ALLIGATOR CHAR: The most common level at which the inside of a barrel is charred is a number 4. The scale goes from 1-4. It is termed this because of the blistering on the wood surface, caused by using a flame to burn the inside of a barrel, resembling the skin on an alligator.

ANGELS’ SHARE: The amount of bourbon that evaporates, from within the barral, during the aging process.


BACKSET: The think liquid that remains after a batch of Whisk(e)y mash is distilled. A portion is added to the next batch when making a “sour mash” whisk(e)y to ensure consistent flavor (much like a sourdough bread starter). Also known as setback, stillage and spent beer.

BARREL PROOF/BARREL STRENGTH: Bourbon bottled straight from the barrel, with no water added to proof it down. Also known as cask strength.

BOTTLED-IN-BOND (BIB): Under the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, the very first consumer-protection measure, bottled-in-bond bourbon has to be produced in one distillation season by one distiller at one distillery; aged for at least four years in a government-bonded warehouse; and bottled at 100 proof with nothing added but water.

BUNG: The wooden plug or stopper, in a barrel, that seals the hole used to fill it. It is generally made out of poplar wood.

BUNG KNOCKER: The tool used to strike a chisel to remove the bung; resembles a small sledgehammer.


CHILL-FILTERED: Whisk(e)y that has been chilled and passed through a series of filters to remove esters, fatty acids, and proteins before bottling so that it doesn’t cloud when water or ice is added to it in a glass. Producers who favor chill-filtering say consumers view a cloudy whisk(e)y as inferior. Those opposed say that removing the natural byproducts of distilling dilutes the flavor.

COLUMN STILL: A tall metal tub or column, usually copper or stainless steel, fitted inside with a series of perforated horizontal plates that separate alcohol from water during first distillation as the distillate steams up. Also called a continuous still.


DEVIL’S CUT: The several gallons of bourbon that are lost because they have soaked into the walls of the barrel.

DISTILLER’S BEER: The thick, fermented liquid that enters the still for first distillation.

DOUBLER: Copper still used for second distillation of whisk(e)y that removes impurities and concentrates the alcohol.


FINISH: The vapors you continue to smell, taste and feel, after you swallow a whisk(e)y.

FINISHING: Changing/enhancing the flavor of bourbon by additional aging in a second barrel-sometimes another oak barrel, but often a barrel that has been used to age a fortified spirit such as Port wine or Sherry. These spirits are no longer technically bourbon because a flavor has been added.


HEADS: The first 5 percent or so of the alcohol to evaporate during distillation, which is then condensed, collected, and discarded because it is high in undesirable compuhd such as methane.

HEARTS: The second, and longest, percentage of alcohol to come off the still, this is collected and but into barrels to age. (TAILS: This last, low-proof segment contains usable alcohol but also has some impurities. It’s captured and later redistilled.)

HONEY BARREL: Term used for a particularly tasty barrel of whisk(e)y that will likely be bottled as a single barrel product.


LOW WINES/HIGH WINES: Low wines are the liquid that goes into a doubler after first distillation; high wines emerge from the doubler following second distillation.


MASH: Mixture of cooked grains and water to which yeast is added to begin fermentation.

MASH BILL: The grain recipe for bourbon or other whisk(e)y.

MASH TUB: The large container in which milled grains are cooked in water in order to break down their starches before fermentation. Also known as a cooker.

MOONSHINE: Until recently, moonshine meant untaxed liquor where people went to jail for making and/or selling it. While distillers will still be punished if they make untaxed liquor, moonshine has become a distiller’s term for unaged spirit that could have become whisk(e)y if it was put into a barrel.


POT STILL: Another type of whisk(e)y still. Heat is applied directly to the pot containing the mash, and the resulting alcohol vapors travel through a condensing coil. The spent mash must be cleaned out each time, so this is known as batch distilling, rather than continuous distillation.

PROOF: The measure of alcohol in a spirit. In the United States, it’s expressed as double the percentage of the alcohol by volume (ABV).


RICK HOUSE: The building in which the barrels of whisk(e)y are aged. Also called a warehouse or rackhouse.

RICK HOUSE CAT: Many distilleries have a cat on their premise. Historically and still today, used for keeping rodents away from the grains.


SINGLE BARREL WHISK(E)Y: Whisk(e)y bottled from one barrel that has not been mingled with any other whisk(e)y.

SMALL BATCH WHISK(E)Y: Whisk(e)y that has been produced by mingling the contents from several barrels. There is no official definition; the number of barrels is up to the distiller.

STRAIGHT BOURBON/WHISK(E)Y: Whisk(e)y that has been aged for a minimum of 2 years.

SOUR MASH/SWEET MASH: Two methods for making whisk(e)y or bourbon. In the sour mash method, a portion of the backset is added to the next batch of mash during fermentation to balance out the pH levels and ensure consistency. In the sweet mash method, a brand-new batch is produced each time.

STRAIGHT UP/UP: Sometimes considered interchangeable, these terms actually have different meanings. “straight up” means bourbon neat, with no ice. “Up” refers to a drink that is shaken with ice, then strained into a stemmed glass.

SWEATING THE BARREL: A process to reclaim some of the devil’s cut in which an empty, used bourbon barrel is filled with water and rolled on its side over a period of days or weeks.


TAILS: This last, low-proof segment contains usable alcohol but also has some impurities. It’s captured and later redistilled.

TOASTING: A lighter level of heat applied to the inside of a barrel or barrel head that helps to mellow the tannins and released vanillins and other flavors.


WHEATED BOURBON: Bourbon with a mash bill that contains wheat as the secondary grain, rather than rye. Also referred to as a “wheater.”

WHISK(E)Y THIEF: A long tube or “straw,” often made of copper, used to draw whisk(e)y from a barrel for sampling.

WHITE DOG: Bourbon in its clear state as it leaves the still. Also known as “new make.”

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