LEXICON: From Oak to oz

The Scots have (at least) three ways to pronounce the letter ‘O’ - just ask a local
Scotsman to say “Loch Lomond” if you don’t believe me. Not many brand names
or words start with that letter though, especially if you don’t count all the names
that start with ‘old’. While this Whisky Lexicon enables you to search for specific
whisky words. The other sections of Malt Madness offer more in-depth information.


Oak is used for virtually all casks that serve as whisky containers.
The abbreviation OB means 'official bottling' - released by the owners.
Oban is one of just a handful of distilleries in the Western Highlands.
Whisky lovers became aware of ‘Old Bottle Effect’ (OBE) relatively recently.
An octave is a very small whisky cask - containing 46 litres / 10 gallons.
Octomore is an extra peaty variety from the Bruichladdich distillery.
Odorants are compounds that have an odor, detected by olfactory receptors.
An official bottling is released by the proprietors of a particular distillery.
Some old whisky bottles show ‘Old Bottle Effect’ - a secondary maturation.
In the olden days, the Fettercairn distillery was known as ‘Old Fettercairn’.
The Old Malt Cask series is released by whisky bottler Douglas Laing.
The old name ‘Old Pulteney’ was recently upgraded to just ‘Pulteney’.
Old Rhosdhu is one if many brands made at Loch Lomond distillery.
We have olfactory receptors to thank for our sense of smell.
The ‘Optic’ barley variety is the most widely planted in Scotland.
Confusingly enough, ‘ounce’ is a unit in several old systems of measurement.
The phrase overproof is usually used for whiskies with an ABV of over 46%.
The abbreviation ‘oz’ is used for ‘ounce’, saving three precious letters.

OB / official bottling

Official bottling of Ardbeg

While an independent bottling is released by a ‘bottler’, an official bottling
or OB is released by the ‘proprietors’ of the distillery where that whisky was
distilled. Often, the company (or a partent / sister / daughter company)
owns a bottling facility - but that job might be outsourced as well.

The design of these official bottlings can be quite beautiful.
Some brands that brighten up the shelves of many liquor stores around
the world with their bottles and packaging are Ardbeg and Balvenie who
have been consistently paying attention to these things for many years.

I’ve been bitching about rising whisky prices for at least a decade, but
I can actually live with a SMALL portion of the price hikes: the part that
helps to make the label and the bottle look and feel nice too. I’m hardly a
‘sensual’ person, but even to someone like me these things matter, you know...

During the last few decades of the 20th century, OB’s usually came in a
range of expressions with different age statements like 12 years old, 18yo
and 25yo. Meanwhile, most IB’s were distinguished by a vintage, bottling
date and sometimes even a cask number. The lines are blurrier now. 


The word ‘oak’ has various meanings within various contexts. In biology it refers to a group of trees in the
plant family ‘Fagaceae’ - the genus Quercus (which also includes some shrubs). From a lumberjack’s view,
oak may also include a few species of wood that do not belong to the aforementioned Quercus species.
Then there’s the cooper’s perspective - who rarely works with ‘fresh’ oak lumber for Scotch casks anyway.
Last but not least, there’s the primary ‘oaky’ flavours a taster detects - and its secondary effects on spirit.

OBE / Old Bottle Effect

I think it was Serge Valentin who coined the phrase ‘Old Bottle Effect’ in the early years of the maniacs.
It refers to a ‘secondary maturation’ that takes place inside the bottle - provided the bottle remains closed
for long enough. It works much slower than the maturation inside (most) casks and the effects are mostly
limited to a small part of the flavour spectrum. To me, it’s similar to a realm between ‘wet dog’ and sellery.


The existence of complex odorants in malt whisky is arguably the best argument for shelling out large
amounts of money for a bottle. Even most of the ‘taste’ of a whisky depends on fragrances; we can only
detect 4 or 5 basic tastes. This means that the high prices of some whiskies is mostly based on hot air.

Old Malt Cask

The Old Malt Cask series was produced by independent bottler Douglas Laing. Part of its legendary
status can be attributed to the fact that they released a number of bottlings around the year 2000 that
offered incredibly good value. Many single cask bottlings from distilleries like Ardbeg and Brora in the
20yo to 30yo range were offered for prices between 150 and 250 Euro’s. These bottlings were greeted
with unprecedented love by whisky lovers. Later bottlings were released as pricier ‘Platinum’ releases.

Olfactory receptors

Our olfactory receptors are responsible for our ability to detect odorants and thousands of odours.
About 3% of our genome consists of genes that are somehow related to the detection of smells, which
suggests that the sense of smell used to be more important for humans than it is in these modern days.
The olfactory receptors are located in the cell membranes of olfactory receptor neurons. In mammals
most of those neurons are located in the nose, but insects have most sensors on their antennae.


The ounce is a unit of measurement in various systems. As a unit of weight in the British Imperial system
it is equal to 1/16th of a pound. The fluid ounce (abbreviated as fl oz) is 1/20th of a pint or 1/160th gallon.
Its equivalent in the metric system is slightly more than 28.413 millilitres - roughly the same as a stiff dram.

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The Optic barley variety has replaced most other species that were traditionally used in Scotland.
These days, most malt whisky is produced from this spring barley with some resistance to mildew.

(* The old technology used for Malt Madness doesn’t allow me to present the information in the most user-friendly
way possible. Check out my new personal website for a fresh attempt at a site, covering a wider range of topics.

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