WHISKY TALK.. ( a beginners guide)


This is a list of words that is commonly used by the whisky industry and whisky geeks.. It is not them all, but should cover the most commonly used..


The abbreviation for Alcohol By Volume – the term used to describe the percentage alcohol level in spirits.


Also known as the tail of the distillation, tails or feints. The last cut of the output from the Low Wines or Spirit Still. This liquid is returned back to the Low Wines and Feints Charger for re-distillation as part of the next batch.


An age statement on the bottle’s label indicates the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle, the time the whisky has been ageing in the cask. This applies to both vatted and blended whiskies as well as single malt whisky.


Alcohol accumulates whenever yeast ferments and since yeast cannot utilise alcohol, it becomes one of the major by-products of fermentation.  The word “Alcohol” is derived from the Arabic.

Angels share.

A distiller’s term for what accountants in the trade refer to as maturation losses.  Customs and Excise allow for a maximum loss during maturation of two percent by volume per year.  This loss happens due to evaporation and the loss of alcoholic vapour through the porous wooden casks.


This is a cereal grain used in production of whisky,  this is a member of the grass family.


A rough method used to tell the alcholic strength of a whisky.  When a bottle is shaken, bubbles or beads will form. The bigger beads and the longer they last, the greater the alcholic strength of the spirit.

Blended whisky.
A whisky that is made by blending together any number of single malt whiskys and grain whiskys to create the required flavour and characteristics. The whisky used can be from different distilleries.

Bonded warehouse.

A Bonded Warehouse is a secure store where maturing whisky is stored. It is cool and earth-floored to provide an even temperature and humidity.  No excise duty has yet been levied on this whisky.  Once the whisky is removed from the warehouse, duty becomes payable.


A building that housed an illicit still in the Scottish Highlands.  Most had only a single room or were even hidden underground.


Refers to the size of a cask.

Butt = 500 litres

The once bustling Scottish whisky producing region that is now home to just a couple of distilleries. It lies on a spit of land called the Campbeltown Peninsula on the western coast of Scotland .


A dark brown substance made from sugar is added to some whisky as a colouring agent.


Cask .
The wooden barrel used to mature the whisky. These are traditionally made from oak. The most used types of oak are American, European or Japanese.

Cask strength .
The strength of whisky as it comes from the cask. It is not diluted further before bottling and the strength can be anything between 40% and 65% ABV, depending on age.

Charring .
The process of burning the inside of a cask. This chars  the inside of the cask, accelerating the natural compounds in the wood to come out once the cask is filled with spirit. The level of charring can be controlled so as to control the amount of flavour compounds that pass from the wood to the whisky during maturation.

Chill filtration .
The process by which natural oils that make whisky go cloudy when cold or diluted with water are removed before bottling. The whisky is chilled, then the natural substances coagulate and are then removed by being passed through a series of metal meshes.

Closed distillery.

A distillery which has been permenantly closed down.  There may still be stocks of whisky from such a distillery maturing in bond which would be bottled and sold at a later time.

Coffey still.

Same as Column Still, Continuous Still, Patent Still.  A device for the distillation of whisky from grain.  It was originally invented by Robert Stein and updated to the twin-column design by Aeneas Coffey, a former Inspector-General of Excise in Ireland.

Column still.
A large industrial still that allows for continuous, mechanised distillation. Column stills are mostly used in the production of grain whisky and are modern and cost effective. May also be called a Coffey still, continuous still or a patent still.

The process where the alcohol vapours turn into the liquid spirit, with the help of cooling apparatus that form part of the still.


Chemical compounds produced during fermentation and maturation, Congeners include esters, acids, aldehydes and higher alcohols. Strictly speaking, they are impurities, but they give whisky its flavour.

A highly skilled person who makes the casks for whisky maturation by perfectly locking staves of wood together to make a watertight container.



A workshop where the casks are made and maintained.


Also known as the heart of the distillation or middle cut.  The second cut of the output from the Low Wines or Spirit Still containing mainly pure alcohol.  This is the raw spirit that is diverted to the Spirit Receiver and eventually into casks for maturation into single malt scotch whisky.

Distillation .
The process of turning the mildly alcoholic wash into highly alcoholic spirit. The wash is heated in a still and the alcohol vapours evaporate and rise up the neck of the still and travel along the lyne arm, where they are condensed to form a liquid again.

The residue from the mashing process. It consists of barley husks and other bits of the grain that are then collected, dried and compressed in to pellets and sold as animal feed.

Dram .
The traditional Scottish name for a glass of whisky.


