Bourbon Dictionary: Guide to Sipping and Speaking Like a Pro

The Bourbon Dictionary

The Definitive Bourbon Glossary

You’ve heard of the Urban Dictionary, right? The go-to source for keeping up with the ever-evolving jargon of the internet age. Well, hold onto your glasses, because now it’s time to get ready for the Bourbon Dictionary! This isn’t just any glossary; it’s your cheat sheet to navigating the rich and flavorful world of bourbon with the ease of a seasoned connoisseur.

In our previous article, A Beginner’s Guide to Bourbon, we dipped our toes into the amber-hued waters of this distinctly American spirit. But as any bourbon enthusiast knows, enjoying this native treasure is not just about sipping; it’s also about understanding its language.

The Bourbon Dictionary is here to bridge the gap from novices to professionals, making sure that everyone can speak ‘bourbon’ fluently. It’s the lighthearted, go-to reference for anyone looking to enhance their bourbon experience, whether you’re a beginner trying to distinguish between ‘high rye’ and ‘wheated’ bourbons or a seasoned drinker debating the merits of ‘non-chill filtered’ spirits.

In this spirited guide, we’ll decode the technical jargon, unravel the tasting terms, and even delve into the nuanced language of bourbon blending and bottling. It’s like having a friendly bourbon expert at your side, ready to demystify the complexities of this beloved spirit.

So, grab a glass, and let’s embark on this flavorful journey through the world of bourbon. By the end, you’ll not only appreciate the rich taste of this American classic but also talk about it with the confidence of a true bourbon aficionado. Welcome to the Bourbon Dictionary – where every word is a step deeper into the heart of bourbon country!


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Glossary of Terms: Bourbon Classifications and Government Classifications

  1. Bourbon: A type of American whiskey made primarily from corn, aged in new, charred oak barrels, with distinct flavor profiles.
  2. Straight Bourbon: Bourbon aged for a minimum of two years without any added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits.
  3. Bonded Bourbon: Also known as Bottled-in-Bond, it refers to bourbon aged for at least four years under government supervision and bottled at 100 proof.
  4. Small Batch: A term indicating bourbon blended from a select number of barrels, typically to achieve a particular flavor profile. Not legally defined.
  5. Single Barrel: Bourbon sourced from one individual barrel, providing unique flavor characteristics distinct to that barrel.
  6. Sour Mash: A fermentation process using material from an older batch of mash to start fermentation in a new batch, ensuring consistency in flavor.
  7. Mash Bill: The mixture of grains used in bourbon production, typically consisting of at least 51% corn, with rye, wheat, and barley as common additions.
  8. Proof: A measure of alcohol content in bourbon, where one degree of proof equals 0.5% alcohol by volume.
  9. High Rye Bourbon: Bourbon with a higher percentage of rye grain in the mash bill, resulting in a spicier flavor profile.
  10. Wheated Bourbon: Bourbon made with wheat as the secondary grain in the mash bill, usually offering a softer, smoother taste.

Glossary of Terms: Fermentation

  1. Yeast: A microorganism used in bourbon production to convert sugars in the mash into alcohol and carbon dioxide, crucial for fermentation.
  2. Fermentation: The process where yeast metabolizes sugars in the mash, producing alcohol and other compounds, influencing the bourbon’s flavor profile.
  3. Mash: A mixture of grains and water cooked then cooled, prepared for fermentation in bourbon making.
  4. Distiller’s Beer: The liquid product after fermentation, containing alcohol and other components, ready for distillation. Typically low in alcohol content.
  5. Open Fermentation: A fermentation process in open tanks, allowing wild yeasts and bacteria to influence the flavor of the bourbon.
  6. Closed Fermentation: Fermentation in a sealed environment, controlling the influence of external elements and maintaining consistency in flavor.
  7. Secondary Fermentation: An additional fermentation stage that some bourbons undergo to develop complexity in flavor.
  8. Backset: A portion of previously distilled mash added to a new mash, similar to sour mash, for pH balance and flavor consistency.
  9. Wash: The term used for the liquid mixture of yeast and mash before it goes into distillation, synonymous with distiller’s beer.
  10. Wild Yeast: Naturally occurring yeast in the environment, sometimes used in open fermentation for unique flavor profiles.

Glossary of Terms: Distillation

  1. Distillation: The process of heating fermented liquid (wash) to vaporize and then condense the alcohol, concentrating the spirit.
  2. Pot Still: A traditional type of still used in bourbon production, often resulting in a richer, more flavorful spirit.
  3. Column Still: Also known as a continuous still, used for more efficient and consistent production of bourbon.
  4. Heads: The initial, volatile compounds that evaporate first during distillation, often discarded due to their undesirable flavors.
  5. Hearts: The middle cut of the distillation process, containing the desired alcohol and flavors, used in the final bourbon product.
  6. Tails: The later vapors in distillation, containing heavier compounds, sometimes recycled into the next distillation batch for efficiency.
  7. Proofing: The process of adjusting the alcohol content of the bourbon by adding water after distillation.
  8. Doubler: A secondary distillation step in a pot still, refining the spirit and enhancing flavor complexity.
  9. Condenser: A device in the still where vaporized spirits are cooled and condensed back into liquid form.
  10. Low Wines: The product from the first distillation in a two-stage process, which is then redistilled to increase purity and alcohol content.

