it has been drawn off the mashtun. It will become wash after it will have been fermented.
Y
Yeast Unicellular fungus responsible of the fermentation process, which lives on sugar and multiplies by producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Yield The final output calculated in quantity of pure alcohol obtained from one tonne (1000 kg) of malt.

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