ABV Alcohol by volume. The alcoholic strength measured as the percentage of alcohol.
Age The age of a whisky is determined by the length of time the youngest spirit in the blend has spent in oak casks. Whisky does not continue to age in the bottle.
American oak Otherwise known as white oak or Quercus Alba. American oak is commonly used to mature whisky, due to its high vanillin content.
Angels’ share Scotch whisky is matured in oak casks for three years or more. The whisky evaporates at a rate of about 2% per year. This ‘loss’ is referred to as the angels’ share.
Barley A cereal grain that is commonly used in whisky production. Scotch single malt whisky must be made exclusively from malted barley.
Barrel A wooden container used to mature whisky. Often called a cask. Barrels used to mature Scotch whisky must be made from oak. See Bourbon barrel and Hogshead.
Blended malt A vatting of malt whiskies from more than one distillery.
Blended whisky A mix of grain and malt whiskies blended together to produce a well balanced Scotch whisky.
Blending The art of combining different whiskies together to produce a great tasting and consistent product. The earliest record of Scotch whisky dates from 1494, and from that time up until 1831, when the patent or continuous still was invented, all Scotch whisky was of the malt variety, made in small batches. Quality and consistency was variable. The arrival of Aeneas’ Coffey’s patent still changed this. His still could produce whisky at a higher alcohol degree, with a lighter and more consistent character. Today, grain whisky is made in continuous stills, and the seven working grain distilleries produce more whisky than the hundred or so single malt distilleries put together. Today’s blenders are challenged to create consistent and high quality blends, over fifty of which sell in excess of a million bottles per year.
Bond Storage warehouses in which whisky is held under duty deferment.
Bourbon barrel An oak cask containing approximately 200 litres. These casks have previously been used to store American whiskey.
Brewing The process of mashing cereal grains in hot water and adding yeast to start fermentation.
Bulk litre This is the physical amount of liquid in a container. It gives no indication of the alcoholic strength of the liquid
Butt An oak cask containing approximately 500 litres. Butts are commonly used in the sherry trade and are in high demand from Scotch distillers.
Campbeltown Campbeltown whiskies are made in the burgh of Campbeltown, on the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland. This was once the whisky capital of Scotland, with up to 28 distilleries in operation. However there has been a steady decline in numbers and now most of the distilleries have gone out of business and little trace of them remains. Today only three distilleries continue to produce whisky in Campbeltown: Springbank, Glengyle, and Glen Scotia. The Springbank distillery produces three distinct whiskies; Springbank, Hazelburn, and Longrow. Glengyle distillery has recently been revived by J & A Mitchell and Co Ltd., who own and operate the Springbank distillery.
Capacity The capacity of a distillery is the amount of pure alcohol that a distillery can produce in a year.
Cask The common name for a barrel used to mature whisky. By law, whisky must be matured in oak.
Charring The act of burning the inside of an oak cask. American whiskey must be matured in charred oak casks. In Scotland, charring is used as a way of re-generating an old cask.
Chill-filtration Scotch whisky is often chilled and then filtered before bottling. This process eliminates certain esters that would otherwise make a whisky go cloudy when chilled. Chill levels of between 0 and -10°c are normal for many whiskies.
Coffey still A type of continuous still patented by Aeneas Coffey in 1831 which revolutionized the whisky business.
Column still (or continuous still) A modern type of still that can, as its name suggests, sustain a constant process of distillation. This results in cheaper production costs and it enables a higher concentration of alcohol in the final distillate. Column stills are widely used for distilling American whiskey and for Scotch grain whisky.
Cooper A person who makes or restores oak casks for the maturation of spirits, wines and fortified wines.
Corn A type of grain used in whisk(e)y production. It contains high levels of protein and starch, and enables very high alcohol yields.
Distillation is a process of separating the component substances from a liquid mixture by selective evaporation and condensation. In whisky production distillation is used to separate ethanol from water.
Dram A Scottish term for a measure of spirits, particularly whisky.
Dunnage warehouse A traditional type of whisky warehouse, with a low roof, thick walls and an earth floor. Good air circulation in the warehouse is important to long term maturation of whisky. Casks are stored only three high in these traditional warehouses.
Evaporation Alcohol stored in an oak cask will evaporate over time, at the rate of approximately 2% per year. This is often referred to as the Angels’ share.
Excise tax An inland tax raised on the sale or production for sale of a specific good, in this case whisky.
