The whiskey industry has always been steeped in slang, with old-timers stalking the distillery grounds talking about cutting “heads” and “tails,” toasting the oak to an “alligator char,” “clocking” some barrels, and then “thieving” some bourbon straight from the “bunghole.” Of course, the bar has likewise always had its own lingo, with drinkers ordering up wee “drams” of Scotch and “neat” pours of bourbon. But over the last decade, whiskey enthusiasm has also gone online, via blogs, forums, and private groups on Facebook, and a whole new vernacular has emerged.
Mingle with a group of whiskey enthusiasts online and you’d almost need a Rosetta stone to decipher what’s being said. They’re talking about “butts” and “crotch shots” but it’s nothing X-rated, there are “sherry bombs” and “HAZMAT” bottles but it’s not that dangerous, and “in the wild” there are “peat monsters” and “unicorns,” though nothing to be scared of. What is to fear are all the acronyms the online whiskey community now employs; it can be truly overwhelming. BTAC? ETL? PCH? Really, WTF?
Ready to test your knowledge and engage in some cultural anthropology? Here is the latest edition of the whiskey geek dictionary.
The age of a whiskey, measured by the youngest barrel within a blend; i.e. a 15-year-old single malt Scotch may be composed of some barrels much older than fifteen years, but there will be none that are younger than that. Note that age statements have increasingly been disappearing over the last decade.
A reference to limited products, like Pappy Van Winkle and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, specifically doled out to certain retailers (who may have bought and sold a lot of the distillery’s less-acclaimed products, like vodka or Fireball, in order to receive these allocations). In many cases, a store may only get a few bottles of any allocated product.
The percentage of whiskey that is lost due to evaporation as it ages in the barrel. So named because it is said to be what the angels now get to taste. Kentucky bourbon might lose 3 to 4 percent per year, while Scotch will lose around 2 percent due to its more mild climate.
Extra bottles for your bunker, which thus enable you to actually drink your rare whiskey as opposed to just hoarding it. In usage: “Just landed a backup of 2019 GTS so now I can finally open a bottle and try it.”
Barrel Pick (Also: Store Pick or Private Barrel)
Single barrel bottlings specifically selected by a commercial buyer or group. Sometimes these are sold in stores or offered at the bars that hand-selected them; other times they are solely for a private whiskey group to divvy up amongst themselves. They are usually differentiated from standard products with additional neck-tags or decals (see: Sticker Label).
Barrel Strength (Also: Cask Strength)
Whiskey that is bottled at the exact proof it was when it came out of the barrel. This is usually 100 proof to upwards of 140 proof or more (see: HAZMAT).
“Bottled in Bond,” a reference to a legal classification of whiskey defined by an 1897 act of Congress. To qualify, the bourbon must come from a single distillation season; have been produced by one distiller at one distillery; have been aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years; and is then bottled at exactly 100 proof. If BiB originally assured the integrity of a product — one that hadn’t been rectified — today it is not often used.
Standing for “buy it now,” this is what collectors on the online secondary market will write in the comments section after someone offers a bottle for sale on Facebook, Instagram, or another platform. The rationale is that the first person to post “BIN” now has dibs at purchasing the bottle at the poster’s originally stated cost. However, it is often used cheekily after someone posts something they have no intention of ever selling, like a family heirloom they just discovered, or a comically gross bottle that has come into their possession.
The small opening in the barrel from which the whiskey is added and ultimately dumped. Bungholes are, no surprise, filled by bungs — small, circular wooden blocks.
A person’s private collection, though the term often refers to the portion of it not on display in their house. In usage: “I’ve already got a Weller Full Proof but I thought it couldn’t hurt to have a few more backups in my bunker.”
A larger oak barrel, around 500 liters, that originally contained another liquid, often sherry.
Another name for a barrel, though this usually refers to a Scotch barrel.
A strange phenomenon whereas a collector will take a picture of an allocated bottle that they have just scored immediately upon exiting the store and sitting down in their car. Unfortunately, these photos are usually positioned in a way where the bottle is positioned between the buyer’s legs. Many online whiskey groups have taken to banning crotch shots due to their tastelessness and pointless braggadocio.
A glass of whiskey, usually neat, and usually Scotch.
Vintage whiskey, so named because the bottles inherently have dust on them from years of sitting on shelves untouched. However, even cleaned-up vintage bottles are often referred to as “dusties.”
Searching for vintage whiskey in off-the-beaten-path liquor stores, flea markets, and estate sales, where purveyors might not know the value or rarity of what they possess. The glory days of dusty-hunting, however, have been over for a few years, and big scores are becoming increasingly unlikely.
When a whiskey spends its final few months, or years, of aging, in a secondary barrel that previously held another liquid such as sherry, port, or Armagnac. Not to be confused with the “finish” of a whiskey — in other words, how it lingers on the palate as the flavor dissipates. In usage: “Was this bourbon finished in something? I’m getting an odd mezcal note.”