Glossary of Terms: Barrel Preparation

  1. Charred Oak Barrels: New oak barrels with the interior charred, used for aging bourbon, crucial for its color and flavor.
  2. Charring: The process of burning the inside of the barrel, which caramelizes the wood sugars, influencing the bourbon’s taste.
  3. Toasting: A milder form of heating the barrel compared to charring, developing complex flavors in the wood.
  4. Stave: The individual wood slats that make up the barrel, each contributing to the overall flavor profile of the bourbon.
  5. Barrel Aging: The process of storing bourbon in barrels over time, allowing it to absorb flavors and color from the wood.
  6. Warehouse Climate: The environment where barrels are stored, significantly affecting the aging process and flavor of the bourbon.
  7. Angel’s Share: The portion of bourbon that evaporates from the barrel during aging, named for its ethereal disappearance.
  8. Devil’s Cut: The bourbon absorbed into the wood of the barrel, which can sometimes be extracted for additional flavor.
  9. Seasoning: The process of exposing new oak staves to the elements before barrel construction, to mellow the wood and enhance flavor.
  10. Cooperage: The craft of barrel making, essential in bourbon production for ensuring quality and consistency in aging.

Glossary of Terms: Storage

  1. Rickhouse: A storage facility for aging bourbon barrels, designed to control temperature and humidity for optimal aging conditions.
  2. Rotation: The practice of moving barrels within a rickhouse during aging to ensure consistent flavor development across batches.
  3. Barrel Proof: Bourbon bottled directly from the barrel without dilution, offering a higher proof and more intense flavor.
  4. Single Rack Black Label: Indicates bourbon stored in a single rack in the rickhouse, suggesting a unique flavor profile due to specific aging conditions.
  5. Evaporation Rate: The rate at which bourbon evaporates from the barrels during aging, influencing the concentration and flavor of the remaining spirit.
  6. Barrel Select: A designation for bourbon chosen from specific barrels for its unique quality and flavor, often bottled separately.
  7. Cask Strength: Similar to barrel proof, referring to bourbon bottled at the strength it reaches in the barrel, without dilution.
  8. Climate Control: The use of temperature and humidity control in storage areas to influence the aging process of bourbon.
  9. Bung Hole: The opening in a bourbon barrel through which it is filled and emptied, sealed with a bung.
  10. Bung: The stopper used to seal the bung hole of a bourbon barrel, crucial for maintaining the integrity of the aging process.

Glossary of Terms: Aging

  1. Aging: The process of storing distilled spirits in barrels over time, allowing the bourbon to develop its distinct flavors and colors.
  2. Maturation: The chemical reactions occurring between the bourbon and the barrel during aging, contributing to the spirit’s complexity.
  3. Oak Influence: The flavor, color, and texture imparted to bourbon from the oak barrels during aging.
  4. Tannins: Natural compounds in oak barrels that contribute to the flavor and mouthfeel of aged bourbon.
  5. Non-Age Statement (NAS): Bourbons that do not specify the age of the spirit on the label, often a blend of different aged spirits.
  6. Vintage: Refers to the year of distillation of the bourbon, occasionally used to denote the age or quality of the spirit.
  7. Overaged: Describes bourbon aged for an extended period, where the wood influence might overpower the desired characteristics of the spirit.
  8. Goldilocks Zone: Informal term for the ideal aging period for a particular bourbon, where it achieves its best flavor balance.
  9. Solera Method: A process of fractional blending and aging where bourbon of different ages is continuously mixed to maintain consistency.
  10. Warehouse X: A term used by some distilleries for experimental aging warehouses, where specific conditions are controlled and varied.

Glossary of Terms: Blending and Bottling

  1. Blending: The process of combining different types of bourbon or whiskies to achieve a consistent flavor profile.
  2. Bottling Line: The production line where bourbon is filled into bottles, sealed, and labeled for distribution.
  3. Batch Number: A unique identifier on a bourbon bottle indicating the specific batch it came from, important for traceability and quality control.
  4. Non-Chill Filtered: Refers to bourbon that has not undergone chill filtration, retaining more natural oils and flavors.
  5. Chill Filtration: A process where bourbon is chilled and filtered to remove fatty acids and proteins, often used to prevent cloudiness at lower temperatures.
  6. Proofing Water: The water added to bourbon to lower its proof (alcohol content) to the desired level before bottling.
  7. Single Cask Bottling: Bourbon bottled from a single cask, offering unique characteristics specific to that individual barrel.
  8. Release Number: Often found on limited edition or special release bourbons, indicating the specific release or edition of the product.
  9. Limited Edition: A special release of bourbon, often in limited quantities, which may feature unique aging, blending, or bottling characteristics.
  10. Corked and Caged: A term for bottles sealed with a cork and secured with a wire cage, often used for premium or limited-edition bourbons.

Glossary of Terms: Taste

  1. Palate: Refers to the range of flavors and textures experienced when tasting bourbon.
  2. Finish: The aftertaste left in the mouth after swallowing bourbon, often indicating the quality and complexity of the spirit.
  3. Mouthfeel: The physical sensation and texture of bourbon in the mouth, such as creaminess, oiliness, or dryness.
  4. Nose: The aroma or bouquet of the bourbon, an essential aspect of its overall flavor profile.
  5. Caramel: A common tasting note in bourbon, indicating sweetness and a toasty flavor from the charred oak barrels.
  6. Vanilla: A flavor note often present in bourbon, derived from vanillin compounds in the oak wood.
  7. Spicy: A tasting term used for bourbons with a noticeable kick or heat, often attributed to higher rye content in the mash bill.
  8. Peaty: While more common in Scotch, some bourbons may have a peaty note, indicating earthy and smoky flavors.
  9. Oaky: Describes the influence of the barrel on the bourbon, often contributing flavors of wood, toast, and tannins.
  10. Complexity: A term used to describe a bourbon with a wide range of intermingling flavors and aromas, often seen as a mark of quality.