Exciseman A representative of H.M. Customs and Excise. An Exciseman is responsible for regulating the manufacturers' operations and payment of Excise tax.
Fermentation The process of converting sugar into alcohol. Yeast is added to the sugary liquid (wash) to start the process, which for Scotch whisky, takes approximately 48 hours and is carried out in oak or stainless steel vessels called washbacks.
First-fill If a cask is being used for maturing Scotch for the first time it is called a first-fill cask. (The cask may already have been used for maturing bourbon whiskey or sherry.)
Grain whisky Grain whisky is made continuously via a modern column still, on industrial scale. The output is purer alcohol, but with much less flavour and character than a Single Malt. The single most important fact about whisky is that the fate of very nearly all single grain whisky is to be blended with one or more single malts to produce a much better tasting derivative type called Blended Scotch Whisky. Single grain accounts for 60-85% of the volume of blended whisky, which accounts for 92% of Scotch sales by weight, and 82% by value.
Hogshead The most widely used oak cask for maturing Scotch, containing approximately 250 litres.
Highland Everything outside of Lowland, Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay falls into the general ‘Highland’ category. This includes whiskies from the mainland and from the islands. (Skye, Jura, Arran, Orkney etc..) The Highland whiskies can’t be typified – from the power of Talisker to the subtlety of Glenmorangie, there is a long journey of discovery ahead for the whisky enthusiast. The Highland region is also geographically diverse, from the rugged peaks of the Cairngorms or Grampians to the heather covered moorlands of Perthshire or the rich arable land in the Kingdom of Fife. There are over thirty distilleries widely spread throughout the Highlands.
Islay There are eight working distilleries on Islay. Most of them produce strong, peaty and smoky whiskies, which divide whisky drinkers into two camps – love or hate. There is no middle ground. These whiskies get their character from the heavily peated malt they use and from the local water which runs through thousand year old peat bogs. The local maltings, at Port Ellen, provide most of the malt used on the island. However, two distilleries on the island, Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich are exceptions to the norm and produce a lighter and less peaty product. The most heavily peated malts, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Caol Ila have a strong global following, as does the slightly lighter tasting Bowmore. The newest distillery on the island, Kilchoman, started production in late 2005.
Lowland The lowland region is roughly defined by an imaginary line running between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and any distillery lying south of this line is lowland. The region has four active distilleries: Ailsa Bay in Girvan owned by William Grant & Sons, Glenkinchie distillery, near Edinburgh; Auchentoshan, near Clydebank; and Bladnoch in Galloway. Two new distilleries, Daftmill in Fife and Annandale in the Borders, have started distilling but have not yet brought a single malt to market. At least six other lowland single malts are still available in bottle, but are no longer distilled: Rosebank, Kinclaith, St. Magdalene, Ladyburn, Inverleven, and Littlemill. Traditionally Lowland single malts are triple distilled but this is not true of all of them. Lowland malts tend to be light and floral in character.
LPA Litre of Pure Alcohol. This is the measure used by the whisky industry to account for the alcoholic content of a spirit. You multiply the bulk liquid quantity by the alcohol strength of the liquid to arrive at the number of litres of pure alcohol. So, a cask of whisky holding 250 bulk litres at a strength of 63% contains 157.5 LPA.
Malt whisky Single Malt whisky is made in a traditional batch process using a copper pot still at a single distillery. Single malt is the premium, traditional style of whisky, but the artisanal manner of its production is not easily scaled. When bottled as Single Malt it accounts for 8% by weight and 18% by value of Scotch whisky production. But much of it is not bottled as single malt.
Malt Barley which has undergone a partial germination before kilned. The malted barley is then ground to a fine flour, or grist, before being steeped in water to start the mashing process.
Master Blender The person who is entrusted with the job of blending malt and grain whiskies together to produce a final product that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Master Blenders can normally draw on a wide variety of malts and grains and their aim is to produce a well balanced and rounded blended whisky that will be consistent over many years.
Maturation Scotch whisky must be matured for at least three years in oak casks, in Scotland. The ideal maturation period will vary from whisky to whisky and is influenced by many factors not least of which is the quality of the cask it is stored in. There are currently over 20 million casks of whisky maturing in warehouses all over Scotland. Distillers aim to have ten years’ worth of stock at their disposal.
New Make The term used for freshly distilled spirit. In Scotland, spirit only becomes whisky after the minimum legal maturation period of three years.
