A - Z

see alcohol by volume (ABV)
age statement
A declaration that the whiskey in the bottle has been aged in a wooden cask for a certain length of time.

Some whiskey declares an age on its label. This refers to the minimum length of time it spent in an oak barrel before bottling. Subsequent time spent in the bottle doesn't count (nor does it alter the whiskey).

The age statement refers to the youngest whiskey used when making that batch of whiskey. So, for example, if a 12 year old cask is combined with a 21 year old cask before bottling it will be labelled as a 12 year old whiskey.
alcohol by volume (ABV)
The alcohol content of a liquid expressed as a percentage of the total volume.

In Ireland, whiskey must be at least 40% ABV to be sold as whiskey. Most is bottled at this strength to keep the price down (duty is payable on alcohol content). You will sometimes see higher ABV values, eg 43% (legal minimum in South Africa), 46% (avoids the need for chill filtering) or anything up to about 64% if it has been bottled at cask strength.

A whiskey that contains both grain whiskey and either malt or pure pot still whiskey.

Before the Coffey still was invented there were no blended whiskeys. Once the more economic grain spirit became available it was combined with malt or pure pot still whiskey to produce a cheaper, milder drink that found great favour with the consumer.

Most whiskey sold today is blended. Jameson, Powers, Black Bush and Kilbeggan are all examples of Irish blends.

cask strength
A whiskey bottled without further dilution after maturation.

When newly made spirit is filled into casks it typically has an alcoholic strength of over 60% ABV. During maturation the water and alcohol will evaporate at different rates so the strength will change somewhat. When bottling, the whiskey is diluted to the desired level for sale, say 40% ABV.

A cask strength whiskey is one that has been bottled without the final dilution stage. So if it was 57.1% in the cask after 10 years maturation, it will be 57.1% in the bottle too.

Note that cask strength does not imply single cask. It's also possible that a very small amount of water is added to reduce strength slightly to a consistent and repeatable level.

chill filtration
A stage just before bottling that removes components in the whiskey that might cause a hazy appearance in the whiskey.

Chill filtration has the undesired side effect of also removing some of the flavour so finer whiskeys will make a point of noting in the marketing that the product has not been so treated.

Whiskeys above 46% ABV do not need to be chill filtered so, again, many of the best whiskeys choose to bottle at or above this mark to guarantee a naturally clear product.
Coffey still
also column still
also continuous still
also patent still
A kind of distillation apparatus that emerged in the 19th Century to challenge the traditional pot still method of manufacture.

A Coffey still consists of one or more stainless steel columns with perforated copper plates within. Steam is pumped in at the bottom of the first column while the fermented mash is piped in at the top. The alcohols vaporise and are separated out as they pass through the copper plates. This process can continue through subsequent columns until a spirit up to 94.8% pure is obtained at the end.

The great advantage of the Coffey still is that it can be operated continuously and thus more cheaply than the batch pot still process. It also produces a much lighter spirit, far purer than the 70% or so spirit that pot stills produce. This means that cheaper grain can be used, typically maize, since most of the taste of the input material will be eliminated.

The product of a Coffey still, once matured, is called grain whiskey.

Both Cooley and Midleton operate Coffey stills. Cooley's has two columns while Midleton's has three.

column still
see Coffey still

continuous still
see Coffey still

grain whiskey
Whiskey made in a Coffey still. Malt content is insignificant.

Grain whiskey is made using a continuous process (see Coffey still) that produces something close to pure alcohol. When newly made, therefore, it has a much lighter taste than pure pot still or malt whiskey. This also means that cheaper grains can be used, usually maize. A little malted barley supplies the enzyme action necessary for converting starch to sugar.

It is aged in oak casks just like the whiskey made in pot stills.

Grain whiskey is not usually bottled on its own but is instead blended with malt or pure pot still whiskey. There is one Irish pure grain whiskey, however - Greenore, made by Cooley.

Grain whiskey is made at both Cooley and Midleton distilleries. Bushmills doesn't have its own Coffey still so the grain whiskey it uses in its blended whiskeys comes from Midleton.

Irish whiskey
Whiskey made in Ireland!

The exact legal definition of whiskey varies from country to country. In Ireland, Irish whiskey must be distilled on the island of Ireland from a mash of cereals fermented by yeast and matured in wooden barrels on the island of Ireland for at least three years. There are a couple of other technicalities but that's the gist.

Only water and caramel (for colouring) may be added when bottling and the final product must have an alcoholic strength of no less than 40% ABV.

