The Definitive A-Z Glossary Of All The Whiskey Terms You Need To Know

Knowing how to competently talk about whiskey is tough. Enough that it creates a barrier for many lovers of the brown stuff. There are just so many damn words to learn that it almost feels like you have to go back to school to get a grip on them. On top of that, different cultures sometimes have completely different terms for the same thing, adding a layer of confusion.

With World Whiskey Day coming up, we decided to cut through as much of the bullshit as possible by compiling a comprehensive A-Z list of whiskey-related terms. If they’re not here, you probably don’t need to know them. We have, however, tried to shy away from the super-scientific words — they’re just too inside baseball unless you’re an actual distiller. Yes, there are a few science-y words on this list, but that’s simply because try-hard whiskey aficionados like to toss them around (feel free to roll your eyes at them when they do).

Hopefully, this whiskey 101 guide will help you understand the vernacular of the whiskey world. It should also give you a few pointers on the process involved in making whiskey and even tasting it. If you have any local whiskey slang to add, please sound off in the comments!

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Angel’s Share

The whiskey that evaporates into then air while it ages in the rickhouse/warehouse over the years.

Other terms to know:

  • ABV — Alcohol By Volume.
  • Age — The number of years the whiskey was aged. Or the age of the oldest barrel used in a blend.
  • Aging — The process of aging whiskey in a barrel.


Bung Hole

The whole in which is the barrel is filled and emptied. It remains corked while aging takes place.

Other terms to know:

  • Barrel — An oak vessel for aging spirits.
  • Bottled-in-Bond — A whiskey that’s aged according to specific federal oversight of aging facilities and bottled at 50 percent ABV.
  • Blend — A mix of two or more whiskeys from different distillations from different distilleries and often different grains.
  • Ball of Malt — Irish term for a glass of whiskey.
  • Beer — All whiskey essentially starts out as beer (a mash of fermented grains) before it’s distilled.
  • Bourbon — An American whiskey made with a corn-dominant mash bill and aged in new American oak.
  • Barley — The main grain used in most non-North American whiskies.



A scientific term that gets thrown around a lot. They refer to the chemical compounds — like esters — that survive the distillation process and carry certain tastes into the unaged spirit.

Other terms to know:

  • Cut (Heart) — The middle section of the spirit (between the foreshot and feint) coming off stills that actually goes into the barrels.
  • Cask — An oak barrel used for aging.
  • Cooper — The barrel maker.
  • Cooperage — Where barrels are made.
  • Charring — Blasting the inside of a barrel with fire to create char.
  • Char — The fire-burnt inside of a barrel, varies in depth from (generally) one to five with five being a heavy char.
  • Chill Filtration — A cooling process that removes substances that tend to cloud whiskey expressions when it gets cold.
  • Column Still — Also called a Coffey Still, using continuous and mechanized distillation.
  • Condensation — What happens when the distilled vapors are turned back into liquid via cooling.
  • Cask Strength — Whiskey bottled directly from the cask without meddling.
  • Caramel — A coloring agent for whiskey.
  • Campletown — A regional designation for Scotch whisky.
  • Color — The clarity and color of a whiskey.
  • Corn Whiskey — An American whiskey made with at least 80 percent corn in the mash bill, bottled at or below 80 percent alcohol, and is rarely aged.



The organic residue left from the grains and cereals after the mashing that’s later dried and sold as animal feed.

Other terms to know:

  • Dram — Whiskey glass, usually from Scotland. Or, as our Vince Mancini says, “a shot that studied abroad.”
  • Dusties — Old bottles that are sitting untouched in collectors’ cellars.
  • Drum Malting — The process of germinating raw barley in large drums with local water and constant churning to create malt.
  • Distillation — The process of turning the “beer” or “mash” into clear spirit or alcohol.
  • Doubler — A type of pot still for second distillation that amps up the ABV.



A specific varietal from a single distillery or blender. These can vary by aging (time or process), blending, barrel selection (location of the barrel in the Brickhouse or unique barreling technique), or different mash bills.

Other terms to know:

  • Ethanol — This is what alcohol actually is, chemically (C2H5OH).
  • Esters — A chemical compound by-product of distillation that carries flavors into the spirit.
  • “E” — The “e” in the term “whiskey” from Ireland and the United States compared to “whisky” from the rest of the world.
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Fake Tan

Whiskey that’s been colored by artificial agents or caramel.