The Dresser is a machine that removes the rootlets, shoots and other impurities from the malted barley prior to it being milled in the Roller Mill.

Drum malting.
This modern method is used to produce malted barley in most malting facilities. The barley is put in to a large drum and soaked with water. It is then turned consistently for a number of days until the barley starts to germinate and becomes malted barley.

Dunnage warehouse.

The traditional means of racking casks in a Bonded Warehouse. The floor is usually just earth or loose stone.


Complex chemical compounds which help to break down the starch within the endosperm into sugars during germination.


The primary alcohol produced during the fermentation of the yeast.


Feints are  known as the tail of the distillation, tails or aftershots.  This is the  last cut of the output from the Low Wines or Spirit Still. The liquid is returned back to the Low Wines and Feints Charger for re-distillation as part of the next batch.

Fermentation .
The process of turning sugar in to alcohol. In whisky production, a sugary liquid called wort is put into a container called a washback and yeast is added. This triggers the start of fermentation and after a couple of days, all the sugar has turned to alcohol and is called wash. The liquid has a strength of between 5-8% ABV.

First fill.

Refers to casks that are being filled with whisky for the first time, even though they may have already been used for bourbon or sherry.

Floor malting.
A traditional method of producing malted barley that is only still practiced in a handful of distilleries. The barley is soaked in water and then laid out on a wooden floor for about a week until germination starts to take place. This is very labour intensive as the barley has to be regularly turned by hand so as to ensure even germination.


Also known as the head of the distillation or heads.  The first cut of the output from the Low Wines or Spirit Still.  This liquid is returned back to the Low Wines and Feints Charger for re-distillation as part of the next batch.


The process that takes place in the Floor Maltings where the steeped barley is spread on the floor  and allowed to sprout, forming shoots and rootlets, and is left fod a number of days,  tended regularly to keep the temperature constant at about 16 degrees Celcius, upon which time further growth is prevented by the barley being dried in the Kiln.


The seeds of a cereal crop such as maize, corn, rye, wheat, barley, etc.

Grist .
Malted barley that has been ground up into a powder, so that it can be added to water to become mash and the natural sugars present will dissolve.

Highlands .
The Scottish whisky producing region, which covers the large geographical area roughly from just north of Glasgow and Edinburgh up to the far north coast. This region includes the sub-region of Speyside, which lies roughly between the cities of Inverness and Aberdeen.


Refers to the size of a cask.

Hogshead = 250-305 litres


A native of the Hebridean island of Islay.

Intermediate still.

The Intermediate Still is the still in which the second stage of triple distillation (if triple distillation is used) takes place.


The Scottish whisky region that covers all whisky produced on an island. Most of these lie off the west coast of Scotland, plus the Orkneys which lie to the north of the far northern coast. Most are well known for their peaty, smoky characters as peat was traditionally the only fuel available.

The most famous of the Scottish island for whisky production. The whiskies from Islay are famous for their peaty, smoky qualities and the island is home to eight whisky distilleries – more than any other island.

The large room where malted barley is heated to stop the germination process and to remove moisture so that the barley is ready for milling. Traditionally, these were fired by peat but now most are powered by coal or oil. A number of the island distilleries still use peat to give their traditional smoky flavour characteristics.

Lauter tun.

A modern type of Mash Tun which incorporates improved rake gear and is self-venting of the draff.


No I’m not talking about those attached to your body, these are the beads of Alchol that run down the glass when you swirl the liquid round,  the thickness and speed at which they drop can give an indication on strength and maturity.

Lomond still.

Peculiar column-shaped still with a refluxing coil in its head which enables the still to be “tuned” to produce a lighter or heavier spirit allowing a distillery to produce two distinctly different malts from the same set of stills.

Lost distillery.

A distillery which has been permenantly closed down and its buildings either demolished or converted for other purposes.

Low wines.

The retained output of the distillation of the Wash in the Wash Still which is typically at about 15% alcohol by volume.

The Scottish whisky producing region that covers the Central Belt between the major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and everywhere south of that. Once a traditional powerhouse region, now just a few distilleries remain.


Lyne arm.
The part of the still where the spirit vapours are transported to be condensed back in to a liquid. This arm is normally horizontal or close to horizontal, although some distilleries have odd shapes or steeper angles for the arm and this allows some liquid spirit to travel back down into the still to be redistilled.

Barley grains that have been through the malting process.

Malt bins.

The Malt Bins are used to store the malted barley until it is required to be processed through the Dresser to remove the roots and shoots and the Roller Mill to produce the malt grist.

