Age: The length of time any spirit has spent stored in barrel or cask.

Aging: The process of whiskey maturation whereby the spirit ages in oak barrels to absorb additional flavors of the wood. This process stops once a spirit is removed from its cask or barrel and places in bottling.

Angel’s share: The portion of Bourbon in a barrel that is lost to evaporation (most of which is alcohol). Can be as much as two per cent of each barrel.

Backset: The thin, liquid part of a previously distilled batch of whiskey mash left at the bottom of the still after distillation is added to the tub and fermenter to prevent bacterial contamination. Also known as sour mash, setback, stillage or spent beer.

Ball of Malt: A colloquial term for a glass of whiskey in Ireland.

Barrel proof: Whiskey bottled at the desired proof while aging in the barrel. No water is added before bottling, making these Bourbons are higher proof than others. (See: Bookers Bourbon)

Beer: The alcoholic liquid that goes into the still during whiskey production.

Beer still: A giant apparatus in which the main component is a very tall metal column used to separate the alcohol from the water in the distiller’s beer by vaporizing the alcohol content. Also called a “continuous still.”

Bitters: alcohol  flavored with the sharp pungent taste of plant extracts or fortified and used either as an additive in cocktails or as a medicinal substance to promote appetite or digestion.

Blended Whiskey: A blend that is sold at 80 proof that contains at least 20% 100 proof straight whiskey. The rest of the blend may include any other grain neutral spirits.

Bonded Bourbon Whiskey: Straight Bourbon Whiskey that has been aged and bottled according to the requirements of the Bottled and Bond Act of 1897. Bonded whiskey is not blended. It has been stored continuously for at least four years in wooden barrels and which is bottled at 100 proof. It must all be the product of a single distillery, by the same distiller, during a single season and year. It is then entitled to be labeled as “bottled in bond”.

Bottled and Bond Act of 1897: Rules that require whiskey and other spirits to be aged and bottled according to a set of legal regulations to guarantee that the product the consumer was buying was really whiskey.

Bourbon Whiskey:  Any spirit that is made in the United States from a fermented mash that contains no less than 51% corn, is produced at no more than 160 proof, stored in new charred oak barrels at no more than 125 degrees, and bottled at no less than 80 proof.

Bourbon (straight): A whiskey made from a mash containing at least 51 percent corn, distilled out at a maximum of 160° proof, aged at no more than 125° proof for a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels. If the whiskey is aged for less than four years, its age must be stated on the bottle. No coloring or flavoring may be added to any straight whiskey.

Brewing: The process of mashing grain in hot water and fermenting with yeast in order to produce beer.

Bung: a stopper for closing a hole in a barrel.

Canadian Whiskey: The national whisky of Canada composed  barley, corn, wheat, and a high percentage of rye. Usually sold at 80 proof or higher, and has been aged no less than 4 years before sale.

Charring: The process of exposing the inside surface of new barrels to flames in order to affect the flavor and color of the spirit aged in the barrel. These barrels are only used once in the production of bourbon, however used barrels may be repurposed for aging other spirits, bitters, or condiments. Distillers can choose from four levels of char.

Column Still: A cheaper, faster alternative to pot stills introduced in the 1800’s.

Congeners: Chemical compounds produced during fermentation and maturation. Congeners are the natural flavor constituents in spirits. They are traces of oils, esters and acids carried through the distillation process and into the distillate. Spirits distilled at lower proofs have the highest congeneric content. High proof neutral spirits are practically free of congeners. Their presence in the final spirit must be carefully judged; too many would make it undrinkable.

Cordial:  Any glassware commonly used to serve after dinner drinks or dessert wine. Cordial glasses with large bowls, such as brandy snifters, are designed to swirl the liqueur to release its flavor and aroma.

Corn Whiskey: Any whisky, aged or un-aged,  composed of a mash of at least 80% corn. If aged, the whiskey must come to maturation in used or uncharred oak barrels.

Distillation: The process of separating the components in a liquid by heating and then cooling so it re-condenses into a purified form.