Other terms to know:

  • Floor Malting — Very old-school method where the raw barley is soaked in water and then laid out on a floor to germinate into malts.
  • Fermentation — The process of turning malt grist, water, and yeast into the beer that’s the base for whiskey.
  • Foreshot (Heads) — The first part of the distillation that’s too rough to be barreled, so it’s often redistilled with the feints.
  • Feints (Tails) — The ends of the first distillation process, after the cut, that’s often mostly water and redistilled with the foreshots.
  • Filling — The act of filling barrels.
  • Finishing — Taking whiskey from a standard barrel and refilling it into another barrel to add more flavor and depth.
  • Flipper — Someone who buys high-end bottles and then resells them at a marked up price on the secondary market.
  • Finish — The lingering tastes and feelings of a whiskey.



The milled malt that then goes into a mash tun with water.

Other terms to know:

  • Green Barley — Germinated but un-dried barley malts.
  • Grain Whiskey — Often distilled with wheat and corn to be blended with a straight whiskey.
  • Glencairn — A classic whiskey tasting glass.
  • Glen — A narrow valley in Scotland.


Honey Barrel

In Kentucky parlance, this is the perfect barrel from the sweet spot of the rickhouse that’s aged for the right amount of time that almost magically (read: luck) makes the best-tasting barrel of bourbon.

Other terms to know:

  • High Wine — The spirit from the first distillation which is sent directly for a second distillation.
  • Honey Hole — A retailer that sells high-end bottles at average retail prices.
  • Highlands — A regional designation for Scotch whisky.
  • Heather — A wildflower from the Scottish highlands that’s supposedly always “present” on the nose of Scotch whisky.
  • Holler — A small valley in the Ohio River Valley or Appalachia in the United States.



A regional designation for Scotch whisky. Known for tasting smoky/ peaty.

Other terms to know:

  • Islands — A regional designation for Scotch whisky. Unlike Islay whiskies, these expressions feature a wide range of flavor profiles.
  • Irish Whiskey — A triple distilled whiskey aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks for at least three years.



A slang term for whiskey after it’s distilled and while it’s in the barrel or bottled.

Other terms to know:

  • Japanese Whisky — A malted barley whisky — blended and single malt — originally made to mimic Scotland’s whisky culture.



The process and room where wet, germinated malt is dried with heat from various sources (peat smoke or dry air, etc.).

Other terms to know:

  • Kentuck Chew — The process of nosing, sipping, and tasting Kentucky Bourbon.
  • Kentucky Hug — The warm, lingering finish seen in many high-quality bourbon expressions.


Lyne Arm

The horizontal tube between a pot still and worm wherein the vapor starts turning back into a liquid.

Other terms to know:

  • Low Wines — The spirit created by the first distillation.
  • Loch — A Scottish lake.
  • Lowlands — A regional designation for Scotch whisky. Generally, light and mellow in flavor.
  • Lomond Still — A pot still that operates similarly to a Coffey Still that’s sometimes used in Scotland.
  • Legs — The streams inside a whiskey tasting glass that denotes age and alcohol content.
  • Lincoln County Process (Leaching) — The process in Tennessee wherein whiskey is filtered or mellowed with sugar maple charcoal.
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Mash Bill

The mix of grains and cereal used to make the initial mash.

Other terms to know:

  • Malt — The grains or cereals that are germinated and then dried which become the base of the mash bill.
  • Mill — The machine that turns malts into grist.
  • Mash(ing) — The step where the grist (ground malt) is added to water with sugars before fermentation.
  • Mash Tun — The tank wherein the mashing happens.
  • Master Distiller — The person who oversees every step of the process of making whiskey.
  • Master Blender — The person who oversees the maturation, blending, and bottling of the whiskey.
  • Maturation — The process of aging whiskey in barrels.
  • Moonshine — An unaged whiskey made at an illegal still.



The top of a pot still that allows vapor to travel into the Lyne Arm.

Other terms to know:

  • New Make — Another term for White Dog or whiskey before it’s aged.
  • Noser — The person at the distillery or blendery who specifically noses the whiskey for quality control.
  • Nose — The smell of the whiskey when “nosing” the glass as you prepare to taste it.



This is what happens when air and congeners meet in the barrel and burn off the harsher edges of the spirit, allowing certain flavors — brought along by the sugar in the barrel’s wood — to take center stage.


Peat Monster

A whisk(e)y, often scotch, where the malts are kilned with heavy peat smoke which becomes the dominant taste in the finished product.

