How many words and phrases do you know to do with distilling and Aussie craft spirits? More importantly, how many have you heard that you don’t know what their meaning?
We’ve put together a few of these expressions into a kind of Australian craft distilling glossary to help.
But help with what?
When you speak to distillers or other Aussie craft spirits enthusiasts, it always helps to a) know what they’re talking about and b) be able to use the right words. So here are a few useful phrases that will help you communicate and understand more about the wonderful industry that is Aussie craft distilling.
And by the way, this is a general glossary from a layperson’s perspective, not a distiller’s or even someone who works in a distillery. So no hate please if there’s not enough detail or more technical words aren’t included.
This is also a living list that we can add to as we go. If there are any words of phrases you think should be here, hit us up on socials and let us know!
ABV vs Proof:
ABV—Alcohol By Volume—is the preferred way of measuring alcohol in Australia and the UK. It shows the percentage of alcohol that’s in the liquid. Proof shows a similar measurement, and is preferred in the USA, and is double the ABV. So 40%ABV is 80% Proof.
In the UK, the ratio is 1:1.75 ABV–Proof, so 75.5%ABV is 100% Proof, which relates to Navy Strength spirits.
The portion of the distilled spirit that is lost to evaporation and cask absorption during ageing in barrels. It’s called the ‘angel’s share’ because it is said that the angels in the warehouse take their share of the spirits.
The process of maturing spirits in wooden barrels to develop flavour, colour and complexity. Common types of barrels used include oak barrels, which impart characteristic flavours to the spirits. If you want to get a whisky distiller animated, ask them a question about barrels and coopers!
In Australia, it’s law that spirits that must be barrel-aged like whisky and rum have to spend a minimum of two years ‘on wood’.
The ‘starting’ alcohol that distillers then turn into the various spirits we buy. Whisky is made from grain—usually barley—that is malted (germinated and dried) and roasted, rum is made from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses, and gin and vodka is usually made from grain or grape based alcohol.
Many gin and vodka distillers buy in commercially made alcohol as their base, which is a controversial topic in the craft spirits industry.
Known as the Godfather of Australian Distilling, Bill Lark changed the legislation that had stopped small-scale craft distilling for almost 100 years. We have Bill to thank for the incredible range of craft spirits made in Australia.
The space where distillers have to store their spirits. Duty tax must be paid for anything before it leaves this area. In Australia, the excise tax distillers pay is currently around $30 per 700ml bottle, which is why Australian craft spirits are more expensive than that of other countries.
A container in the still that’s suspended above the base alcohol. The alcohol evaporates and passes through the basket to the botanicals, imparting the spirit with flavour and aroma.
Herbs, fruit, vegetables and spices that give spirits like gin their flavour. Gin must have juniper in its botanicals list to be considered gin, otherwise it’s considered vodka. Australian craft gin distillers love using native botanicals–from finger limes to green ants–and each one brings a completely different flavour.
The alcohol content at which the distilled spirits are bottled. It is usually expressed as a percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) and may vary depending on the type of spirit.
Also known as barrel strength, you’re tasting the spirit at the alcohol strength it would be before it’s diluted to go into bottles. This high ABV can give more texture and different flavours to when the ABV’s been brought down to bottling strength.
A type of still used for continuous distillation. It consists of a series of stacked plates or columns, which allow for multiple distillations to occur simultaneously.
The process of producing distilled spirits, such as whisky, gin, vodka or rum, by hand on a small scale by independent and artisanal distilleries. Australian craft distillers use traditional methods as much as possible with as little outsourced labour and product as possible too.
As the alcohol distils the spirit, there are basically three parts to it. The heads, heart and tails. The distiller has to remove the heads and tails from the final product as they contain dangerous volatile compounds that can at best produce off flavours and aromas and at worst be deadly to the drinker.
