Beverage Terms
See a term on a wine label you don't recognize but can't seem to find a definition for in the dictionary? You might find it here. From A-Z, it's a simple guide to some common and obscure terms related to beverage alcohol.
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Acetobacter

The organism responsible for changing alcohol into acetic acid (vinegar). Develops on the surface of wine if it is subjected to prolonged exposure to oxygen.

Acidity

The sharp, agreeable tang of wine caused by tartaric, malic or citric acids. Acetic acid gives a vinegary taste to the wine. Too much acidity leaves the wine having a sharp taste, too little acid leaves a wine flat.

Aftertaste

Describes the flavour an alcoholic beverage leaves in the mouth after is has been swallowed.

Agave

The agave is a plant (similar to a cactus) that is grown in Mexico. There are different vareities but the Blue Agave is most often used for Tequila. It takes roughly 8-10 years until it reaches maturity. The heart of the plant (or 'pineapple') is roughly chopped, then steamed in an oven for up to 24 hours. This concentrates the sweet sap and turns the starch into sugar. The juice is then extracted and fermented for two days. Generally Tequilas are better when 100% agave is used in the production, however many tequila's are 51% agave and 49% sugar.

Akvavit

National beverage of Scandinavian countries made from either potato or grain spirit flavoured mainly with caraway seeds and other botanicals.

Alcohol

On its own is a volatile, colourless liquid with an ethereal odour. Called ethyl alcohol or ethanol, it is the best-known member of the alcohol family and the principle alcohol found in all alcoholic beverages. For alcoholic beverages it starts by being the byproduct of fermenting a sugar-laden liquid.

Alcohol (%) by Volume

"Most widely used expression of alcoholic strength or content; adopted by European countries and Canada. A measure of the percentage of pure alcohol in a given volume of wine, beer, spirit, cider or cooler on a scale of 0% (pure water) to 100% (pure alcohol).

The American proof system will take the figure and divide by two calling it x proof. See proof."
 

Alcoholic beverage

Any potable liquid containing .5% to 99.9% ethyl alcohol by volume.

Alcoholic strength

A measurement of the amount of alcohol in a given alcoholic beverage. See 'proof' and 'alcohol by volume'.

Aldehydes

Flavour elements produced in the distillation of alcohol.

Ale

Known as the original beer style. Ales are classified by the yeasts that rise to the top of the fermenting vessel at the end of fermentation. Typically ales will be lower in carbonation, slightly richer and served warmer than lagers.

Alembic

Prototype of the modern still; used by the Arabs for the production of Kohl; name used for the pot still in European countries.

Alembic armagnacais

A modified "continuous" still used in the production of armagnac.

American Blended Whiskey

By law, blends must contain at least 20% of straight whiskey. If a blend contains at least 51% of a certain straight whiskey, it may be called blended bourbon, corn whiskey, or rye, according to the predominant grain.

Amontillado

A dry to medium-dry Spanish sherry. A fino sherry which has been further aged after the elimination of the flor so that is develops a dry nutty flavour along with a slightly deeper colour.

Aperitif

A broad term referring to any beverage taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite.

Appellation

The heart of the French Wine Laws, it refers to the 'origins' a wine may claim to come from, and therefore, the wine's authenticity. An appellation may be as small as one tiny vineyard like Chateau Grillet, or a village like Pommard, or it may cover parts of a large area like Bordeaux. Many countries have adopted this system whether as AVA (Approved Viticultural Areas) in United States or VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) in Canada or the DO (Denominación de Origen) in Spain. Also referred to as delimited areas or demarcated regions.

Appellation Contrôlée

Government-enforced safeguard of the origin and standard of the finest French wines. Wines are placed into four categories, of which Appellation Controlee is the highest quality. For each appellation, the regulations or 'laws' define the precise vineyard area determined according to soil and aspect, the permitted grape varieties, maximum yields and the minimum alcohol level of the wine. They often cover vineyard and cellar practices, too. Annual compulsory tastings ensure that the wine reaches the required standard. Also applied to some spirits and fortified wines such as cognac and armagnac, some vermouth, and the calvados.

Aroma

Another word for smell; usually describing the part of the smell of a wine derived from the grape varietal, whether distinct or merely vinous.

Aromatic

A descriptive term for the smell and flavour of particularly fragrant and spicey white wines. The wines merely reflect the grape's varietal character. The two most distinctive varietals are Muscat and Gewürztraminer.

Astringent

The mouth-puckering feeling from a wine high in tannin and/or acidity. A tactile sensation.

Atmosphere

The means of measuring pressure in sparkling wines. One atmosphere equals 15 lbs of pressure per square inch. Champagne is about 5-6 atmospheres.

Balance

Balance is the objective of winemakers, brewers and distillers. In some instances it is the minimum in order to produce a palatable product and one that lasts on the shelf. For red wine the basic balance is of acidity, sweetness (reflecting ripeness and concentration of fruit) and astringency (tannin). To what level a product achieves balance is partially a subjective judgement by the consumer.

