Whisky Glossary: terms used when enjoying and tasting Whisky

Whisky Glossary: terms used when enjoying and tasting Whisky

The world of whisky or whiskey is quite diverse. When it comes to tasting and enjoying your favorite dram (another term for a glass of whisky), you want to ensure you are doing it right, and you also have the exact words to explain the notes.

American whiskey is one of the most ‘celebrated’ or famous drinks worldwide, and just like wine, it comes with unique terms to describe every bottle.

Whether you are fond of scotch, Irish whiskeys or bourbon, you still should know the universal words used by your bartenders to describe a good whisky. It is not that difficult to pick up the lines and learn some different terminologies used to describe whisky like “Water of life”.

Most of the words used for the definition of whisky are tied to Scotland’s great history; many are born of the need to create better ways of describing the drink. Here are the most common words you find in the whisky industry you should get used to as a beginner straight whiskey.

Most common words in the whisky industry

Dry Vs. Sweet Whisky

When you taste American whisky for the first time, and it makes your mouth dry, you call it a ‘dry’ whiskey. On the other hand, a sweet whisky has a sweet taste and gives you a wet feeling on the first taste.

Subtle Vs. Big

A big traditional malt whisky dominates your mouth when you drink it. That means when you drink this whisky for the first time you get all the unique tastes with much ease. When you drink a subtle whisky, you may find it a bit hectic getting the taste.

Blended Whiskies

This is a type of whisky made of single malts and single grains. The whisky is normally blended to create a complex whisky with most of the tastes and profiles.

Blended Malt

Blended malt or vatted malt is one of the oldest whiskies in the industry. It refers to a type of whisky made of malt whiskies from various distilleries blended.


A hogshead is a specific type of oak cask used to mature whisky. Most of the hogsheads usually carry up to 250lites of whisky.


This is the act of inhaling whisky through your nose to feel the aroma before you can start drinking. Nosing is one way of finding out if the dram in front of you is of high quality.


Peat is an unofficial fourth ingredient used in the production of whisky, especially Scotch whisky. It is a decayed organic matter formed in the wetlands and used to create a smoky organic matter in the whiskey. The peatiness of a whisky is expressed in Phenol Parts per Million (PPM).

Floor malting

Floor malting is a traditional method of producing malted barley used by most distilleries in making whisky. Today most distilleries do not apply this method. They usually source their malts from outside.

Dignified Vs. Youthful

The difference between youthful and dignified 19th century whisky is not easy to tell. However, a youthful whisky is more integrated, light, and vibrant.

On the other hand, a dignified whisky has a seamless and irresistible blend of flavors that are clear and easy to notice. You can easily tell whether a whisky is subtle or dignified when you drink it for the first time. This is not the case in most alcoholic spirits in the United States.

Soft vs. Firm

Soft scotch whiskies and a firm one are not easy to tell in words. However, you notice the difference between these two types of whisky when you have your first sip.

Rich vs. Austere

With an austere whisky, what you see is what you get. It is simple and straight in layers. For the rich whisky, it comes in multiple layers and a bit complex in taste and presence. In most cases, a rich whisky is thicker and more mouthfeel.

Spirit or Ethanol

Ethanol is the alcohol you find in whisky. Therefore, you can use any of these terms to refer to any whisky with an alcoholic taste.


A balanced whisky is one with flavors that blend well. No flavor in the blend overwhelms another in the mix. When buying your first French whisky bottle, you should go for one with a perfect mix.

Hot Vs. Warm

At times the first sip of Georgian whisky makes you feel warm or hot. It may look like someone just warmed the drink before giving it to you to drink. These two words are the best for describing this kind of whisky from Australian Whisky Producers.


ABV stands for Alcohol by Volume, and most aged spirit whiskies have an ABV of between 40-50%. This means there was some water added to the drink before it is bottled. If the whisky you are holding has an ABV it alcoholic content above 51%, it means it has ‘wooden cask strength’ and was bottled without adding any water to it.

Note that sometimes older category of whiskey above 25 plus years may still have the cask strength even when they have an ABV below 50%.

Chill Filtered vs. Artificially Colored

Most of the bourbon whiskey you find on the counter, especially the Scotch whisky, are artificially colored. Many brands of whiskies are also chill-filtered, which applies to bottles rate 46% ABV and below.

Distillers usually add caramel coloring to the whisky, which makes it look darker and appealing. Artificial coloring is not a good quality indicator when buying your first bottle. For chill filtration, it affects mainly the cosmetics of the whisky and not the flavor. Therefore, when you buy your whiskey, you should go for the chill-filtered one for a great taste and strength.

Single Malt

This whisky is made from 100% malted barley from one distillery. Single malt whisky is voted one of the best whiskies than most whiskey types you find in the market.

Single Grain

In whisky production, the term grain is used to refer to corn, maize, or wheat. If the whisky is not made from malted barley, it is referred to as single-grain whisky.

What to do When Buying your Whisky

Apart from knowing the different terminologies used to describe a good rye whisky, you should also know what to look for when purchasing your first bottle of the drink. Here is what to look for in every bottle of blended whiskey.

  • Age statement: When buying corn whiskey for the first time, you should check the age statement. If the whiskey doesn’t have an age statement written on it, it means that it is between 3 to 9 years old. Most of the No Age Statement(NAS) whiskies are usually overpriced.
  • Alcohol strength: When buying your whisky, you should find out its strength. A typical whisky bottle will usually rate 40-50% ABV. Also, confirm the age before paying for it.
  • Tasting notes: Most of the whiskies, like scotch and bourbon, will come with tasting notes to describe the content in the bottle. This acts as a guide to what you should expect when tasting the drink for the first time. You should expect the word ‘peat’ on the whisky notes if the drink is smoky.
  • Maturation: Your bottle of whisky should also come with information about its maturation and alcohol level. For instance, most Scotch whisky is matured in the cask of whisky from other distillers. The bottle you are buying should have information about maturation. 

Final Thoughts

There is a lot you should know when buying neutral grain spirits and Canadian whisky or tasting it for the first time. This simple glossary and guide to buying whisky should give you the courage to pop your first whisky bottle. If you want to get used to most terminologies used to describe quality whisky, you should be ready to use them every time you have a whisky chat with friends.

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