Wonderful World Of Whiskey: Words Every Enthusiast Needs To Know

Whisky vs. whiskey

It's an age-old question: Is whiskey spelled with an "e" or without? Actually, there's reason behind both spellings. But, no matter which way it's spelled, the Latin of the word whiskey (aqua vitae) means "water of life," and that's a definition everyone can agree on.

The U.S. makes whiskey (with an "e"). Here, it is a bourbon-based spirit and must be made of at least 51% corn. In fact, the name bourbon comes from Bourbon County, Kentucky, one of the main places for production of you guessed it, bourbon. Whisky (without the "e") is the Scottish spelling and therefore is a scotch. Usually, whisky consists of malted barley. However, Irish whiskey (with an "e") is also made of malted barley, but is spelled differently for . . . . fun?

Malt

Malt whiskey is distilled from a fermented mash (or sugar), which comes from a malt grain (usually barley, but it can also be rye).

Experts say the malt adds a sweet taste . . . but it will cost you. The reason it is so expensive is that a single malt is made in pot stills or a kettle, and it isn't blended with other malts. This results in a richer, more enhanced flavor. On the other hand, a blended whiskey is made in column stills and mixed with more ingredients, such as corn whiskey and various single malts, and is much cheaper to produce.

Peat

Peat is usually sourced from Scotland and found in whisky (scotch). It provides an intense, smoky flavor that many scotch drinkers crave. The smoky flavor is only transferred to the whisky because the damp malt in it is dried over a peat fire (peat burns very fast and emits a lot of heat).

Angels' share

No, this is not a type of whiskey that is cleverly branded—if you want that, try Angel's Envy. Angels' share is a common byproduct from the process of making whiskey in distilleries.

Whiskymag.com's glossary states it is "the amount of alcohol which evaporates from the casks during maturation. This can be around 2% per year but much higher in hotter countries such as America." The reason for the divine name: Some distillers professed that the alcohol released into the air was a "sacrifice to the heavens."

Small-batch

When you hear someone talk about "small-batch whiskeys," they're usually referring to the barrels used to make the spirit. Small-batch whiskeys are aged in a few, select barrels ("less than 20" according to masterofmalt.com) for around six to nine years, and they are usually produced in Kentucky.

With its intricate process and rich flavor, many whiskey snobs turn to small-batch as their sip of choice. And, if they really want to get fancy, they opt for a small-batch that has been aged even longer—20 years or more.

Cask-strength

A "cask-strength whiskey" is one that comes straight from the barrel. This means there is no water added, making it pretty potent. However, sophisticated sippers aren't drinking it for that reason specifically. They enjoy the intense flavor and the ease of adding water to it themselves (scotch on the rocks!) to complement their unique palate.

New American oak

If you really want to impress your friends, then bring up new American oak the next time you order your favorite bourbon. But first, it's important you know what it is you're talking about.

Most U.S. whiskey is aged in new American oak barrels. The barrels are usually charred. In fact, they have to be fully charred in order for the bourbon creation to be legal! The oak barrels add a lot of flavor as well, including hints of vanilla and coconut . . . yum.

Bottled-in-bond

This term comes from the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. The act helped improve the quality and production of American whiskey by making distillers abide by certain age and bottle-process rules.

The regulations: whiskey had to be distilled by one distiller in one year's time, it had to age for at least four years, and it had to be bottled at 100 proof (no addition of water!). This made whiskey pretty expensive. And so, after prohibition "bottled-in-bond whiskey" fell out of favor. But, today's educated drinker has demanded a resurgence . . . bring on the good stuff.