The GreatDrams Whisky Glossary

let’s begin

Here at GreatDrams we know how hard it can be to keep up with the terminology around whisky and for new whisky drinkers it can seem monumentally daunting so we have put together a whisky glossary for you to peruse and to use as your go-to resource if you have questions about what dram you're drinking... Let me know if you want any more added.


  1. ABV – Alcohol By Volume, or the strength of the drink measured by percentage of alcohol. Higher ABVs will almost certainly result in black outs and sore heads the next morning.
  1. Angel’s Share This is one all Whisky enthusiasts should know. Despite sounding like some kind of weird religious Whisky ritual, the Angel’s Share is simply the percentage of liquid that evaporates from barrels each year.
  1. Beer – We all know what Beer is, but did you know that Whisky begins life as a simple type of Beer? Well now you do!
  1. Blend Literally what it sounds like, this is a mix of several different malts from several different distilleries. Johnny Walker and Monkey Shoulder are examples of some pretty fine blends.
  1. Cask Finish – This is when the Whisky is taken from its primary cask and placed in a second or third cask for the purpose of maturing it with more flavour. Like a finishing school for alcohol.
  1. Cask Strength Whisky that has been bottled at cask strength has a higher ABV than Whiskies that are diluted with water before being bottled. So if you’re enjoying a cask strength dram, just make sure you don’t enjoy it too much!
  1. Charring–This is when the inside of a barrel is fired, but with real fire and not what happens when you steal your boss’s sandwich from the fridge (it was a really good sandwich in fairness). This can be done to varying degrees and encourages the liquid to interact more with certain elements in the wood.  It is used especially in the production of Bourbon and results in a sweet vanilla flavour.
  1. Chill Filtration–Chill-filtration is the process of lowering the temperature of Whisky to between -10 and 4 degrees, and passing it through a fine filter. This is in order to reduce cloudiness and residue.  There are two schools of thought on chill-filtration, one in support of it and the other dead set against it.  Kinda like the dark and light side in Star Wars.  Choose your side, and choose wisely.
  1. Column Still–As opposed to a pot still, this is, in the most basic of terms, a tall block of kettles set on top of each other that allows the Whisky to condense at different levels. It creates a purer liquid at a higher ABV than pot stills, but is not as commonly used.
  1. Congeners – These little compounds are what you owe most of the fantastic flavour of Whisky to. They are impurities that form during fermentation, but the good kind of impurities, the kind we can all get behind and enjoy.
  1. Cooperage – On first hearing this, one would be forgiven to think it involves copper of some sort, but alas, it is the place that barrels are made, and the man who makes them is called a cooper.
  1. Distillation This is what occurs in column and pot stills. It is the process of heating liquid until the alcohol evaporates and condenses.  Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, so this is a process of separating the two.  A kind of liquid divorce.
  1. Dram – If you’re having a wee dram you’re probably in Scotland and enjoying some pretty fine Whisky. This is basically a name used to refer to a measure of Whisky, about the same as a shot.
  1. Ethanol – The glorious stuff that is drinking alcohol. Where would we be without it?  Probably able to remember a lot more than with it really.
  1. Expression – A fancy way of saying another type of Whisky from the same range. Like the different parts of one whole; Whiskies are the parts and the whole is the range.
  1. Feints – Not what happens when you have too much of the good stuff, this is the stuff at the end of the distillation process that not even the hardiest of drinkers would be able to stomach, and you can be damned sure the Irish have tried!
  1. Floor Maltings – Traditional buildings where barley was malted. Basically a giant hall to lay soaked grains in.  Thrilling really!
  1. Grist – The product of finely grinding malted barley, this stuff is used in the mashing process.
  1. Low Wines – This is stuff that is produced during the first part of distillation in a wash still.
  1. Malt – The stuff that makes grist! If you don’t know what Grist is you need to go back and pay better attention to this list.  Malt is barley that has been fermented so partial germination occurs (bonus points for knowing where this occurs.  Hint hint, it’s above grist).
  1. Mash Tun – The tub where the Grist is mixed with water to dissolve fermentable sugars.
  1. Master Blender – The chap* that distilleries entrust with the most precious of arts, the art of mixing Whiskies to make a more superior Whisky. *can also be woman
  1. Maturation When a Whisky is placed in barrels and left to soak up the flavours of said barrel. Please note Whisky matures at a younger age than most human males.
  1. New Make Spirit – This is Whisky before it has matured, when it is still fresh and naïve, yet to be corrupted by the evils of the barrel aged world.
  1. Nosing – Not when your neighbour eavesdrops on your arguments with your spouse. This is the art of smelling a Whisky to determine its flavour profile.
  1. Oak – The wood that pretty much all barrels are made out of. In fact it’s illegal for Whisky to be matured in anything other than oak.  If you did that you’d have to call it something else like Steve or Mike.
  1. Palate – What comes after nosing.   This is when you drink the Whisky in order to determine its flavour profile.
  1. Peat – We all love a bit of Peat. Unless it’s Pete who I lived with in uni.  But otherwise we all love Peat!  Peat is what forms when lots of plants die and get squished together with lots of watter.
  1. Peated – This is when Peat (see above) is used to dry malted grains. It passes on some of its flavour and you can taste it in the resulting Whisky. Mmmmm decayed plants!
  1. Pot Still A giant kettle where the divorce of liquids occurs (see distillation). This is the most common form of distilling liquid in Scotland.
  1. Regions – Someone decided to split Scotland up so we could better identify all the different flavour profiles of Scotch. This resulted in several different Whisky regions that all fight to be crowned King of the Regions, Kind of like Game of Thrones but with more drinking (and therefore better).
  1. Small Batch – As opposed to Big Batch (not a real term) this is when Whisky is produced on a smaller scale to normal. This should probably be whispered to get the full effect of just how small small batch is.
  1. Whisky/Whiskey – Ahhhh the E. This is the letter that has divided nations for centuries.  Not really.  If you’re in Scotland don’t use the E to spell Whisky.  If you’re in America or Ireland then do use the E.  A way to remember this is if there is an E in the country name, there is an E in Whiskey.
  1. Worm Tub – This is much lovlier than it sounds. It is not a tub full of worms, as I genuinely believed when I first heard it.  It is in fact a tub with a long pipe snaking through it like a worm.  This is where alcohol vapours are condensed
  2. Wort – Again, nicer than it sounds, this is the liquid that comes out of the mash tun that is full of sugars, just waiting to be fermented.  It is not a small lump
Tags: ABVBeerCask StrengthdistillationdramDrinkWirepeatWhisky Glossary


My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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