Distiller’s Beer: The fermented mash of cooked grains, water and yeast that is transferred from the fermenter to the beer still for the first distillation in the process of manufacturing whiskey.

Doubler: A large copper still with an upturned funnel on top used to distill new spirit from low wines.

Dram: A colloquial term for a glass of whiskey in Scotland.

Fermentation: The process by which the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms digest and convert sugars into ethyl alcohol.

Fermenter: The vessel in which the mash is distilled into beer. Usually a giant tub made of metal or cypress.

Grain: Wheat or any other cultivated cereal crop used as food such as corn, rye, barley, or oat.

Grain Neutral Spirits : Any alcohol distilled from grain at 190 proof and containing no noticeable aroma, flavor or character.

High wines: The final spirit produced by the secondary distillation, ready for aging.

Highball Glass : Any glass tumbler used to serve highball cocktails and other mixed drinks that contains 8 to 12 fluid ounces (240 to 350 ml).

Irish Whiskey: The distinctive national whiskey of Ireland. Most Irish Whiskey is a blend of several whiskeys of different ages. Malted barley, un-malted barley, and other grains such as rye and corn are used. It is heavier than Scotch and usually 86 proof.

Jigger: spirit measure of 1.5 fl. oz.

Low wines: The name of the spirit after it has passed through a still for its first distillation.

Malt Whiskey: Whiskey made exclusively from malted barley.

Malted barley: Partially germinated and heated barley grains containing enzymes that convert starches into the fermentable sugars on which yeast feeds.

Manhattan: A classic American whiskey cocktail contains sweet or dry vermouth, bitters and a cherry. Invented in New York City in the 1800s.

Martini glass: Shaped like an upside-down umbrella on a stem.

Mash: The liquid mass of fermenting grains from which spirits are distilled.

Mash bill: A specific recipe for the amounts and types of grain to be used in a distillers mash.

Master Distiller: Any individual that determines the recipe for the distilled spirit and supervises its production.

Mint Julep: The official drink of the Kentucky Derby made with Kentucky bourbon, simple syrup and fresh mint leaves served over crushed ice.

Moonshine: Unlicensed and unregulated (hence, illegally) distilled spirits produced without payment of taxes and produced outside of commonly accepted standards.  still and without payment of taxes, and hence, illegal. Moonshine is seldom aged, produced from anything that will ferment, and can be toxic.

Muddle: To mash or crush ingredients with a spoon or a specially designed rod with a flattened end.

Neat : The way any bourbon aficionado consumes Americas spirit – undiluted by ice, water or mixers.

Nose: The aroma and bouquet (fancy way of saying the smell) of a whiskey.

On The Rocks: A whiskey served over ice without adding water or other mixers.

Organic Whiskey: Any whiskey that is made from grain grown without manufactured fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

Peychaud’s: A brand of bitters created around 1830 by Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a Creole apothecary from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) who settled in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1795.

Pot Still: Any still used for batch distillation. In pot still distillation the liquid is first distilled in a wash or beer still and then in a spirit still.

Prohibition: A sad period in American history.  Prohibition is the legal act of prohibiting the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. When it comes to bourbon, the term applies to the period in the history of the U.S. from January, 1919 through December 5, 1933. During that period, bourbon and other whiskeys could not be legally produced, transported or sold unless for for medical purposes leading  to the growth of popularity in the U.S. of illegally imported Scotch and Canadian Whisky.

Proof: The alcohol content of a spirit. Proof is two times the percentage of alcohol by volume (100 proof equals 50% alcohol). According to Wikipedia, the term originated in the 18th century, when payments to British sailors included rations of rum. To ensure that the rum had not been watered down, it was “proved” by dousing gunpowder with it and then testing to see if the gunpowder would ignite. If it did not, then the rum contained too much water and was considered to be “under proof”. Gunpowder would not burn in rum that contained less than approximately 57.15% ABV. Therefore, rum that contained this percentage of alcohol was defined to have “100° (one hundred degrees) proof”.