The final distilled liquid from the still. This is a high-alcohol product, but also has a high concentration of aromas and flavours. Distillate still needs to be diluted with pure water before it goes into a barrel or bottle.
The process of separating alcohol from a fermented mixture through heating and cooling. Distillation is typically done in a still, which consists of a boiler to heat the mixture, a condenser to cool and collect the vapour, and a receiver to collect the liquid distillate.
The process of converting sugars into alcohol using yeast. During fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugars in the mash and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide.
a small spirit glass shaped specially for tasting spirits. The shape allows aromas to enter the taste buds in the nose (where the majority are) easily and show off characteristics of the spirit at its best. These glasses have been the industry standard since 2001.
The initial portion of the distillate that contains volatile compounds with low boiling points, such as methanol and acetone. Heads are typically discarded or redistilled to remove impurities.
The middle portion of the distillate that contains the desired ethanol and flavours. It is this high-quality spirit that ends up in your bottle or glass.
Individual Botanical Distillation:
Gin distillers either distil all their botanicals at once or one at a time and then blend them together at the end. The argument for distilling individual distillates is that distillers can control the duration and temperature of each botanical.
An essential process where the grain is allowed to germinate before it’s dried and roasted ready for fermentation. Almost all craft distilleries have their grains malted by a maltster as it’s a complicated process.
A vessel used in craft distilling to mix the grains with hot water during the mashing process. It allows enzymes to convert starches into fermentable sugars, which are essential for fermentation.
A mixture of grains or fruits that are cooked, fermented and then distilled to produce spirits. It is the initial step in the distillation process. The ‘mash bill’ is the combination and proportions of grains used in the production of whisky. The mash bill affects the flavour profile and character of the final spirit.
Mostly seen with gins but also with rums, the spirit must be at least 57.5%ABV. This comes from an old naval tradition that ensured the spirit rations aboard the ships (gin for officers and rum for regular sailors) hadn’t been tampered with and watered down. Here's more on navy strength spirits.
Alcohol at 57.5% will ignite showing its ‘proof’, which is where the alcohol measurement of proof comes from.
A distilled spirit that has been distilled to a high alcohol content, typically above 95% ABV. Neutral spirits are often used as a base for flavoured spirits or for blending.
New make refers to un-aged whisky and rum. It has a few other names–white tiger in the State and poitín in Ireland–but you might have also heard it called moonshine.
Sometimes distilleries sell it as the precursor spirit before it goes into a barrel so you can taste it in its pure form. But many distillers like to craft a new-make with no intention of putting it in casks. Tara Distillery's The Exile Poitín is a wonderful example of that. Check out our review here.
A distillery that does everything in-house, from growing crops to make the mash, which the distiller ferments and distils into spirit and then bottles and sells. There aren’t many paddock-to-bottle distilleries—especially whisky distilleries—around.
The legendary Peter Bignell of Belgrove Distillery is an excellent example of a paddock-to-bottle distiller.
A traditional type of still used in craft distilling. It consists of a large pot or kettle, which is usually made of copper, where the fermented mash or base spirit is heated, and the vapour condenses and collects.
A type of whisky made from malted barley at a single distillery. Single malt whiskies are known for their distinctive flavours and are often associated with Scotch whisky. Most Aussie craft whisky is single malt.
A term used to describe spirits that are produced in limited quantities, typically using traditional methods and with a focus on quality and craftsmanship. Small-batch production allows distillers to have greater control over the process and often results in unique and distinctive flavours.
This is at the very heart of Australian craft spirits.
The final portion of the distillate that contains heavier compounds with higher boiling points. Tails are typically separated from the hearts to avoid undesirable flavours and aromas.
A technique used in gin and vodka production, where botanicals are placed in the path of the alcohol vapour during distillation. The vapour collects oils and compounds from the botanicals creating the flavours you taste in the spirit at the end.
This is different to steeped infusion, where the botanicals are put directly into the base spirit in the still. Distilleries can use both methods.