Bas Armagnac

The best Armagnacs are produced from vines grown on the rich, heavy, sandy and pebbly, clay soils of the Bas-Armagnac sub-region.
 

Beaujolais Nouveau

A new young Beaujolais, vinified by maceration carbonique so that it is ready for release for sale within a few weeks of the vintage.
 

Beer

A low-strength, alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a mash of malted grain (most often barley).
 

Bereich

A subregion of German vineyards, usually taking the name of the most important village in the area, e.g. Bereich Nierstein. Though more specific origin then Landwein, it is not as specific as grosslagen and einzellagen. A bereich name can only be used for qualitatswein.

Bitters

Herb-flavoured drinks with medicinal origins. Often drunk as aperitifs or digestifs.
 

Blanc de Noirs

A white wine made from black (red) grapes.
 

Blancs

A white wine (either still or sparkling) made entirely from white grapes.
 

Blended Malt

Somewhere between the blended Scotches and single-malt Scotches comes a relatively new invention - the blended malt. These are unblended malts (contain no grain whisky) from several different distilleries that have been mixed to produce a unique product. To avoid confusion with true blends, which include both grain and malt whiskies, blended malts are often called vatted malts.

Blended Scotch Whiskey

The majority of Scotch whisky sold in the market today are Scotch blends which are a blend of grain and malt whiskies. Today, the proportions are about 15 - 20% malt and 80 - 85% grain.
 

Blending

The process of mixing different selections of fermented or distilled alcohol together to achieve a balanced product that is usually better than any of its parts. Blending also helps to maintain a consistent product year to year.
 

Blue Agave

Blue agave (agave tequiliana weber azul) is a subspecies of agave that is used for the production of Tequila. All Tequila must be at least 51% blue agave. The higher the percentage of blue agave, the better the potential quality.

Blush wine

A currently fashionable term used especially to describe a white wine made from red grapes; in fact it is the palest shade of pink.
 

Bodegas

Cool, usually ground-level, warehouses where wine is converted to sherry by the catalytic action of flor yeast, then matured. It is also the Spanish word for a wine cellar and/or the location for making, blending and/or shipping of wine.
 

Body

An indication of the amount of aroma, flavour and palate weight a alcoholic beverage possesses. For example a full-bodied whisky is one of the full flavour and aroma while a light-bodied whisky has less of these characteristics. The body of a product can dictate its order in service, before or after a meal, even what foods it might match best.
 

Bois Ordinaries

The most outer sub-region of Cognac. See "Fins Bois".
 

Bonne chauffe

The second cognac distillation where the spirit reaches its highest alcohol level. It is the raw, clear spirit, ready to be aged in cask.
 

Bons Bois

The second most outer sub-region of Cognac. See Fins Bois.
 

Bordeaux-blend or Bordeaux-style

The use of the Bordeaux grape varietals: for reds - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec (the last two hardly at all); for whites - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle (another rarity). Found all over the world, e.g. Chile, Australia, Italy, and Washington.
 

Borderies

This sub-region does not, as is frequently supposed, "border" the regions of Petite and Grande Champagne. It faces them -- and the town of Cognac -- from across the River Charente on the north. It gives the Cognacs with the greatest body.

Botanical Flavouring Agents

The almost infinite variety of substances used to make flavoured wines, spirits and liqueurs. They can be broadly classified into three groups: herbs and spices, seeds and plants, and fruits. Some of the flavourings used in spirit production include angelica, aniseed, caraway, cinnamon, coffee, blackcurrant, juniper, lemon, and rose petals.

Botrytis Cinerea

A fungus which attacks grapes and withdraws large amounts of water from the grapes. When climatic conditions are favourable (e.g. a short wet period preceded and succeeded by dry periods), the grapes will produce rare, sweet wines, such as Sauternes, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Tokaji. When the climate is unfavourable, the grapes will spoil and rot. Also known as pourriture noble, noble rot, edelfaule (German), and muffa nobile (Italian).

Bottle age

Refers to the period of time that a wine is aged in the bottle. Some wines require this time to develop flavours and soften the tannins (they actually fall out, becoming the deposit at the bottom of the bottle). Such wines may be recommended by the winemaker or reviewer to be put in the cellar, to age or to be ready at a later date. Once in bottle spirits do not develop or require bottle age. Beers other than a few instances are freshest once packaged and do not improve with age.
 

Bottle-conditioned

The term for specialty ales that are unfiltered and bottled with a dose of yeast to allow carbonation to form in the bottle in much the same manner as champagne.
 

Bourbon

A product of the United States. To be called Bourbon, a whiskey must have been produced from a grain mixture containing at least 51% corn. Different bourbons use different grain formulas hence practically all bourbons contain other cereal grains, such as rye, beside the basic corn.
 

Brandewijn

Brandy, literally meaning "burnt wine".
 

Brandy

Is the beverage which results from the distillation of wine. Which in turn is made from fermenting the juice or must of grapes. Brandy unless distinguished by the term fruit brandy, will be made from grapes.
 

Broullis

The first cognac distillation.