The Abcs of Whiskey Terminology

Ah, whiskey – the amber elixir that has comforted souls and inspired poets for centuries. This quintessential spirit is deeply rooted in tradition, from the intricacies of its distillation process to the vernacular that describes its world. Understanding whiskey lingo can be a little intimidating for newcomers, but the reward is a deeper appreciation of each sip, whether enjoyed in a bespoke whisky bar in Newcastle or in the comfort of your own home.

Let’s decode the lexicon of whiskey, from A to Z, to make your next whiskey tasting experience a more enriching affair.

A: Age Statement

A number usually found on the bottle’s label, the age statement indicates the youngest whiskey in the blend, expressed in years. It signifies the duration the spirit has been aged in oak barrels, not the total time since distillation.

B: Bourbon

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey, predominantly corn-based and aged in new charred-oak barrels. This imparts rich, caramelised notes and a distinct sweetness to the spirit.

C: Cask Strength

This refers to whiskey that is bottled directly from the cask, without dilution. The result is a potent and robust spirit that is not for the faint-hearted but can be a treat for connoisseurs.

D: Distillation

The heart of whiskey-making, distillation is the process where fermented mash is heated to produce alcohol vapours, which are then condensed into liquid form.

E: Ethanol

This is the type of alcohol found in all spirits, including whiskey. Ethanol is produced through the fermentation of grains.

F: Finish

The “finish” of a whiskey describes the lingering flavours and sensations on the palate after swallowing. It can range from short and crisp to long and complex.

G: Grain Whiskey

This term refers to whiskey made from grains other than malted barley. Grain whiskeys are usually lighter and smoother, making them ideal for blending.

H: Highland

The Highland region in Scotland produces a variety of whiskies with flavours ranging from dry and robust to floral and peaty.

I: Irish Whiskey

Traditionally triple-distilled and known for its smoothness, Irish whiskey often has a lighter texture and more neutral grain profile compared to Scotch.

J: Japanese Whisky

Influenced by Scotch whisky, the Japanese version is meticulously crafted and offers a diverse array of subtle flavours, from smoky to fruity.

K: Kentucky Straight Bourbon

A designation for bourbons that are produced in Kentucky and adhere to stricter aging and production rules than typical bourbon.

L: Lowland

A whiskey-producing region in Scotland, Lowland whiskies are generally light, floral, and delicate.

M: Mash

Mash is a mixture of milled grains and water that undergoes fermentation to produce alcohol.

N: Neat

The purest way to enjoy whiskey, “neat” refers to a pour that is unadulterated by ice, water, or mixers.

O: Oak

The wood of choice for aging whiskey, oak barrels impart complex flavours such as vanilla, spice, and caramel.

P: Peat

A type of soil rich in organic material, peat is often used in the malting process to impart smoky flavours to the whiskey.

Q: Quaich

A traditional Scottish drinking vessel, usually made of pewter or silver, used for ceremonial whiskey tastings.

R: Rye

A type of whiskey made primarily from rye grain, which lends spicier and more robust flavours compared to its corn-based counterparts.

S: Single Malt

A single malt whiskey is made from 100% malted barley and produced at one distillery.

T: Tannins

Compounds found in oak barrels that can add complexity and astringency to whiskey, similar to their role in wine.

U: Uisge Beatha

The Scottish Gaelic term for “water of life”, uisge beatha is one of the earliest names for whiskey.

V: Virgin Oak

Barrels made from oak that haven’t been used for aging any other spirits or wines before.

W: Wheated Bourbon

Bourbon that uses wheat as the secondary grain in the mash bill, resulting in a softer, sweeter profile.


Though not commonly associated with whiskey, the term XO, meaning “Extra Old”, is sometimes used to signify a well-aged spirit.

Y: Yeast

Microorganisms that ferment sugars into alcohol, yeast is an essential part of the whiskey-making process.

Z: Zesty

A term used to describe whiskies with lively and vibrant citrus notes.

There you have it – the ABCs of whiskey terminology. As you venture into the enthralling world of whiskey, keep this glossary at your fingertips. Cheers!

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