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Knowledge

Whisky Glossary

Enhance your whisky expertise.

Whisky has a rich history going back centuries and is created, consumed and enjoyed around the world. Naturally, there is an abundance of 'whisky jargon' that has been developed to describe the various processes and practices associated with this distinct spirit. We have gathered the key terms to enable you to expand your whisky knowledge; diving into everything from Feints and Finish to particular Macallan terms like Easter Elchies House.

So whether you have a certain phrase in mind or would like to expand your whisky knowledge, our whisky glossary is a useful tool to discover more.

AGE OF WHISKY

The number of years a whisky matures in casks.

AMERICAN OAK

One of the wood types sourced for The Macallan casks. Typical flavours associated with this oak are vanilla, lemon citrus and coconut.

AMYLASE

A key enzyme in scotch whisky making.

ANGEL’S SHARE

The evaporation of whisky during maturation.

ABV

Alcohol by Volume.

BALANCE

Refers to the balance of flavours and taste sensations.

BARLEY

A grain used to make whisky, can also be malted.

BARREL

A certain type of cask, a vessel used to mature spirits. 

BEADING

The formation of bubbles after shaking whisky, which can help determine alcohol content.

BLENDED WHISKY

The combination of two or more types of whiskies, from different distillers.

BLENDING

The process of combining different types of whisky, as well as sometimes adding in colouring, and other neutral grain spirits

BODEGA

Traditionally known in Spain as a wine storehouse or wine cellar, our casks spend time in Spanish bodegas to be seasoned with sherry wine before being transported to our distillery in Speyside, Scotland to be filled with new make spirit.

BOTTLING/BOTTLING PLANT

The process and place where matured whisky goes to be bottled and prepared for market.

BOURBON WHISKEY

American whiskey distilled primarily from corn and aged in charred new oak barrels.

BREWING

Part of the fermentation stage during whisky making process where the wort is in the washbacks.

BUTT

A large oak cask used for maturing whisky and other alcoholic liquids, usually sherry maturation. It averages 500L in size – approximately twice that of a hogshead. 

 

CAMPBELLTOWN

Once home to over 30 distilleries, this town in Scotland was known as the 'whisky capital of the world'.

CANADIAN WHISKY

Also known as 'whisky rye', to be Canadian whisky it must be mashed and distilled from cereal grains, and aged in small wood for at least three years in Canada.

CASK 

Made from oak, the vessel used to mature whisky.

CASK STRENGTH

The alcohol strength of whisky that has not been diluted before bottling.

CHARRING

Contrasted to 'toasting', charring is the process of burning the inside of a for a more extended time period barrel during the cask making process.

CHILL FILTRATION

Process where whisky is cooled and filtered to remove any residue before bottling

CLEARIC

An alternative term for 'new make spirit' - whisky before it has been matured in casks.

COLUMN STILL

A form of still used for distillation that is composed of two columns, that works in a continual cycle

CONDENSATION

The process in distillation where the alcoholic vapours turn back into liquid spirit.

CONGENERS

Produced during fermentation, these are chemicals responsible for some of the colour, aroma and taste of whisky.

COOPER

The person who creates casks for whisky to be matured in.  

COOPERAGE

The location where European and American oak is constructed into casks by coopers. Our partner cooperages are located in Jerez, Spain.

CUT

May be 'low', 'middle' or 'high', cut refers to the strength and quality of alcohol that comes out of distillation- The Macallan always chooses the finest cut of every distillation process.

DECANTER

The vessel used to store and serve whisky after bottling, often made of fine crystal or glass.

DEVIL’S SHARE

Refers to the whisky that is left trapped in the wood of a cask after it has been emptied.

DOUBLE DISTILLATION

The process of putting the spirit through the full distillation process twice, the common practice in Scotland whisky making.

DISTILLATION

The process of heating, condensing and collecting liquid spirits using copper pot stills to make whisky.

DRAFF

The cereal grain residue left in the mash tun after the wort and liquid has been drawn off; often made into cattle feed.

DRAM

Scottish term referring to a measurement of spirits, equal to 1/8th of an ounce.

DRUM MALTING

A contemporary method of malting barley using a large rotating drum.

DUNNAGE

A traditional warehouse used for storing and maturing whisky. Often low-rise buildings with thick stone or brick walls, a slate roof and earthen floors. Here casks can be stacked up to three high on top of each other.

EASTER ELCHIES HOUSE

One of our foundational Six Pillars, Easter Elchies House is our Spiritual Home, and has been on the estate since 1700. 

ENZYMES

Playing a key role in the fermentation stage of scotch whisky making; enzymes convert the grain starches to sugars for making malted barley.

