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Understanding the Whisky Vocabulary

To understand the world of whisky we must first understand the various words used to describe it. So let's take a quick look at some of the words we will encounter when we explore this beverage.



The term 'single' refers to the whisky being from just one single distillery. The term single cask or barrel is sometimes used to indicate that all the whisky in the bottling came from a single cask. Most bottling of single malt contain whisky from several casks and batches.


Malt is germinated grains that have been dried in a process known as 'malting'. The grains are made to germinate by soaking in water, and are then halted from germinating further by drying with hot air. This process develops the enzymes required for modifying the grain's starches into sugar, which will be converted to alcohol during fermentation.

The grain used to make malt for whisky in Scotland and Ireland is always barley.

The malt used in Scotch whisky was traditionally dried over peat, a local fuel, which imparts the characteristic smokiness. Most Scottish whisky is peated to some degree, even though often very lightly.


A whisky may not be labeled Scotch unless it is made in Scotland. Scotland has internationally protected this term. Though excellent whiskies are made by similar methods in other countries, the best Scotch whiskies have a distinct taste of Scotland which can be characterized by the taste of mountain heather, the peat, and the seaweed.


Any type of cereal or grain can be used to make Grain whisky; corn/maize, oats, rice, rye, wheat, etc.

Another key difference is the equipment that is used, malt whiskey has been traditionally distilled in copper pot stills while grain whiskey is distilled using column stills or an hybrid pot still.

A defining characteristic in all Grain whiskies is the flavor of the grain.


A blended Scotch whisky combines malt and grain whiskies from different distilleries and can blend them in any proportions. All spirits used in the blend must be aged at least three years.


Blended malts are a mixture of single malt whiskies. These whiskies may be from the same or different distilleries, have been matured in different types of cask and be of differing ages.

Some of the best are often blended to highlight the malts of a particular island or region.


The difference between whiskey and whisky is simple but important: whisky usually denotes Scotch liquors, and whiskey denotes the Irish and American liquors.

The word itself (both spellings) is of Celtic origin, and modern whisky/whiskey distillation practices originated in Ireland and Scotland.

The plural of whisky is whiskies while the plural of whiskey is whiskeys.

Japan and Canada also use the term whisky to denote their liquors.

Using whiskey to refer to Scotch whisky can get you in trouble in Scotland.


Malt Whisky Companion by Michael Jackson

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