Whisky Jargon Made Simple

Written by
April 29, 2018

When passionate whisky fan Blair Bowman ambitiously founded World Whisky Day in 2012, he could hardly have anticipated that it would only take a few short years to catch on. Still, he wasn’t asking a lot, he simply wanted folks that love whisky to raise a glass, and those that might be curious to give it a go.

Good on ya, Blair. We love someone who takes their appreciation for a nice drop and wants to share it with the world.

Whether you’re heading to an event to try a ‘dram’ on World Whisky Day or holding your own private sampling soiree, you’ll need to know how to navigate the jargon that connoisseurs of this fine spirit will throw around, this Saturday May 19.

We teamed up with the makers of Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Whisky to distil (sorry) some whisky terms.

(Our tip? Print this out and stick it on your fridge so you won’t be sprung faking whisky knowledge again.)


This is the Scottish term for the correct measure of whisky – it’s 1/8 of an ounce or 3.6mL – about a teaspoon if you’re adding it to your haggis. Of course, if you’re not drinking it in the highlands, a standard 30mL nip will also do. It’s often served neat, so you can observe the range of flavours and savour the taste.


Nah, this isn’t about losing your hair. Well before the whisky is served, the germinated grains are soaked in water and dried. This is known as malting. Whisky is often made of malted grains such as barley, corn, rye and wheat. They’re malted because this helps to develop the enzymes that turn the ingredient into sugar.


Fermentation is a metabolic process where sugar and yeast are converted into alcohol. A sugar-based liquid called ‘wort’ is put in a container with yeast – and fermented in containers known as washbacks. Traditionally, these were wooden, but they could also be iron or metal. The carbon dioxide and yeast slowly turn the ingredients into alcohol. This is known as a ‘wash’.


Once there’s a wash, it’s time for whisky makers to turn their hands to distillation. It’s during this time that the wash becomes a fully formed spirit. To distil whisky, the wash is heated in a still. Alcohol vapours then evaporate and rise up the still to the lyne arm. This is the arm that provides a connection between the still and the condenser. These vapours then become liquid.


Hey, you’re a mature connoisseur. But this is the process of ageing the whisky. It is best aged in a cask – usually American or European oak. The belief is that whisky ages much better in these conditions than it does in a bottle. Does age matter? Well, yes and no. Naturally, if you’re drinking a rare 60-year-old single malt whisky, it’s going to have a different profile to a 12-year-old blend. A connoisseur might tell you an older whisky is always preferable, but ultimately, it comes down to your preference.

Single malt whisky

When your whisky has come from one distillery and is made of 100 per cent malted barley, then you’ve got yourself a single malt. The bottle might contain whiskies of varying ages from different casks, but you’ll notice the consistent flavour profile.

Blended whisky

If your whisky is comprised of single malt and grain whiskies, you’re tasting a blend. The result is a complex combination of characteristics that are produced as a result of the blends sometimes coming from different distilleries. There may also be a range of aged whiskies in the mix.

This World Whisky Day, why not sample a few drams and establish a preference for yourself?

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