Buying a coveted bottle, often at retail prices, only to immediately sell it for an inflated secondary market price. In usage: “I sold that jerk an OWA for $30 and he immediately flipped it!”
A popular style of glass amongst enthusiasts who sip their whiskey neat. Though a reference to the Glencairn Crystal company out of Scotland, which offers several styles of glassware, amongst whiskey geeks the term strictly denotes their 4 1/2-inch tapered copita-inspired glass with a thick base.
“George T. Stagg.” Many hardcore collectors tend to only speak in acronyms when discussing important bottles like PVW23 (Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old), M20 (Michter’s 20 Year), and WLW (William Larue Weller). A helpful acronym guide is available on Reddit, of course.
A whiskey over 140-proof, so labeled by whiskey geeks because you are not legally allowed to take such a bottle onto an airplane, for fear that it could spontaneously ignite.
A 54-gallon cask, usually reconstructed from bourbon barrels with additional staves and larger barrel heads.
Honey Barrel (Also: Sugar Barrel)
A primo barrel of whiskey, ideal for being immediately used as a single barrel selection. Top master distillers and blenders are said to know where all the best-tasting honey barrels are hidden throughout their rickhouses. Certain rickhouses, and certain rickhouse locations, are known for producing an unusually large number of honey barrels.
A lightly-trafficked liquor store that continually happens to stock rare bottles. The location of honey holes are rarely shared with fellow enthusiasts, lest the shelves soon get cleared. In usage: “I told my bourbon group about my honey hole and now it only has shelf turds.”
When collectors are actively searching for limited editions and allocated whiskeys. As many allocated whiskeys are released in November each year, the late fall and early winter is often known as “hunting season.”
Infinity Bottle (Also: Solera Bottle, Living Bottle, or Vatting)
A perpetual blend that many whiskey fans keep in their homes, often in a decanter. These are created by pouring parts of all or some of one’s other bottles together, often in a slapdash manner. The fact that the bottle is never emptied gives it its name. Though many collectors have one, they are still widely mocked as a neophyte move.
In the Wild
Public store shelves, out in the open, which is a highly unusual place to locate rare offerings. In usage: “I can’t believe I found a Pappy ‘in the wild’.”
Another name for whiskey, usually referring to it before it has been bottled. In usage: “Is that new distillery sourcing MGP juice?”
Limited editions, i.e. rare whiskeys.
Mashbill (or mash bill)
The grain recipe of the mash that is fermented and then distilled into whiskey, i.e. 75 percent corn, 20 percent rye, and 5 percent malted barley.
“Non-chill filtered.” Many whiskeys have some of their chemical compounds filtered by freezing it — this technique guarantees that the product will appear clear in the bottle. A lot of enthusiasts, however, prefer an NCF whiskey; even if it has the propensity to appear hazy, it retains esters, proteins, and acids that many people believe add flavor and a pleasing, oily mouthfeel. Look for the NCF designation on the label.
A mocking way of discussing Pappy Van Winkle, usually used in reference to neophyte collectors misidentifying things like Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year and Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B as “Pappy,” or going to stores demanding access to the limited product.
A heavily-peated Scotch, typically from the Islay region.
Poor Man’s Pappy
An amateur blend, created on the straightbourbon.com forum and popularized by Bourbonr blogger Blake Riber, that is said to simulate the taste of Pappy Van Winkle at a more accessible cost. However, as its two components, Old Weller Antique 107 and W.L. Weller 12 Year, have likewise become allocated and pricy, this is no longer a blend that is cheap and easy to create.
The warehouses where barrels are stored for aging. Many are made from wood and are open-air, lacking climate control.
The secondary market, a grey area where sought-after whiskey is bought and sold these days. In many cases, that means Facebook, though the social media site has tried to crack down on alcohol sales within the last year.
A bottle of whiskey that is perpetually stocked on store shelves. While not a signifier of low quality — plenty of shelf turds like Wild Turkey 101 are quite good — it is a signifier of rarity and collectability.
A heavily sherried Scotch.
The post-purchase decals that adorn most private barrel picks these days. They will often have cartoonish, if not childish imagery, and usually cite an inside joke within the whiskey group that selected the barrel, or the whiskey community at large. While such decals are not endorsed by the distillery, most distilleries do not seem to find their usage problematic.
A neophyte drinker and collector, so identified by their silly and often misguided behavior. Though a clear shortening of “potato,” no one recalls the term’s etymology. In usage: “That tater specifically booked an international flight just so he could buy Blanton’s at duty-free.”
An extremely rare and, thus, rarely-seen bottle, so identified because collectors are stunned when they come across one “in the wild.”
A wheated bourbon, i.e. one in which wheat is used instead of rye as the secondary grain in the mashbill. This often creates a sweeter, “smoother” bourbon as seen in popular products like Pappy Van Winkle, Weller, and even Maker’s Mark.