Other terms to know:

  • Peat — A bio-fuel from just below grassy sod used to dry wet malts after germination with its signature blue smoke.
  • Pot Still — A classic bulbous still.
  • Pagoda — The shape of a kiln room roof which allows for ventilation (archaic).
  • Purifier — A device attached to the Lyne Arm to trap harsher alcohol and redirect it for redistillation.
  • Phenols — The chemical compounds released in peat smoke that enter the malts.
  • PPM — The “theoretical” Parts Per Million of phenols in peaty whisky.
  • Proof — Twice the ABV.
  • Poitín — An unaged (white) Irish whiskey.
  • Palate — The taste of the whiskey.



An ancient wooden whiskey-drinking vessel with handles on either side. Originally fom Scotland.



A storage building for barrels of whiskey (mainly U.S.).

Other terms to know:

  • Rye — In Canada, the umbrella term for all whisky. In the U.S., a whiskey made with a rye-dominate mash bill and aged in new American oak.
  • Reflux — The recondensed spirit that doesn’t make it to the Lyne Arm and falls back into the still for redistillation.
  • Rare — Whiskey either produced in non-standard batches or from a shuttered distillery or brand.
  • Refill — A reused cask or barrel.
  • Run — The spirit that passes from the still into the spirit safe.
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Spirit Safe

A brass-framed, glass box where the spirit flows (directly from the spirit still) for testing by the master distiller for quality.

Other “S” terms to know:

  • Spirit Still — A secondary, smaller still for additional distillations.
  • Spirit — The unaged alcohol made via distilling.
  • Sherry Butt — An oak barrel from Jerez, Spain that once held sherry.
  • Shell Condenser — The tube around the Lyne Arm where water is pumped in to cool the arm.
  • Steep — The process of soaking grains in water to start germination.
  • Saladin Box — A method for drying germinated barley in a box with a perforated bottom where hot air is pumped through.
  • Speyside — A regional designation for Scotch whisky. Typically either light, smooth sippers or rich and sweeter.
  • Single Malt — A whisky made at a single distillery during a single season with malted barley.
  • Single Grain — A whiskey made from a single grain other than barley at a single distillery.
  • Single Pot — An Irish whiskey made from unmalted and malted barley in a pot still at a single distillery.
  • Single Estate — When all the grains come from a single farm.
  • Straight Whiskey — A bourbon, rye, or Tennessee whiskey that has to spend at least two years aging and barreled below 62.5 percent ABV.
  • Small Batch — The process of blending a few choice barrels from a single distillation at a single distillery.
  • Singel Barrel — The process of bottling a choice whiskey directly from a single barrel with no additives or filtration.
  • Scotch — A whisky, blended or otherwise, from Scotland.
  • Spent Lees — The residue left in a still after distillation, waste.
  • Sláinte — The Scot-Irish Gaelic term for “health” a la “cheers!” when toasting.



A whiskey hypebeast who chases high-end bottles but rarely knows what they’re talking about.

Other terms to know:

  • Tennessee Whiskey — A type of whiskey from Tennessee with a corn-focused mash bill that’s filtered through sugar maple charcoal and aged in new American oak.
  • Toasted Barrel — A barrel that’s been air-dried before either charring or filling.


Uisce Beatha

Also, Uisge Beatha in Scottish-Gaelic, the original term for “whisky” which is a local translation of aqua vitae, or water of life.

Other terms to know:

  • Unicorn — A very hard-to-find and much-sought-after bottle of whiskey.
  • Underback — The vessel wherein the mash passes from the mash tun to the washback and cools before fermentation.


Vatted Malt

A whisky that is blended from two or more single malts with no other grain whiskies involved.

Other terms to know:

  • Viscosity — Denotes a thicker whiskey with more defined legs in the glass.
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White Dog

An unaged (or barely aged) American whiskey, often distilled with a high-corn mash bill.

Other terms to know:

  • Wort (Mash) — The sugar-loaded liquid from the mash tun.
  • Washback — The fermentation tank where yeast is added to the wort from the mash tun.
  • Worm — The coiled tubes that run off a still through a water vat to cool the vapor back into a liquid.
  • Warehouse — A storage building for barrels full of whiskey.
  • Wash Still — The first and larger still for distillation.
  • Worm Tub — The wooden vat the holds the coils after the Lyne Arm that’s filled with water to help the condensation process.
  • Whiskey Thief — A long brass tube used to taste test whiskey from the barrel.
  • White Lightning — A form of moonshine.


X Waters

An archaic term for Irish whiskey that was originally called “Strong Waters” which became X waters.

Other terms to know:

  • XXX — Tripled distilled moonshine or whiskey.



The amount of alcohol that one ton of malt can, well, yield.

Other terms to know:

  • Yeast — The live fungi that eat sugars to create alcohol and carbon dioxide during fermentation.



The study of fermentation in brewing, winemaking, and distilling.