ESTATE 

The Macallan Estate is a 485 acre estate located in Speyside, Scotland. Founded in 1824 by Alexander Reid, it is home to our Distillery and Easter Elchies House, the spiritual home of The Macallan, built on a plateau overlooking the River Spey.

ETHANOL

Another term for alcohol, the standard alcoholic percentage (ABV) of whisky is 40% or 43%, although it may be higher.

EUROPEAN OAK

Used in the production of our sherry seasoned oak casks, european oak trees are higher in tannins than their American counterpart, grown in the north of Spain and harvested at approximately 100 years old. Typical flavours associated with this oak are dried fruits, orange citrus and spices.

E

Easter Elchies House

One of our foundational Six Pillars, Easter Elchies House is our Spiritual Home, and has been on the estate since 1700. 

D

Distillation

The process of heating, condensing and collecting liquid spirits using copper pot stills to make whisky.

FEINTS

Also known as 'tails' or 'aftershots', feints is the unusable last portion of liquid at the end of the second distillation run in whisky making.

FERMENTATION

The process of converting grain sugars into carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol through the addition yeast enzymes.

FINISH

A whisky's final flavour impressions after it has been swallowed. Evaluated through the length of time the flavours are retained on the tongue; a longer finish is often preferred. 

FLOOR MALTING

Buildings where the process of malting barley is done by hand, as opposed to through mechanical means.

FORESHOT

Refers to the first part of the second distillation run. 

GERMINATION

The process that takes place after the grains are soaked, in order to awaken the enzymes that will convert the starches to sugar.

GRAIN WHISKY

Whisky that is made with any grains other than malted barley, including corn, rye and wheat grains.

GRIST

The milled powder that comes from finely ground malted barley; it is combined with hot water in the mashing process to create wort. 

HIGHLANDS

The largest region in located in northwest Scotland that is famous for its whisky production. 

HOGSHEAD

A large size of barrel, or cask that is used to store and mature whisky; their capacity averages 250 litres.

Irish Whiskey

Whiskey made in Ireland, usually from a mixture of grains and often distilled three times. 

Islay

One of the five regions in Scotland recognised for whisky making; most well known for peaty, smoky whiskies.

Japanese Whisky

A relative newcomer in the world of whisky production, the first commercial distillery opened in 1924.

Jerez

Plays a key role in the journey of our wood, Jerez is an area of northern Spain known for its sherry production; The Macallan's cooperages and sherry bodegas are located here.

Kiln

A vessel or areal used to grain using hot air; traditionally heated using peat, which created the stronger, 'peaty' taste commonly associated with scotch whisky.

Lowlands

Area of Scotland known for its whisky production, distinguished from the Highlands by the 1784 Wash Act, which formed a taxation line and influenced whisky production in the region as a result. 

Lyne Arm

The long neck or copper pipe at the top of a whisky still, which connects the still to the condenser in whisky making.

Malt

Cereal grain that is germinated through being soaked in hot water, wakening the enzymes that convert starches to sugars.

Malted Barley

Barley that has been soaked and germinated, and then dried in a kiln as preparation for fermentation in whisky making.

Malting

The process of germinating grains through soaking

Malt Whisky

Whisky made from fermented grain mash that are primarily composed of barley.

Marrying

The process of bringing together more than one whisky and blending or 'marrying' the different flavours before bottling.

Mash

The ground grain, or 'grist' mixed with hot water in a mash tun.

Mashing

When the mash is mixed with water and heated in order to release enzymes that will help break down the natural sugars in the grain.

Mash Tun

A large round vessel usually made from stainless steel, cast iron, wood or copper that is used for mashing the grist.

Maturation

Refers to the time that new make spirit spends in oak casks, in order to take on the characteristics of the wood and develop full flavours.

Milling

The process of grinding malted barley to break the grain husks and produce a carefully proportioned mix of flour, husk and grit.

New Make Spirit

High alcohol spirit that has been freshly distilled and has not yet been matured in casks, usually with an ABV of around 70%.

Non-Chill Filtered

Indication that a whisky has not been 'chill filtered' to remove harmless chemical compounds, thus it may turn cloudy when chilled.

Nosing

The act of smelling the aromas of a whisky in order to discern the unique fragrances, usually done at whisky tastings. 

On the Rocks

A term for drinking whisky with ice, rather than 'neat' or in a serve

Organic Whisky

A whisky made with organically grown and produced ingredients, including virgin oak casks, and produced in a distillery that has is clean of non-organic new make spirit. 

Oxidation

The process of oxygen reacting with the whisky, impacting the flavour. The exact impact of oxidation on whisky is a topic of debate, as it is whisky is generally considered not to age after bottling. 

