The words and phrases used to describe whiskey and how it is made can be confusing. Meanings can often change from distiller to distiller. Some terms are defined by production methods and or even have strict legal requirements, while other phrases found on bottles are more colloquial and used to convey a general sense of a whiskey’s taste or history.
To help cut through the noise, we look at five commonly used whiskey terms—cask strength, expression, mash bill, single malt and small batch—as defined by experts. Most refer to how whiskey is distilled, aged or blended.
“Cask strength refers to whiskey that comes directly out of the barrel, not proofed down by water,” says Victoria Butler, master blender at Tennessee whiskey-producer Uncle Nearest.
Most whiskey is diluted with water to bring it down to 40% abv (alcohol by volume), or 80 proof. However, some distillers will add less water and dilute it to taste. Sometimes, no water is added at all.These whiskeys are usually labeled “cask strength” and are often bottled at 50% abv (100 proof) or higher.
Of course, you always have the option to add water or ice to your glass to moderate dilution, if you prefer.