Rickhouse: The building in which whiskey is aged named so for the ricks – the wooden structures on which barrels of whiskey rest during aging that line its walls.

A rickhouse at Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky.
A rickhouse at Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Rocks glass: Usually used for whiskeys and gin. A perfect rocks glass has a perfect round bottom and got its name as most drinks in rocks glasses are served over ice (on the rocks). Also called a lowball glass.

Rye Whiskey: Any whiskey made from at least 51 per cent rye and is distilled at a maximum of 160° proof, aged at no more than 125° proof for a minimum of two years in brand new charred oak barrels. If the whiskey is aged for less than four years, its age must be stated on the bottle.

Scotch Whisky: A product of Scotland that is exported at four years old and is usually 80 to 86 proof. Specifically: To be called Scotch whisky the spirit must conform to the standards of the Scotch Whisky Order of 1990 (UK), which clarified the Scotch Whisky Act of 1988, and mandates that the spirit:
– Must be distilled at a Scottish distillery from water and malted barley, to which only other whole grains may be added, have been processed at that distillery into a mash, converted to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems, and fermented only by the addition of yeast,
– Must be distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% by volume so that it retains the flavor of the raw materials used in its production,
– Must be matured in Scotland in oak casks for no less than three years and a day,
– Must not contain any added substance other than water and caramel coloring, and
– May not be bottled at less than 40% alcohol by volume.

Shot glass: A small glass, usually able to hold no more than 2 ounces used to serve single servings of a particular spirit or potent mixed concoctions. An option for serving bourbon neat in the absence of a Glen Cairn glass.

Simple Syrup: A sweetening agent that consists of two parts sugar and one part water. Used in place of granulated sugar for ease in cocktail preparation.

Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey: A bottling of bourbon whiskey from a single individual barrel.

Single Malt Scotches: Any scotch whiskey that is made entirely from malted barley and is the product of a single distillery.

Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey: Any bourbon whiskey produced by blending together bourbons from a small number of special barrels to ensure the consistency of their unique flavor and character.

Smashes: Small juleps, served in old fashioned glasses. Made with muddled sugar, ice cubes, whiskey, gin, rum or brandy and soda. Garnished with sprigs of mint and fruit.

Snifter: a footed glass that is wide at the bottom and tapers to the top, used for brandy and other whiskeys.

A Makers Mark branded snifter.
A Makers Mark branded snifter.

Sour:  A cocktail usually crafted by combining liquor with lemon juice and sugar.

Sour Mash: A process developed by Dr. James C. Crow in order to provide uniformity in bourbon production. A portion of the previous day’s mash is added to new mash to ensure consistent quality and character.

Sour Mash Whiskey: Any whiskey whose mash bill consists of a portion of old mash mixed with new to help advance the flavor profile of the whiskey.

Straight Up: Cocktails served chilled, but without ice.

Straight Whiskey: Any whiskey that is aged in a charred oak barrel for at least two years and distilled from grain but not blended with neutral grain spirits or any other whiskey.

Still:  The container in which distiller’s beer is purified by heating the liquid to no lower than 176 degrees Fahrenheit, but less than 212 degrees Fahrenheit in order to evaporate, collect, and condense alcohol.

Tennessee Whiskey: Any whiskey distilled in Tennessee from a fermented mash containing at least 51% corn, then filtered through maple charcoal before aging.

Thief: A tubular instrument used to draw samples from a barrel.

Toddies:  A folk cold remedy served hot with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon or lemon peel and a teaspoon of sugar dissolved in hot water with bourbon.

Wheated Bourbon: Any Bourbon made from a mash bill that contains wheat instead of rye grain.

Whiskey (or Whisky): Spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain and aged in oak barrels, giving the spirit its amber color, flavor and aroma. Grain composition may include corn, rye, barley, or wheat.

White Dog: Also known as “New-Make Spirit”,  “green whiskey” or “high wine”, any distillate spirit that has not been aged, and is therefore “white” or clear.

Yeast: A living organism that feeds on fermentable sugars, transforming them to beverage alcohol, congeners, carbon dioxide, and heat.