The process where the starch in barley is converted to sugar, which in turn can then be turned in to alcohol during fermentation. Malting is achieved by soaking the barley grains in warm water and then allowing them to germinate, which turns the starch present in to natural sugars. This takes place in a drum or on a malting floor. The malted barley is then dried and ground up, with the resulting substance being called grist.


Process in which blended whisky is left in large containers for a few months after blending but before bottling.

A procedure where grist is added to warm water in order for the natural sugars to dissolve and form a sugary solution. This takes place in a large tank called a mash tun. The solution is then called wort and is passed to a washback tank for fermentation to take place.

Mash tun.
A large tank or vessel that is made from cast iron, stainless steel or wood, where the mashing process takes place. The mash tun is filled with a mixture of grist and warm water and the soluble sugars in the grist dissolve to form a sugary solution. This is then passed through the perforated floor of the mash tun to go to the washback tank to under go fermentation.

Master blender.
The person working for a company or distillery that scientifically selects and then mixes whiskies of different ages or origins together to form the required final flavour profile of the whisky.

This is the period of time where the spirit is stored in the cask in order to gain character from the wood. The whisky spirit draws natural oils and substances from the wood over time by ” breathing” .

The process where the dried malted barley grains are ground down in to grist.

Mothballed distillery.

A distillery which is temporarily closed, usually in order to prevent the build-up of too much whisky in stock given the trading conditions at the time.

Mothballing usually implies some action has been taken to prevent the deterioration of all the buildings, equipment and plant at the distillery.

The section of a still between the pot at the bottom and the lyne arm at the top. The width and height of the neck control the amount and type of alcohol vapours that are allowed to reach the top in order to be condensed back in to a liquid spirit.


The characteristic aroma of a particular whisky.


The traditional timber from which casks are made.


Refers to the size of a cask.

Octave = 45-68 litres

The pyramid shaped roof that provides ventilation from the kiln where the malted barley is dried. Invented by architect Charles Doig, who drew inspiration from the similarly shaped designs used in Japanese architecture for centuries.

Patent still.

Same as Column Still, Coffey Still, Continuous Still

A layer of earth that lays below the topsoil and consists of grasses, plants, tree roots and mosses that have been compressed over thousands of years. It is a very dense substance that when dried is used as a fuel.  Used in the whisky industry to dry malted barley, with the smoke being absorbed in to the grain, this then adds the peated flavour.

Pot still.
A style of still that is the most common to be used in the production of single malt whisky. They are made of copper due to its excellent conductive qualities and is formed of the pot at the base (where the alcoholic wash is heated), the neck (where the alcohol vapours rise up) and the lyne arm/ condenser (where the vapours begin returning to the liquid form).

The abbreviation of Parts Per Million – the scientific measurement for showing the amount of phenols present in a whisky, that have been absorbed from the burning of peat.


A cask of equal capacity to a butt, although shorter and fatter.

A device connected to the lyne arm that condenses heavier alcohol vapours that are not useful in the whisky making process. It leads the liquids back down to the base, where they undergo further distillation.

A traditional Scottish whisky drinking cup that consists of a bowl with a short vertical handle on either side. They are associated with friendship.  Celtic stories say that if you share a drink from a quaich with someone, then you will be friends for ever.

Quater cask.

Refers to the size of a cask.

Quater = 127-159 litres


Transferring spirit into casks from another container, for instance a damaged cask or a tanker.


Sometimes known as the wash charger or Spirit Receiver.

The (Spirit) Receiver is a collecting vessel to collect the output of the Washback prior to it being passed into the Wash Still for distillation.

The name given to the re-condensing of alcohol that then runs back in to the still and gets re-distilled. The amount of reflux is determined by the shape and size of the still and the angle to which the lyne arm is set.


An area of Scotland known for producing whisky. There are 6 main areas, Lowlands, Speyside, Highlands, Islay,Islands and Campbeltown.

Saladin box.
An old method of malting barley, named after its inventor Charles Saladin. The box is a large automated trough that has a perforated floor through which air is blown. The germination process of the barley is controlled in the Saladin box by regulating the airflow and temperature between the grains.

Shell and tube condenser.
A copper tubing that surrounds the lyne arm on a still. Cold water is fed through the tubing and this process cools the alcohol vapours and condenses them in to liquid spirit. It is the most common type of condenser used in distilleries today.

Silent season.

The time is used to carry out essential maintenance. Also normally in the summer when the water quality may be effected.

Single malt.
A whisky that is made of 100% malted barley and is from just one single distillery location. This may contain different ages of whisky and different types ( sherry, bourbon etc )  These are then married together in a larger container to establish the required consistent flavour profile.


