Bourboneur’s Glossary of Bourbon Terms


There is a lot of bourbon terminology to go around, and you could probably write a whole book on it as a matter of fact, especially as you consider the historical reference for how some of these terms evolved over time. Without going into significant detail, we’ve pulled together the below glossary of terms that will help you on your way to becoming whiskey-wise.


Angel’s share: Refers to the “breathing” of the barrels which lose up to five percent of their volume a year to evaporation.

Barrel: The fifty-three-gallon container made of oak staves where bourbon is matured.

Bonded: Bourbon that is legally required to be 100 proof, the product of a single distillation season (January to June OR July to December) by one distiller at one distillery that is under U.S. Government supervision for at least four years.

Bung: Typically, a poplar plug that is used to plug the hole on a bourbon barrel.

Bunghole: A circular opening in the barrel where the bourbon enters and exits the barrel.

Cask Strength: Bourbon that is bottled without dilution.

Charring: A key to aging whiskey, charring refers to exposing the inside of a barrel to flame.

Cooperage: Another name for the oak barrel bourbon is aged in.

Dram: A small drink of bourbon (or other spirits).

Finger: A unit of measurement for how much bourbon is poured that roughly equates to an ounce.

Glencairn: A type of glass specifically designed for tasting whiskey.

Hazmat Bourbon: 140 proof or higher bourbon.

Heart Cut: During distillation when the alcohol reaches the proper percentage, the flow is directed to a holding tank. This is the heart cut.

High Rye: A bourbon which has rye as the second highest use ingredient behind corn.

High Wine: The resultant distillate following multiple distillations.

Lignin: A natural polymer in wood which when broken down by charring creates various flavor compounds.

Low Wine: The product of the first distillation, which is generally distilled a second or third time.

Malting: A process in which grains are allowed to germinate (e.g. sprout) converting the grain’s starches to fermentable sugars.

Mash: Crushed malt or grain meal steeped and stirred in hot water to produce wort.

Mashbill: The ratio of grains used in the mash.

Mother Grain: the predominant grain used in whiskey production, for bourbon that would be corn.

Red Layer: Midsection of a barrel stave where the sugars in the wood are caramelized due to heat exposure.

Neat: Bourbon served without ice.

Proofed Down: The addition of water to bourbon to lower the proof when barreling.

Rick: Structure that allows barrels to rest on their side.

Rickhouse: The structure where the storing and aging of spirits occurs.

Rocks: Refers to the ice used to serve a bourbon with.

Single Barrel: Refers to a bottling of a spirit that is derived from a single barrel.

Small Batch: Refers to a blended bottling of multiple barrels.

Straight: As defined by U.S. law, bourbon that has aged in charred new oak barrels for at least two years.

Sour Mash: The process of adding a small portion of previously used mash to the new batch of bourbon to help with consistency and increase the efficiency of fermentation.

Still: Traditionally made from copper and heated during distillation they are the chambers where distillation occurs.

Toasting: Similar to charring, above, exposes portions of the barrel to flame without creating char.

Vanillin: A flavor compound in bourbon which derives the classic vanilla tastes associated with the spirt.

Wheated: A bourbon is considered as such when wheat is used in the place of barley in the mash bill.

Wort: A sugary mixture resulting from the addition of hot water into the mash.


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