The beginning of every new hobby goes something like this: figure out you like something, seek more information, become overwhelmed with jargon, take a step back. In industries as old and technical as whiskey-making, lingo abounds — mashbill, small batch, barrel pick, high wine, high rye, distillate and so on. But at least these words have firm definitions.
Ever heard of a “sleeper” car? Ever felt “afterbang” skiing? How do you respond if a cyclist calls you a “fred”? Hobbyist talk is the true enemy of every would-be hobbyist, and bourbon, as with all activities that lend themselves to obsession, is laced with words that make little sense to the outsider. Here’s a brief guide on talking bourbon like a bona fide bourbon drinker.
Juice: Juice is just the bourbon inside a bottle. It’s used as a means to avoid saying “whiskey” or “bourbon” over and over again in conversation.
Unicorn: A unicorn — sometimes called unicorn bottle — is a sought-after bottle of limited-edition, hard-to-find bourbon. Examples of annually released unicorn bourbons include Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon, Pappy anything, Four Roses Limited Editions and any bottle in Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection.
Honey Hole: A liquor store that is both rich in prized bottles of bourbon and sells them at or near their retail prices. Most honey holes are found on the outskirts of urban areas, where they’ll receive a city’s allocation of high-value bourbon but with far less foot traffic.
Honey Barrel: Unrelated to the honey hole, the honey barrel is something out of old-bourbon lore. It is the platonic ideal bourbon barrel — created by an unscientific, “know it when you taste it” fusion of temperature, rickhouse location, age, distiller know-how and luck.
Fake Tan: Though adding artificial caramel coloring to deepen flavor is a banned practice in the bourbon world, some drinkers insist there are distillers who give their bottle a “fake tan.” Why? Whiskey goes into a barrel as a clear spirit and comes out somewhere on the yellow-gold-brown spectrum. The longer bourbon ages in a new charred oak cask, the deeper the hue, and seeing as many drinkers still equate age to quality, a deeper color is a desirable trait.
Tater: A sign of the times. The latest word in bourbon whiskey parlance, a “tater” is an enthusiast who perpetuates the category’s newly found hype culture. Taters are the type to run to liquor stores upon hearing a bottle is getting hot — like, say, if it won an award — and buy a case for the sole purpose of re-selling it. For a more complete list of tater moves, check out the Tater-Talk’s 81-and-counting signs you might be a tater.
White Dog: Also called white lightning, white whiskey and hooch, white dog is whiskey before it goes into a barrel for aging. It’s whiskey right off the still and is called “white” because it hasn’t browned in a barrel. Its flavor is bluntly corn-forward and lacks the depth, sweetness or tannic body time spent in a barrel provides.
Angel’s Share: The wood barrels used to age bourbon are porous. Bourbon gets inside those pores and, over time, evaporates into the ether. This process results in the loss of anywhere from two to five percent of the total volume of barreled whiskey. That lost whiskey is known as the angel’s share.
The Hunt: Used as a general term in collecting vernacular to describe the search for highly coveted bottles.
Dusties: Bottles of old, out-of-production booze that’s been sitting in a case, at the back of the shelf or long buried in someone’s liquor cabinet. Hunting dusties is a graduated form of bourbon collecting — a practice that requires foreknowledge of what was made in the past, its value and, of course, where it might be hiding.
Flipper: Just like a sneaker re-seller, but for bourbon. A flipper buys bottles and proceeds to sell them on secondary markets (Craigslist, local Facebook groups, etc.) for profit. And similar to sneaker re-sellers, bourbon flippers are typically looked down upon by purists.