Oak The type of wood that must be used to age whisky. Two very different species of oak are used for maturing whisky: American white oak (quercus alba) and European oak. American oak gives the whisky a finer and more mellow aroma while European oak, in general, imparts richer and more intense flavours and a higher tannin content.
OLA Original Litre of Alcohol. When a 250 litre cask is filled with freshly distilled spirit at 63% alcohol it will contain approximately 157 LPA. (250 x .63) As the whisky matures it will slowly evaporate and reduce in alcoholic strength. An OLA number refers to the original quantity of alcohol that the cask held, not what it held after a few years of maturation. Until the contents of a cask are re-examined later in its maturation the contents are accounted for in OLA.
Peat Partly decayed vegetation or organic matter that has been used by distillers for centuries in the barley malting process. Peat is burned to provide the heat required to dry malted barley. Peat grows in peatlands, also known as mires or bogs. It accumulates slowly at the rate of one millimeter per year. Peat was used widely as fuel in areas where trees were scarce, such as the Isle of Islay where the majority of whiskies are still heavily ‘peated’.
Peated malt Malted barley which retains a strong peaty character after it is kilned using peat fires.
Pipe (or port pipe) A large oak barrel used for maturing port wine. A pipe is equivalent in size to a sherry butt – 500 litres. Pipes are sometimes used in the finishing process for whisky.
Pot still The traditional style of still used to distil single malt whisky. Pot stills are mainly made of copper, and operate on a batch process. Pot stills are used in the production of whisky, cognac and a variety of other spirits.
Racked warehouse A warehouse design originating in the 1950s. A racked warehouse is constructed from steel, bricks or cement blocks. They are much larger Dunnage Warehouses and are typically stacked eight barrels high. They are cheaper to run and forklift trucks can be employed for moving the barrels.
Refill This refers to a cask that is being used for a second or subsequent time for the maturation of Scotch whisky. A cask may be used many times over for maturing whisky.
Regions There are five whisky producing regions of Scotland: Speyside, Islay, Highland, Lowland and Campbeltown.
RLA Regauge Litre of Alcohol. As whisky matures in an oak cask it evaporates and loses strength. As a result the alcoholic content steadily declines. A re-examination of the cask’s content is done either at the point when it is sold or when it is prepared for blending or vatting. The new measurement of the contents, arrived at by multiplying the bulk content by the alcoholic strength, is called a regauge litre of alcohol.
Scotch A whisky produced in Scotland, matured in Scotland for at least three years in oak barrels and bottled at no less than 40% abv.
Speyside. Speyside has the highest concentration of distilleries of the five regions. Over forty distilleries are clustered within they Spey valley. (The river Spey is Scotland’s second longest river, 110 miles, and its fastest flowing.) Four of the top five best selling single malts are from Speyside – Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan and Glen Grant. Speyside has no one particular type or style of whisky, varying from light, sweet and floral to rich, dark and sherry flavours. Given that Speyside distilleries account for about half of all production, added to which they can be described as ‘classic’ style Scotch, it’s no surprise that the best ones are always in high demand from the blenders.
Spirit An alcoholic drink with an abv or 20% or more.
Triple distillation The majority of Scotch malt whiskies are distilled twice but a few are distilled three times. The Lowland whiskies tended to favour triple distillation and some, such as Auchentoshan, continue to do so.
Unpeated malt Malted Barley that has been kilned over fires not fuelled by peat. Whiskies that use unpeated malt will have very low levels of phenols. Glengoyne is an example of a distillery that uses 100% unpeated barley.
Vatting This is the process of blending liquids together in a vat. Malt and grain whiskies are normally blended together in a large stainless steel vat to produce a blended whisky ready for bottling. Prior to bottling a single malt, distillers will also do a vatting of numerous casks to ensure consistency of the end product. And it is also common to do a vatting of malts from different distilleries to produce a ‘blended’ malt.
Whisk(e)y While the rules about what can be called Scotch are clear and rigid, there is not a globally accepted definition of whisky. It is a general rule that whisky is a distilled spirit made from a fermented mash of grain cereals and aged, to some degree, in oak casks. Barley, corn (maize), rye and wheat are the most commonly used cereals. And while Scotch whisky stipulates a minimum ageing period of three years, Bourbon is two, while others have no legal minimum. In Ireland and America the normal spelling of whiskey is with an e. In all other whisky producing countries, including Scotland and Japan, it is whisky without an e. There is no obvious reason why this is so. Indeed, in America some whiskies spell it without an e, and over time the spelling has swung from one to the other.