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Whiskey Lexicon

The world of American whiskey (not "whisky," as the Canadians and Scots spell it) has changed a lot, but the lingo remains the same.

Americans have been making whiskey for longer than the States have been United. Sometime in the late 18th century, a band of small-batch distillers fled to the Kentucky countryside, where corn was abundant and a new liquor tax—which had just spurred a bloody rebellion—was rarely enforced. They shipped their whiskey in charred oak barrels, which imparted an amber coloring and a pleasant, sweet-smoky flavor. Recognizing a good thing, they made some more and, with a stroke of marketing ingenuity, stamped the barrels with the whiskey's region of origin: "Old Bourbon."

Two hundred years later, Kentucky bourbon is still the king of American whiskey. But, spurred by changes in the laws, a passion for local ingredients and a love of history, craft distillers around the country—from New York and Colorado to Wisconsin and Oregon—are now producing exceptional spirits.

Do you think you know your whiskey? Test your knowledge with the terms below:

Whiskey Terms

Straight Whiskey

Made from at least 51 percent of one grain (often barley, but also corn, wheat or rye), U.S. straight whiskeys must be aged in charred new oak barrels for at least 2 years.

Rye Whiskey

A straight whiskey made from a grain mix of at least 51 percent rye.


A straight whiskey made from at least 51 percent corn.

Tennessee Whiskey

Straight whiskey distilled in Tennessee and filtered through maple charcoal before aging.

Blended Whiskey

A whiskey made from different grains and even by different distilleries.

Single-Malt Whiskey

A whiskey made by a single distillery, and distilled from a single malted grain.

White Whiskey

Sometimes called light whiskey or even moonshine, white whiskey is clear because it is unaged, spending little to no time in the oak barrels that give aged whiskey its caramel color.

Great Whiskey Recipes & Articles:

Published June 2010


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