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Terminology All Whisky Drinkers Should Know – A Guide from Glenlivet

Terminology All Whisky Drinkers Should Know

a whisky drinker raising a toast

Whether you’re a seasoned whisky drinker or whisky novice, brush up on your whisky knowledge with our terminology guide. Impress your fellow whisky drinkers with your arsenal of phrases and definitions. Pour yourself a glass of whisky and test your knowledge.

Types of Whisky

With so many different types of whisky available, knowing your malt from your grain can seem like a minefield so we’ve compiled a list so that you can distinguish your whiskies and impart your wisdom to fellow whisky drinkers.


Malt whisky is made from a fermented mash consisting of malted barley.


Grain whisky is made from any type of grain, this could include wheat, corn or rye. Malt whisky on the other hand is made from malted barley only.


Blended whisky is what you imagine it to be: it is a mixture of different types of whiskies. A blend can include as many as 15 to 50 different single whiskies, the amounts of which are dependent on the specific company producing it. Because each whisky has its own distinctive characteristics, some blends don’t work seamlessly together. Therefore, the whiskies must be expertly blended to complement and enhance the flavors.


Scotch is whisky that is made exclusively in Scotland. Scotch whisky cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world because it is the specific landscape, water, and climate of Scotland that makes this whisky so unique. There are five whisky regions across the country with each creating their own distinct whisky with different flavour profiles. For example, whisky from the region of Islay tends to evoke a peaty, smoky flavor, whereas the Lowland promises soft and smooth whisky with flavors including honeysuckle, cream, grass, ginger and toffee which gives an overall lighter taste.

Single Malt Scotch vs Blended Scotch Whisky

You can get Scotch whisky as a single malt, a single grain, or a blend. Single malt or grain whisky comes from a single distillery, which whisky drinkers often consider makes it an elite spirit. Blended, on the other hand, is made from a mixture of different Scotch whiskies that complement and enhance the different flavors in the mix.

group of whisky drinkers

Whisky Glasses

As all whisky drinkers will attest, having the right glass when drinking whisky can make all the difference. From the perfect ambiance to the perfect whisky, the correct glass will complete the experience.

Tulip Glass

The tulip glass, also known as the copita after the traditional Spanish glass from which it is based on, is a favorite amongst whisky drinkers and connoisseurs. The shape of this glass is perfect for appreciating the complex flavours of the spirit. It has a stem, which prevents the hand from coming too close to the nose and affecting the scent of the whisky, whilst the round shape at the bottom and narrowed rim guides the aromas to your nose as you drink. This shaped glass is also great for swirling your whisky.


The Glencairn whisky glass is not dissimilar to a tulip glass, however it has a shorter more solid base as opposed to a long stem. This glass is also perfect for swirling to ‘open up’ the aromas of the whisky so that you can have a more nuanced tasting experience and taste the depth of flavors. The shape of this glass also funnels the aroma of the whisky towards the nose as you drink.


The Old-Fashioned glass is perhaps the most instantly recognisable glass amongst the whisky glasses. It is short with a thick base and a wide rim and is perfect for whisky cocktails or whisky on the rocks.

whisky drinker with an old fashioned glass

Whisky Terms


A dram is a unit of volume usually associated with whisky. There is no fixed measurement for a dram, and it has changed over time, however nowadays if you order a dram you are most likely to receive a standard shot size of either 25ml or 35ml.


Ordering a neat whisky means that the spirit is served without any mixer or additional flavors – a favorite amongst whisky drinkers.

On the rocks

This simply means a spirit served over ice.

Open up

‘Open up’ in relation to whisky refers to the change in flavor once the spirit has been left open to the air. You can ‘open up’ your whisky by swirling it in your glass or by adding a drop of water. Opening up your whisky can unveil a more nuanced and richer combination of flavors that are not recognised initially.

Whether you’re a new or seasoned whisky drinker, this short guide will give you a refresh of the most important whisky terms and phrases to help you on your way to becoming a connoisseur.

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