R

Roca Brothers

Long-standing partners of The Macallan, the Roca brothers explore the iconic city of London through Distil Your World.

R

Red Collection

Discover our oldest collection of releases to date.

Pagoda

The pyramid shaped roof of the kiln used in drying malted barley. Providing ventilation, the pagoda was invented by Charles Doig. 

Peat

A layer of soil made up of grasses, tree roots and mosses that have compressed over time. It is dried and used a fuel, and was traditionally used in drying malted barley. The peat transmits a distinct 'smoky' flavour to the liquid as a result of the absorption of the smoke into the grains.

Pot Ale

The liquid of fermented wort leftover in the wash still following the first distillation. 

Pot Still

A still traditionally used for distilling single malt whisky, usually made of copper. To legally be considered Scotch, it must be distilled in pot stills

Proof

An American term referring to the alcoholic content of whisky, generally considered to be twice that of ABV (Alcohol by Volume) when measured in percentage.

Puncheon

A specific size of cask or barrel, and is the second most common cask size used in maturing sherry, holding 500L.

Purifier

Connected to the lyne arm of stills, used for condensing and purifying heavier alcoholic vapours in the distillation process.

Quaich

A traditional two-handed Scottish drinking cup, known as the 'cup of friendship.'

RACKING

Racked Warehouse

High rise brick, steel-clad or cement block warehouses used for storing whisky. Usually with a cement floor and tin roof, the large structure allows for casks to be stacked up to 12 casks high on steel rail racks.

Reflux

The term for the alcoholic vapours that fall back down into the still before reaching the condenser and are re-distilled, creating a more refined spirit.   

Rye Whisky

Whisky made with rye grain, popular in America. 

Scotch Whisky

Whisky produced exclusively in Scotland, which also must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak casks and bottled at an ABV of at least 40%.

Sherry Butt

The most common type of sherry cask, used in the whisky industry to create sherry seasoned oak casks.

Sherry Seasoned

Refers to the presence of sherry in our wood journey, where our sherry seasoned oak casks are first matured with sherry before they are filled with our new make spirit.

Single Cask

When the whisky bottled comes from one single cask, in contrast to being created from a blend of different casks.

Single Malt

Whisky made at one distillery from one cereal type, for single malt scotch whisky this must be grain 100% malted barley. 

Speyside

A region in northern Scotland renowned for its whisky production; home to The Macallan and the famous River Spey. 

SPIRIT SAFE

A glass walled, padlocked container attached to the spirit still. This allows the distiller to evaluate the spirit coming off the still without coming into contact with it. Historically spirit stills were a legal requirement to prevent any whisky from being siphoned and sold without paying duties on it.

Spirit Still

The second still used in whisky distillation; the spirit still re-distills the 'low wines' from the wash stills.

Staves

The wood planks used to form casks, usually bound by metal hoops.

Steeping

The process of soaking barley to start the germination process, which will release sugars used in making alcohol. 

Triple Distillation

A common practice in Ireland, where the alcoholic spirit undergoes three distillations instead of the standard two. 

Unpeated Malt

Refers to malted barley which was dried in kilns not heated by peated fires; the resulting whisky thus has very little 'smoky' or peated notes. 

Vatted Malt

A malt whisky blended together from more than one distillery.

WAREHOUSING

On The Macallan Estate are our warehouses, where European and American oak casks are filled with our new make spirit and left to patiently mature, under the guardianship of our Whisky Mastery Team.

Wash

Similar to beer; Wash is fermented wort with an ABV of around 7 to 8%.

Washback

Made from wood or steel; a large vat or tub used to combine the yeast with the wort, fermenting into wash. 

Wash Still

The first, larger pot still used in the distillation process in which the wash is distilled.

Whisky

A spirit created through the process of distilling fermented grain mash, typically aged in oak casks.

Whisky Cocktail

A mixed serve where the primary alcoholic ingredient is whisky; popular whisky cocktails include the Old Fashioned and Whisky Sour.

Worm

A coiled copper tube connected to the lyne arm of stills, run through a worm tub filled with cold water to help the alcoholic vapours to condense back into liquid.

Worm Tub

The tub filled with cold water to aid in cooling and condensing alcoholic vapours during distillation. Not a very common practice amongst distilleries.

Wort

The resulting sugary liquid from the mash tun, which will be combined with yeast to begin fermentation. 

Yeast

Used in fermentation of the cereal grains, feeling on the sugars to produce carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol, essential for whisky making.

Zymurgy

The study or practice of fermentation in brewing, winemaking, or distilling.

Learn More

Whisky Knowledge

Whisky holds a rich history; we have gathered key insights and expertise to aid and enhance your appreciation of your favourite single malt.