The Glenfiddich Ultimate Whisky Glossary

21 March 2016

Acquaint yourself with the vernacular of a Maverick

Here at Glenfiddich, we’ve spent quite some time finessing our craft – over 128 years, in fact. The knowledge we’ve passed down through generations informs everything that we do, and as we’re sure you can imagine, a language of its own has come along with it. So whether you’re new to whisky or a seasoned sipper, we’re pleased to present our ultimate guide to whisky vernacular.  

An Initiation

Welcome to the wondrous world of whisky! For those of you who are new to single malt, let us introduce you to some of our need-to-know terminology.


Dram


Age

A whisky’s age is determined by the number of years it spends maturing in casks. When whiskies of different ages are married together, the age statement on the bottle refers to the youngest of them.

Balance

The composition of a whisky, referring to its flavours and how well they go together. For example, the flavour of our 21 Year Old starts off soft and becomes brisk and vibrant, with peppery flavours, a touch of smoke, oak, lime, ginger and spices. 

Barley

The only type of cereal grain used to make our single malt Scotch whisky.

• Barrel

A large wooden vessel in which we store our whisky. Barrels can vary in size, shape and material, but in the whisky world they’re always made from oak, for the rich flavour it imparts.

• Brewing

In the early stages of whisky production, we mash cereal grains in hot water and add yeast to encourage fermentation – this is known as brewing.

• Cask

The barrel a whisky is left to mature in is known as a cask – this can account for up to 60% of your single malt’s flavour. After spending at least three years in an American bourbon cask, our whiskies go on to be aged in at least one more cask which is carefully selected by our malt master for its unique taste profile.

• Distillation

Part of the whisky making process, when fermented barley liquid is heated in copper stills, allowing the alcohol to evaporate and condense. Most single malts are distilled twice to create a refined liquid with a high alcohol content.

• Dram

A traditional Scottish term for a small measure of spirits, particularly whisky.

• Dufftown

Known as the “Whisky Capital of the World”, this is our hometown in the heart of the Fiddich valley.

• Finish

The lingering flavour a whisky leaves on your palate is known as its finish. Generally, it’s measured by its length and complexity, as subtle flavours reveal themselves once the initial sip has been swallowed. “Finishing” can also refer to the process by which a whisky is given its final flavour as it’s transferred to a second cask (or even a third), which has been specially selected for the flavours it will impart. 

• Nose

The aroma of a whisky. It’s always a good idea to nose before you taste, as this will give you a good first impression of your dram.

• Oak

The type of wood used to make whisky casks. American Oak casks will give the whisky a vanilla, honey and citrus fruit flavour, whilst European oak imparts richer, spicier flavours and hints of dried fruit.

• Slàinte

A friendly Gaelic toast we make to our companions before drinking, meaning “good health”.

• Scotch

A whisky produced entirely in Scotland, matured for at least three years in oak casks.

• Whisky

Fittingly, whisky is derived from the Gaelic “uisage beatha” or “usquebaugh”, which translates to “water of life". 


An Exploration

For those of you who know your dram from your distillate, let’s delve a little deeper into some of our favourite whisky phrases.

 

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• Angel's Share

As a whisky is left to mature, a small portion of the liquid evaporates into the ether, resulting in a loss of around 2% each year – this is known by distillers as the angel’s share.

• Butt

A large cask made from oak used for maturing alcohol. Traditionally a butt holds about 500 litres and is long and slender in appearance when compared to the rotund Hogshead.

• Coopers

Highly skilled individuals who, after years of training, care for the oak casks that the whisky matures in. Never underestimating the importance of casks in developing exceptional whiskies, we’re one of the few distilleries with our own on-site coopers.

• The Cut

The best part of the distillate coming off the spirit still, this is then stored into casks. Each distillery decides for itself where it makes the cut. Glenfiddich has an unusually high cut point, defined by William Grant and his son Charlie.

• Fermentation

The process by which sugar is converted into alcohol as yeast is added to the mash. This usually takes around 48 hours, resulting in a liquid known as the “wash”, with an alcoholic strength of between 5% and 10%.

