American Whiskey Terms- A Glossary

The history of classifying whisky in America is long and difficult. From those that used to make all sorts of additions to the product, to a government that was interested in its tax revenue, to middlemen and distillers fighting for control of the market, to rebellions and funding of wars- the many and varied interests took years to sort out. Central to this was giving the consumer the confidence in what they were buying. The present day system owes much to President William Taft, he listened to various participants over many months, and settled on a system that is broadly still in use today. There have been additions along the way but the cornerstones of this work remains.


Whiskey- distilled from a selection of cereal grains using the creation of a cereal mash.

Bourbon- reserved name for product made in the USA , 51% corn, if less than 4 yrs old must have an age statement, aged in new charred oak barrels, no more than 160 proof off the still, no more than 125 proof for maturing, bottled at 80 proof minimum. Straight bourbons are not coloured or flavoured.

Rye- 51% Rye, no more than 160 proof off the still, no more than 125 proof for maturing, aged in new charred oak barrels, if aged more than 2 yrs can be called straight Rye.

Malt Whiskey-51% malted barley,  no more than 160 proof off the still, no more than 125 proof for maturing, aged in new charred oak barrels, if aged more than 2 yrs with no additions can be called straight Malt whiskey.

Corn Whiskey- made up from at least 80% corn. Can be sold unaged but if going into barrel this must be uncharred or a used barrel- otherwise it would be considered bourbon.

Moonshine- clear unaged whiskey is probably the best attempt at a definition and usually made from corn, can be made from a variety of sources and not currently part of the federal definitions.

Proof- similar to alcohol by volume- 80 proof equates to 40% abv

Bottled in Bond- 4 yrs old minimum, be the product of one distiller, with grain from one distilling season, bottled at 100 proof and aged under US government supervision. Applies to a handful of bourbons but can apply to any spirit- tends to be higher end product.

Single barrel- product from an exceptional single cask or selection of casks, typically filled one at a time so slight variation possible.

Mash bill- the different types of grain that go into making a product. e.g. bourbon must be 51% corn.

Sour mash- the re-use of already fermented mash back in to the new mash. Helps to control acidity levels and bacteria.

Sweet mash- no re use of distilled mash and so the mash is set using grains, water and yeast that is new every time.

Barrel proof- the actual proof or abv of the product in the barrel. This product isn’t cut down with water.


Scottish Craft Spirit Provenance – SCDA and Scottish Food and Drink Partnership

Steps in the right direction but away from the headlines…….


The recent partnership between announced between Scottish Food and Drink, the umbrella body for Scottish producers and the Scottish Craft Distillers Association (SCDA) shows some good moves in the sector.

While some of the press boys talked about protecting whisky (I’m pretty sure the SWA are on top of that) a good number picked up on the issue that there exists a bit of a grey area when using Scottish names and indicators to promote spirits that have a more tenuous link than their branding suggests. Now it is absolutely true these products are not doing anything wrong but there is certainly divergence in how these aspects are communicated to the consumer and how well informed therefore the customer may be.

Scottish Food and Drink are offering their expertise on various issues to members of the SCDA. However to be a member of the SCDA you must own, operate and bottle your product here. This unquestionably gives the consumer a large degree of confidence as to the “Scottishness” of the drink coming from an SCDA member.

As Caskmaster previously pointed out  there is no requirement to be an SCDA member and businesses are doing nothing wrong in operating out side of the organisation. As a result the grey areas previously mentioned are all still in play. The access to the help Scottish Food and Drink can offer may well operate as a useful carrot for organisations to join the SCDA. However it looks like effective regulation may well be the next step forward to helping to clarify the rules under which craft distillers in Scotland can operate. With substantial resources and good political contacts of Scottish Food and Drink  you wonder if that is something this new partnership may well be looking at and what the attitude of the big boys to any new rules may be?

Provenance and Scottish Gin- Some New Years Resolutions?

Late last year The Herald newspaper in Scotland ran a fairly negative article decrying the fact that some Scottish craft gins  are made in “English factories”. Leaving aside the use of the word factory – and that there are several very fine distilleries down south- this article certainly would lead you to believe that there was a really large issue with the gins made by some Scottish brand owners.

Provenance is massively important – having confidence in what you are drinking is a huge part of trust built between producers and consumers. It is of course a factor in Scotland itself being a trusted brand internationally and that products that purport to be Scottish in some way do in fact have at least some connections to here. We do have to be vigilant that this trust is not eroded. Indeed the work of the SWA in ensuring Scotch is protected is an important part of ensuring consumers have confidence in what they are drinking.

We do need to get this in context however. The brands mentioned directly in the Herald article account for a tiny proportion by volume of gin made in Scotland and not much more in terms gin by value. Generally they are relatively new market entrants trying to make a mark, enter a maturing marketplace and in some cases do make the information on how they are produced available to consumers. Is that enough? That is probably up to the consumer.

What the article misses to a large extent is the fact that that rules and regulations in this area are grey and open to interpretation. Businesses operate by understanding the regulatory constraints in which they are working and then set about to work within these. There is nothing in the Herald piece which says anyone has done anything illegal. Whether it’s ethical is a different matter.

