For those who are new to whiskey drinking, new to literacy, or those simply reviewing before you impress Rob Samuels at a whiskey tasting, our friends at Michter’s Whiskey have put together a captivating “dictionary” of whiskey terms so that we’re never caught wondering what the difference is in the mashbills of bourbon, rye or even, God forbid, a Canadian.
Age: This term refers to the period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak barrels.
Air-Flow: Air-flow is directly related to and a critical component of the maturation process of barreled whiskey, bourbon and rye. Much attention is paid to it in the design of a good warehouse intended for aging. Proper air-flow is used to maintain temperature and humidity in ways that optimize maturation. Air-flow is controlled by opening and closing strategically placed windows in barrel warehouses, and in many cases it is supplemented by specially designed circulation fans. When an increase or a decrease in the temperature of the liquid in the barrels results in a change of approximately 13º Fahrenheit or more, a whiskey “cycle” is achieved as the whiskey moves into and out of the wood. In the case of Michter’s, it cycles into both the char line and the caramel layer that results from toasting.
American Whiskey: American whiskey is whiskey made in the United States, distilled to no greater than 160 proof from a fermented mash of corn, rye, wheat, malt barley and/or malted rye grain. It differs from Scottish or Irish whisky because the grain is not dried with smoke, so American whiskeys usually have a fuller, less peaty/smoky taste. American whiskey is usually separated into many categories, with the prevalent ones being bourbon, rye, and blended. In the more narrow legal sense of the term, American whiskey must be made in the U.S.A. and unlike bourbon, and rye, it can be aged in barrels that have previously been used to age other whiskey. Also, unlike bourbon with its 51% or more corn mashbill and rye with its 51% or more rye grain mashbill, American whiskey can be made from a mashbill where no one grain needs to be the majority.
Angel’s Share: Whiskey is aged in wood barrels in order to mellow the high proof un-aged distillate as well as to flavor it with the rich characteristics of the oak barrels in which it is stored. The “angel’s share” is the portion of whiskey that is lost to evaporation during the aging process. Michter’s has a much larger angel’s share than most whiskeys because we heat cycle the warehouses, thereby causing significantly more whiskey to evaporate during aging. Unlike most ordinary whiskey distillers, we go to the extra expense because we believe heat cycling results in a much richer, smoother product.