• Glencairn® 

Regarded by many as the preferred glass to appreciate whisky, the tulip shaped glass of the Glencairn® is derived from the traditional nosing copitas used in labs around Scotland. Use the rounded base to warm your whisky with your hands and tempt the subtlest of aromas to your nose through the wide opening at the top. 

• Hogshead

A large barrel, made from oak and used to mature spirit. Each one holds around 250 litres. Often these are called ‘Hoggies’ by Distillers and Coopers.

• Maturation

The ageing process of whisky that occurs within an oak cask.

• Malt

Barley that has partially germinated. The malted barley is then ground to a fine flour, or “grist”, as part of the whisky making process.

• Mash

Both the process of steeping mixed grist with hot water to release the sugars present in the grain, and the term for mixing grist with hot water.

• New Make

Newly distilled spirit, “fresh off the still”, that is not yet whisky as it is still to undergo the minimum maturation in oak.

• Peat

A dark, partially decayed organic matter formed in the wetlands. Traditionally used to fire the malted barley kilns, it lends a wide range of smoky flavours to whisky depending on how and where it’s harvested.

• Quaich – pronounced “quake”

A traditional Scottish whisky cup and symbol of friendship.

• Virgin Oak

Oak which has not yet been used for the maturation of an alcoholic beverage. At Glenfiddich, we use virgin oak to impart a particularly deep oak flavour in some of our expressions, like our Rich Oak 14 Year Old.

®*Glenfiddich® is not affiliated with Glencairn Crystal Studio Limited.  Glencairn® and all other Glencairn® product names are trade marks or registered trade marks of Glencairn IP Holdings Ltd.

 

A Celebration

Finally, for the more seasoned sippers among you, it’s time to sit back with a dram in hand and celebrate some of the lesser-known words we use to talk about this liquid sunshine, the water of life.

Dram

 

• Charring

The act of firing the interior of an oak cask, a process that has a direct impact on the flavour and colour of the whisky.

• Feints

Also known as tails or after shots, these are the unusable ends of a distillation run which cannot be consumed.

• Steep

A container used to soak barley in water to begin the germination process – this is one of the first steps in the creation of our award-winning single malt Scotch.

• Wash

A fermented barley liquid, similar to beer with an alcohol volume of around 5% to 10%.

• Charring
The act of firing the interior of an oak cask, a process that has a direct impact on the flavour and colour of the whisky.
• Feints
Also known as tails or after shots, these are the unusable ends of a distillation run which cannot be consumed.
• Steep
A container used to soak barley in water to begin the germination process – this is one of the first steps in the creation of our award-winning single malt Scotch.
• Wash
A fermented barley liquid, similar to beer with an alcohol volume of around 5% to 10%.

• Wort

The liquid drawn from the mash tun after the mashing process is complete. Once fermented, this will go on to become the wash.

• Grist

A flour used in the mashing process, produced by finely grinding malted barley.

• Draff

A Scottish term used to refer to cereal grains that can no longer be used to create whisky, “draff” is typically used for livestock feed.

• Lyne Arm 

An arm which extends from the swan neck at the top of each copper still, connecting it with the condenser where the distillate is collected.

• Lauter

A vessel with a sieved bottom used for brewing the mash. 

• Valinch 

A large pipette typically used to draw spirit for sampling from a cask, also known as the “dipping dog” or “whisky thief”.  

 

There you have it, a look into some of the words of our forefathers and what they mean to us today. So next time you’re enjoying a dram of your favourite single malt Scotch, you’ll know a little more about the terms that surround it. 

Naturally, if you have any questions or additions of your own feel free to get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram

 

• Charring
The act of firing the interior of an oak cask, a process that has a direct impact on the flavour and colour of the whisky.
• Feints
Also known as tails or after shots, these are the unusable ends of a distillation run which cannot be consumed.
• Steep
A container used to soak barley in water to begin the germination process – this is one of the first steps in the creation of our award-winning single malt Scotch.
• Wash
A fermented barley liquid, similar to beer with an alcohol volume of around 5% to 10%.