Again where the article does dip it’s toe in the water is the variety of methods in which gin can be produced and the different ways this is happening. Going to the next level of how to then say whether something can be categorised as Scottish, Hebridean or Outer Mongolian is a different step entirely. A lot of gin is made from grain neutral spirit which is then redistilled, alongside botanicals, to give the gin it’s flavour. Where do you draw the cut off line; the botanical flavourings, the base spirit, the grain and water the base spirit is produced from, where it’s distilled or bottled- what would allow the product to point to it’s geographical home?

What we have to recognise in the first instance is that craft producers are doing a great job of enlivening a market that a few years ago was pretty staid and not really going anywhere. Now we have a greater diversity, more flavourings, a burgeoning cocktail scene and a real sense of excitement in the market. To set a benchmark amongst producers who are at very different stages of their business however is not easy and will undoubtedly create tensions between operators. To that end the Scottish Craft Distillers  Association have started a ball rolling but it would be good to see more producers join and see the benefit of both them and their products being accredited. So in terms of New Years resolutions here’s what I suggest:

  1. Scottish suppliers to be encouraged, cajoled, asked into the joining of the SCDA.
  2. Suitable transitional arrangements to be put in place for suppliers who may not meet all the criteria that full SCDA members meet just now but are working toward them within sensible timescales.
  3. Furthering the understanding of what Craft Distilled in Scotland stands for- both for the trade, politicians and critically for the public.
  4. A willingness to self police and highlight poor practice should it exist.
  5. The garnering of support on a political level to find ways to ensure that when brands are trading on Scottish connections these can be demonstrated and where they are not, suitable regulation is available to any enforcement authority.

While you do not want to create rules for rules sake- indeed there is a lively debate about whether regulations stifle or enhance creativity- you do want to ensure the playing field is level and the rules of the game are sensible and proportionate. By creating a strong base from which to work, everyone can continue to make a success of this market- and most importantly that the industry can continues to delight drinkers and enjoy the trust of customers.



The Scotch Whisky Association – Firing on All Cylinders

News reaches us from industry sources us that the SWA has parted company with another two of its longstanding directors.

Deputy Chief Executive, Julie Hesketh-Laird and Public Affairs Director, David Williamson, have left the association after 12 and 20 years of service respectively. Interestingly this will now leave the SWA without two of it’s most senior directors , heavily experienced in technical matters, trade and public affairs, as the UK industry enters some of it’s most serious and significant discussions of recent times. I think this is what is known in civil service speak as a “brave” decision.

Under the previous CEO David Frost, two directors, Martin Soper and Campbell Evans, departed. Frost himself only celebrated two full years with the association before leaving for a role trying to control Boris Johnson. Now a further 30 plus years of industry knowledge will leave the association. While it is absolutely the right of any CEO to establish the structure they need it does seem odd that at the SWA the way to achieve this is to remove directors with industry background and experience.

I wonder if they can sub-let some of the increasing spare amounts of space at the Edinburgh HQ?

Taxing Times- A Quick Comment on the Budget

There was not too much in yesterdays UK budget to get spirits consumers and producers very excited. There is a 3.9% tax rise that will affect spirits producers and, as the trade bodies were quick to point out, this was pretty disappointing.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) , with some hefty gin and vodka producers in their membership, pointed out that revenue from duty had risen when duty rates had been frozen or even cut.  The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA)  in their response pointed out that it was the first time in 25 years that inflation had been used to increase the duty rates across all alcoholic drinks.

Spirits consumers and producers have a number of reasons to be a bit aggreived about this.

Firstly the tax hike was made with a very quiet “No change to previous announcements..”- but it’s only by looking in the actual budget report-  on page 35  if you want to check it out, that the full extent of the rise was made clear.

Secondly, the rate of the increase has been taken from the Office of Budget Responsibilities (OBRs) forecast  for inflation on RPI. This measure is the higher of the two most used indices for inflation and includes mortgage interest payments whereas the CPI does not.  Currently RPI is at 2.6% versus a forecast rate of 3%. The forecast rate suggest 3.2% in September this year (add on the VAT and you get to the 3.9% increase overall). With growth forecasts also being uplifted this could make some sense but it is absolutely worth keeping an eye on to see if these are accurate.

Thirdly the Chancellor had choices here. While HMRC do lay out proposed income Phil Hammond had the opportunity to vary these sources, as has been the case with budget statements over the last 25 years he made the decision not to.

For lovers of craft spirits the concern may be that Phil Hammond has these increases in his spreadsheets for future budgets raising product prices and raising barriers to entry in this vibrant sector. Lets’s hope there can be some convincing arguments put to him before the Autumn Statement.

By Way of Introduction

Firstly thank you very much for stopping by our little corner of the Internet. It is very kind of you to spend a few minutes here.

I’ll keep it brief- this is all about craft spirits here. What’s happening right now, who’s developing what, who are the guys behind the stills are and how they are doing it.

There may be comments on the big boys from time to time, there maybe the odd foray into beer, there may be a meander into wines but always with a view to what it means for craft sector.

In terms of defining craft there won’t be a push on a hard and fast definition- a starting point is probably single sites, not corporately owned and trying to innovate.

In terms of geography it’ll be UK and Scottish focused but with an eye out for worldwide whiskies, vodkas and anything of note.

Caskmaster won’t dictate- interaction is a really good thing and knowing what you like, are into or want to see more of is really great.

Lastly what makes us want to do this: a belief in innovation, a desire to see the sector flourish and a real wish to provide a great forum for this exciting area.

Exciting times