Glossary of helpful spirits terms: A – G

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Ascotch whisky glass

Angels’ Share: A fanciful and poetic term used by distillers to describe the amount of aging spirits lost to evaporation.

Aqua Vitae : Latin term for “water of life”.

Armagnac: Armagnac, located in the Southwest of France (south of Bordeaux) is the lesser-known cousin to Cognac. Armagnac is much older, as a truly identified brandy-producing region, than is Cognac. The primary flavor difference is derived from the fact that Armagnac (traditionally) is single distilled as opposed to the double-distilled technique used in Cognac. Armagnac uses a variety of grapes as opposed to primarily one used in Cognac. Traditionally bottled at natural strength with the vintage date present on the label.


Ball of Malt: A glass of whiskey in Ireland.

Beer Still: Also known as a wash still. This is the first still used in the distillation process.

Blended Whisky: A blend of malt whisky and grain whisky. Much of blended whisky is of the bulk or industrial sort. However, blended whisky can be complex and superlative when done by a skilled and careful blender. Commercial blended whisky is typically made up of 65-80% grain whisky. 19 of 20 bottles of Scotch Whisky sold is from the blended category. More about whisky.

Bothie: A small house typically in the Scottish Highlands. In some case the term is used to describe such a house were illicit distilling is, or has taken place.

Bottled in Bond : In the US the term “Bottled in Bond” refers to whisky, typically Bourbon, bottled after four years at 50% ABV or greater. In the UK almost all Whisky is bottled in bond or simply before the excise task is paid.

Bourbon : A true American (US) Whisk(e)y made primarily of corn (at least 51% by law) with lesser portions of wheat, rye, and malted barley. It is named for the Kentucky County of the same name. While a vast majority of Bourbons are produced in Kentucky, Bourbon can be made anywhere in the US. Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of two years in new, charred, white oak barrels. Read the history of Bourbon.

Brandy: A spirit created by distilling any fruit wine or fermented fruit base such as cider. Cognac and Armagnac are two of the most popular Brandies. Calvados is a popular example of a brandy made from cider based on apples and pears.


Calvados : Calvados is the famous apple-based brandy (many include pear as well) from the district of the same name in the Normandy region of France. Calvados is aged in oak barrels for a period of time vaguely indicated on the label. This wonderful spirit is scandalously under appreciated in the US.

Canadian Whiskey : Canadian Whiskey is not as easily defined as Bourbon as there is no standrads for porportions of grains, aging procedures, and strength.

Cocktail: A drink made up of one or more alcohol types mixed most often with independent flavors such as juices, fruit, spices, dairy, and practically any anything else consumable. Popular examples include: Martini, Bloody Mary, Daiquiri, Margarita just to name a few.

Cognac: The world’s most famous brandy grown and produced in the region of the same name near the west coast of France (just north of Bordeaux). Made primarily from Ugni Blanc grapes and aged in oak barrels. Read more about Cognac.


Eau-de-Vie: Literally, “the water of life” Eau-de-Vie is a brandy made from grape or other fruit and presented clear most often with no wood aging. Good examples are quite versatile being equally good served as an aperitif or with desert.


Gin : The original flavored vodka. Invented by the Dutch, where it is known as Genever (Juniper) and later adopted by the British. Traditionally there are two main styles; Dutch, or Genever, and London Dry. Genever is richer, sweeter, with a substantial palate weight. London Dry as the name suggests is dry, crisp, often with a citrus edge. Gin is often bottled at a higher proof than typically found in white spirits in order to keep its delicate mix of botanicals evident and in balance. Gin is the primary ingredient of the “real” martini. Read more about gin.

Grappa : Grappa is the now famous pomace brandy from Italy being produced in most every region that produces wine. Almost always bottled clear and unaged, Grappa is often bottled with the grape varietal being prominently displayed. The best examples are fragrant, soft, and beautifully textured while lesser-made Grappa has been described as firewater. Read more about grappa.


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