To the uninitiated, whisky can often feel like a universe unto itself. If the world of whisky is one that is new to you, and you find yourself at one of our Glasgow hotel bars, struggling to get to grips with the difference between a dram, draff, and a drum, or wondering whether whisky and whiskey are two different drinks, let the following list assist.
ABV – An initialism that means “Alcohol By Volume”, often used to describe the percentage of alcohol present in a particular spirit.
Angel’s Share – The percentage of the whisky that is lost to evaporation while the whisky is being stored and ‘maturing’ in a warehouse. Depending on the climate where the storage is happening, this can vary. In Scotland and Ireland, it is usually around 2%.
Barley – The crop that the vast majority of whisky is made from. This is the whisky that is considered ‘malt’. Non-barley whisky is known as ‘grain’ whisky.
Blended Whisky – A whisky made from mixing several other whiskies together. The individual whiskies would be single malt, made from barley from one place, and would be the product of a single distillery. They may also be made from non-barley whisky.
Cask – The wooden barrel that whisky is stored in when it is maturing. Usually made from oak from either Europe, North America, or Japan.
Cask Strength – The level of ABV of a whisky just out from the cask, as it will be less diluted and filtered before it goes to bottling. The ‘younger’ a whisky is, the higher the cask strength.
Charring – The process of burning the inside of a cask so that certain natural chemical compounds present in the wood can more easily leach into the whisky when it is poured into the cask.
Chill Filtration – The whisky is made very cold to remove impurities or other byproducts that make the whisky go cloudy when chilled or mixed with water. The chilling of the unfiltered whisky causes the impurities to coagulate and then they can be filtered away on a metal grid.
Column/Coffey/Continuous Still – A large, tall distillery unit that allows distillation of whiskey on an industrial and continuous scale.
Cooper – The craftsman who produces the casks using perfectly interlocking pieces of wood known as ‘staves’ to make watertight containers.
Distillation – The process by which the fermenting barley is heated, for the alcohol vapours to evaporate, to then be moved through a set of pipes, to be then recondensed again, allowing the alcohol content to be much more concentrated.
Draff – The residue left behind after the barley is mashed, mainly consisting of husks and other small pieces of the plant. It often gets used for animal feed.
Dram – The traditional Scottish name for a whisky glass.
Drum Malting – Where barley is put into a large drum of water and is turned around over and over again for several days before the barley begins to germinate and the water turns into ‘malt’.
Fermentation – The process of turning sugar into alcohol. When making whisky, this is done by taking a sugar-rich liquid known as wort and mixing it with yeast in a container known as a washback. After a number of days, all the sugar in the wort is turned into alcohol with a strength somewhere between 4-9% ABV.
Grain Whisky – Refers to whisky made from grains other than malt barley.
Grist – Barley that has gone through the malting process and has been ground up into an extremely fine powder. When it goes into water, the natural sugars can dissolve easily.
Kiln – A giant room where malted barley is heated to prevent germination and remove moisture. Once the barley has been heated in the kiln it is ready to go into the mill and be ground up to become grist.
Lyne Arm – The part of a distillation system where the alcohol vapours move through before they are re-condensed.
Malt – Barley grains that have already gone through the process of malting.
Malting – The conversion of barley starch into sugar, following which the sugar can be fermented so it is turned into alcohol. Malting happens by soaking the grains in warm water so they can germinate. This turns the starch that already exists in the barley grains into natural sugars.
Mashing – Where grist is added to warm water to create a sugary solution called wort.
Mash Tun – A large container, made from either wood, cast iron, or stainless steel, where the grist is added to warm water so that the natural sugars in it dissolve.
Maturation – The time the whisky spends in a barrel. Depending on the different techniques and woods used by distilleries, this can take varying lengths of time. The aim of the process is for the whisky to absorb natural oils and other unique compounds from within the wood to give it a specific character and taste. Different woods and different levels of charring on the inside of the barrel will result in different tastes.
Milling – Where the dried barley grounds are turned into grist.
Neck – The part of a distillation system between the base where the liquid is kept, and the Lyne Arm where the vapours pass through before they are recondensed. The design of the neck, specifically elements like its width and height, can control just how much alcohol passes through the neck, and thus how alcoholic the finished product is.
Pagoda – A type of pyramid-shaped roof that is used above kilns to provide ventilation while the barley is drying out. It was inspired by the design of Japanese Buddhist temples, hence the name.
Peat – A layer of earth that is found below the topsoil but above bedrock. It is highly dense and rich with minerals and vitamins from decaying plant matter and other natural composting processes. It is often used as a fuel source as when it burns it produces a very rich and even smoke. Peat is often burned in kilns to help dry out barley.
PPM – Parts per million, a scientific measure of concentration, often used in whisky to measure how much of certain chemicals have entered the whisky from other sources, such as the burning of the peat, or absorption from the cask.
Pot Still – A type of distillery system that is very common among single malt whisky, usually made from copper.
Purifier – The part of the distillery system that filters out the more dense alcohol vapours that are not good for whisky making, so that they can be reabsorbed back into earlier parts of the system and be evaporated again so they can become lighter and later be recondensed.
Quaich – A traditional type of Scottish cup for drinking whisky, made of a bowl and two vertical handles. Associated with friendship and bonding.
Quaff – To drink heartily, used among all alcoholic drinks but especially whisky. Often an upper-class term.
Quaffable – A particularly pleasant or enjoyable alcoholic drink.
Reflux – The amount of alcohol that goes around the still multiple times before it finally gets recondensed in the Lyne Arm. Different distillery systems have different levels of reflux.
Saladin Box – An older, antiquated means of drying whisky where the barley is put in a box with holes in its floor, and air is blown up through, and the temperature is carefully regulated. Named after its inventor, Charles Saladin.
Single Malt – Whisky that is made from the barley of just one single location only.
Spirit Safe – A special box made from brass framing and glass walls where the spirit is kept safe once it leaves the distillery. In the UK, because of laws surrounding who can and cannot have access to alcohol at various stages of its manufacture, only customs and excise officers must have the key to this safe.
Spirit Still – The second set of distilleries in the distillation process. Using this further raises the ABV levels to between 63%-70%.
Vatted Whisky – A type of blended whisky but only made from mixing single malts together. No non-barley grain whisky would be part of a vatted whisky.
Warehouse – The place where whisky is stored while it matures. A dunnage or traditional warehouse is designed with earth floors and stone walls and casks are stacked no more than three high. A modern racked warehouse features advanced climate controls to adjust things like air pressure, temperature, and humidity. Casks are kept securely on racks up to twelve high.
Washback – A large container where fermentation happens. Traditionally made of wood, but now more commonly constructed from stainless steel.
Wort – A warm and sugar-rich solution made from malted barley dissolved in warm water. Wort is the liquid that goes on to be fermented, the process where the naturally present sugars are transformed via a biological process into alcohol.
This is just the briefest sip of the wondrous world of whisky. Take some time out to come and enjoy a drink for yourself at our DRAM whisky and gin bar. With an array of over 80 different types of whisky and more than 50 gins, most of which hail from bonnie Scotland, you are bound to find something to your taste.