The name given to the liquid from the final water of the mash in the Mash Tun.  This is used as the first water of the next mash.

The largest Scottish whisky producing region in terms of amount of distilleries.

Spirit safe.
A brass framed box with glass walls that is attached to the spirit still. It is used to analyse the spirit when it leaves the still. By law, the operator cannot come in to contact with the spirit and as a result the spirit safe is padlocked with a Customs & Excise officer keeping the key.

Spirit still.
The second and usually smallest in a pair of stills. The ‘low wines’ from the wash still are re-distilled in the spirit still – this raises the alcohol level to between 64-69% ABV and clears the alcohol of unwanted impurities. Only the middle section of this distillate is collected for maturation. This section is called the cut.


The Stillhouse is the building in which all the stills are located together with their associated Wormtubs, Receivers/Chargers and Spirit Safes.


Slainte is the Gaelic word for “health”  and is commonly used in a toast.. Variations include “slainte mhaith” which is translated into good health.

Tripple distillation.

Traditionally a Lowland method, triple distillation is simply another stage of distillation added to the normal double distillation process common throughout Scotland.

Most Irish malt whiskey is produced by triple distillation.


Aquavitae is the Latin for “water of life” from which the Gaelic “uisge beatha” and “usquebaugh” were derived.

The modern “whisky” is just a corruption of “usque”.

Vatted malt.
A whisky that consists of two or more single malts that have been blended together.  A vatted  malt contain no grain whisky and only single malts. These can be from the same or different distilleries and be of differing ages.

The area where whisky is stored during its maturation. There are two main types. The first is the dunnage or traditional warehouse which have earth floors and stone walls where casks are stacked generally  no more than three high. The other is the racked warehouse which is a more modern type with temperature and humidity control, and generally stacked several stories high.

A large deep tub or vat in which the fermentation process takes place in a distillery. Traditionally made of wood but more recently are made from stainless steel for a more hygienic approach.

Wash still.
Stills normally operate in pairs and the wash still is the first and usually largest of the two. The fermented wash is heated and the alcohol vapours evaporate and are then cooled and reformed in to a liquid by a condenser. The resulting liquid has an alcohol level of 20-22% ABV and are called the low wines. These then move to the spirit still.

Worm tub.
This is  used for cooling alcohol vapours back to a liquid spirit. The worm tub is connected to the lyne arm of a still and is formed of a long downward spiralling copper pipe that is submerged in a wooden tub full of cold water. The tub is usually found outside and was traditionally filled with rain water.

A warm and sugary solution that contains the soluble sugars from the malted barley dissolved in warm water.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Elisa Pyper says:

    A nice write up.


  2. sorrenkrebs says:

    Hi Carla.. Thanks for the comments and welcome aboard..


  3. Carla says:

    Hi there,
    Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to give it a look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I have now subscribed and will be telling all my whisky friends about this Excellent blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kalvin says:

    Hi i am kalvin , its my first time to comment anywhere, when i read this article i instantly thought it had helped me understand the terms more.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jules says:

    Pretty good post. I luckily came upon your weblog and wanted
    to mention that I’ve enjoyed looking around your posts.
    In any case I will be subscribing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patrick k says:

    Whisky talk for people like me is very good wat to learn, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dennis says:

    Top read my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Brian says:

    A great idea to put this information out there for those of us that get a little confused with some of the terms. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ashley says:

    Thanks, this was a great help.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Anonymous says:

    Woah! I’m really enjoying this blog. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual appearance. I must say you have done a excellent job. Excellent Blog!


  11. Joseph says:

    I’m delighted to become visitors in this great website, thank you for this excellent information!


  12. William says:

    My partner and I came cross your site from a different website and thought I may as well check things out.
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  13. sorrenkrebs says:

    Yes but both ways can give an indication of strength. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I think that’s because sometimes instead of making strands of liquid, the legs break up into little drops and bead up on the side of the glass. Two different kinds of beads!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. sorrenkrebs says:

    Hi, you are correct, the reason I linked them is because I have heard many people call the ” legs” beads. I have now re worded my comments.. Thanks 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m not sure your classification of legs under beading is corrects. Legs, as I’ve heard and seen it used, describes what happens when you tilt a glass of alcohol and then re level it. The legs are the strands of liquid left to flow down after the glass is leveled again. Some drinks have have legs that fall in long thick strands and take many seconds to flow down and evaporate, while some have no legs, and the alcohol ends up in broken patches before evaporating. It is still a good way to tell roughly the alcohol content though. Cheers!


    Liked by 1 person

  17. Paul smith says:

    Good list.


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