J/M index
The Jameson/Midleton index - an indication of the price level in a bar

Every bar in Ireland serves Jameson whiskey and it will be the cheapest whiskey in that bar (along with some others, most likely). So the price of a Jameson is our base index price. If the bar offers any upmarket whiskeys, it will offer Midleton Very Rare, so that's the top end of our price index.

A very good value bar in Dublin would sell Jameson at €3.80/measure and Midleton at €10/measure. The J/M index for this bar would be written €3.80/€10.

Grain that has been allowed to germinate before all further growth is arrested.

During the malting process, the grain is soaked in water and germination begins. This produces an enzyme that will later convert the grain's starch to fermentable sugar. Germination is halted quickly by heating in a kiln so the starch is not used up in plant growth instead.

Malt can be "peated" or not. One traditional method of drying the malt was over an open peat fire. The smoke imparted its own taste to the malt. This peating can be replicated in modern kilns, if desired.

Malt can also refer to the whiskey made entirely from malted grain.

malt whiskey
also malt
Whiskey produced entirely from malted grain.

Two Irish distilleries - Bushmills and Cooley - routinely produce malt whiskey. All of their bottled whiskeys are either malt only or malt whiskey blended with grain whiskey.

Midleton can make batches of malt whiskey and has done but it prefers to use pure pot still whiskey in its brands.

see no age statement (NAS)

no age statement (NAS)
A basic whiskey that does not declare an age.

You won't see this on a bottle but the informal abbreviation, NAS, appears in online discussions when the name of the whiskey might be ambiguous on its own. "Jameson", for example, might refer to one of a number of whiskeys or to the brand itself. "Jameson NAS" explicitly refers to the basic Jameson whiskey that doesn't declare an age on its label.

"NAS" also carries a connotation of the cheapest in a range of whiskeys. So while the Jameson range also includes Jameson Gold and Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve, neither of which carries an age statement, the use of "NAS" is reserved for the plain old Jameson whiskey you can find in any supermarket or bar.

patent still
see Coffey still

pure pot still
Irish whiskey made in a traditional copper pot still from a mix of malted and unmalted grains.

On the face of it, "pure pot still" means no more than "distilled entirely in copper pot stills". By convention, however, it also signifies an Irish whiskey made to a traditional recipe that includes unmalted grain.

These days pure pot still is made entirely from malted and unmalted barley but until recent decades unmalted wheat, oats and rye formed a small part of the mix too.

This recipe is distinctly Irish. Scottish distilleries, for example, use only malted barley in their pot stills.

Midleton is the only distillery in Ireland that makes pure pot still whiskey. It is mainly used in Irish Distillers' blends like Jameson, Powers, Midleton and so on. Two whiskeys (apart from occasional limited releases) consist entirely of pure pot still whiskey - Green Spot and Redbreast.

Cooley has muddied the waters by adding "pure pot still" to the labels of some of their single malts. This has not gone down well with the whiskey purists.
single cask
The bottled product of a single matured cask.

In the normal case when whiskey is ready for bottling, a selection of casks is chosen, emptied into a vat and thoroughly mixed. Only then is it filled into bottles. This facilitates consistency between batches and also allows the master blender to fashion the final product from whiskeys of different type (grain, malt or pure pot still), of different ages or matured in different types of cask (bourbon, sherry or rum, for example).

A single cask release, on the other hand, is the bottled product of a single cask. Only the best casks are chosen and the whiskey is typically released at cask strength.

The cask number is typically noted on the label, along with the type of wood and the dates of distillation and bottling.

single grain
A grain whiskey that is the product of a single distillery.

Greenore is a single grain whiskey, made by Cooley.

single malt
A malt whiskey that is the product of a single distillery.

With only two distilleries in Ireland making malt whiskey this is not a very useful designation. But it has acquired cachet from the Scotch industry so you will see it on bottles of Irish whiskey too, for example Bushmills 10yo and Tyrconnell.

A premium whiskey marketed by year of bottling rather than length of maturation.

Whiskey is matured for years, or even decades, before bottling. Distillers sometimes find that they didn't accurately predict demand all those years ago when laying down maturing stocks and so run short when bottling a particular aged expression.

To ease this problem they produce some whiskeys as vintages instead. Thus they print the year of manufacture (or "vintage") on the batch of whiskey and the age remains undeclared. Then they can use some 9 year old whiskey, say, to smooth over a temporary shortage of 10 year old without needing to relabel the whiskey to reflect that.

Midleton is a good example of a vintage whiskey. It also illustrates that vintages are not necessarily inferior to whiskeys with defined ages. Indeed they may incorporate some very fine old whiskeys along with much younger grain, say. They also vary from year to year which adds interest for aficionados.