Discover the Fascinating World of Spirit Industry Terminology

Discover the Fascinating World of Spirit Industry Terminology

With the increasing availability of different spirits in the market and more people opting to enjoy distilled beverages, there is a growing demand for education to enhance consumer and employee understanding of the drinks they consume.

As an initial step, here we explain some commonly used terms in spirit labeling to help clarify the distinctions between each bottle:


This refers to the alcohol content of a liquid. ABV stands for Alcohol by Volume and is measured as a percentage, indicating the proportion of alcohol in the total volume. In North America, the term “proof” is used, which is twice the ABV. For example, 50% ABV is equal to 100 proof. This term originated from the practice of proving the strength of alcohol using gunpowder and a match.


Although not legally defined, this term is commonly associated with the production of gin and other flavored spirits. Botanicals are natural ingredients such as herbs, spices, berries, roots, or citrus peels, which are used to add flavor to a spirit through the process of redistillation. A blend of botanicals is added to a pot along with diluted spirit, which is then redistilled. The resulting spirit retains the aromas and flavors of the botanicals.

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Cask Strength

Also known as barrel proof, this term refers to whisk(e)y that has not been diluted with water before bottling. While not a common production choice, spirits bottled at cask strength highlight the unique texture and character of the spirit. Most spirits bottled at cask strength will indicate this on the label.


This refers to the previous contents of a cask. Aged spirits often utilize “old” barrels that previously held another alcoholic liquid. Some of this liquid remains in the wood and ultimately influences the flavors of the newly aged spirits. Ex-Bourbon barrels are associated with vanilla, coconut, and sweet spice flavors. Ex-Sherry can impart a fruitcake character, as well as hints of sulfur and nuttiness.


This refers to the primary grain used in the production of Malt whiskies in Scotland, Ireland, and Japan. Malt is short for malted barley, which refers to barley grains that have undergone the necessary processing for milling, mashing, and fermentation. Single Malt Whisk(e)y is made exclusively from 100% malted barley.

New Make Spirit/Eau du Vie

These terms describe a newly distilled spirit that is unaged and unchanged by any process post-distillation. Typically, it has an alcohol content ranging from 60% to 80% ABV. “New Make” is the term used in Scotch whisky production, while “Eau du Vie” is used in Cognac and Armagnac production.

1st fill – 4th fill

Casks are often reused multiple times for aging different types of alcohol, and with proper care, they can have a lifespan of 100 years or more. “1st fill” indicates the first usage of a cask since its original contents, “2nd fill” signifies the second usage, and so on. The more a cask is used and emptied, the less of the original contents remains, and the wood ages, resulting in diminished influences. However, very old 4th or 5th fill casks can contribute delicate and nuanced flavors, adding complexity and intrigue to well-aged spirits.

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