Glossary: P

Plates

Plates are perforated copper trays that are fixed inside column stills, allowing additional reflux to occur and helping to raise the ABV of the spirit passing through. 

How does it work? In all stills, spirit vapour rises up a column still and as it does, comes into contact with the plates above, causing it to condense back into a liquid (see Reflux). This happens over and again, with some liquid dripping back down through the column, while some of the more volatile vapour moves through the perforated holes an up the column.

Due to the rising temperature climbing up the still the falling liquid that drops down is eventually forced back into becoming vapour and attempts to go up though the plates. 

This process of being forced from vapour to liquid and back again, as well as the copper contact that occurs creates an end product that has essentially been distilled dozens of times in a single run. This results in a smoother and a much higher ABV spirit.

Pechuga

Mezcal de pechuga (pechuga translates to breast in Spanish), is made when a finished mezcal is redistilled in a third distillation with local fruits and nuts, and where the vapour from the boiling liquid infuses with a raw chicken or turkey breast that’s hung in the still.

Pechugas are not infused mezcals like those containing a gusano worm. The proprietary mix of fruits, herbs, nuts and spices have been added to the still itself to add depth to the smoky spirit, while the Pechuga (usually chicken, but could be anything and has famously been as extravagant as an Iberico ham leg) adds weight and texture to the mouthfeel. 

Often, pechugas are made for specific occasions like celebrations and rites of passage, while historically, Pechuga was considered something of a seasonal mezcal, distilled in the Autumn when fruits and herbs are abundant and ready for harvest.

Pulque

Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the agave plant. 

It is not the equivalent to a wort (in relation to Whisky) or wine (in relation to Brandy) that can then be distilled into Tequila, it’s a completely different drink altogether. It is made by fermenting the sap of certain types of agave plants. In contrast, Tequila & Mezcal is made from the cooked heart of an agave plant.

Pulque is traditional to central Mexico, where it has been produced for millennia. It remains widely popular, and many find its flavour addictively zingy (reminiscent of kombucha). The plain variety of Pulque (there are flavoured versions) has an opaque milky colour. It’s quite sweet, a little fizzy and bright on the tongue with a subtle yeasty note.

Proof

Proof is a measure of the content of ethanol (alcohol) in an alcoholic beverage. In the United States, alcohol ‘proof’ is defined as twice the percentage of ABV. 

See ABV

Polishing ratio

Polishing is a process of removing layers in rice grains used in the production of Sake. The Polishing Ratio is the extent to which they have done it. 

Brewers begin with whole grains of brown rice, which they slowly remove the outer layers (or husk) from using a rice polishing machine (this leaves them with white rice). Most producers usually continue this process on to the middle layers. 

The polishing ratio is calculated as a percentage of the white rice remaining, meaning a highly polished rice grain will have a low number (like 40%), as that’s all that’s left of the grain compared to when it started.

The polishing ratio has a significant impact on the style and flavour of the sake. If a brewer only polishes away some layers, the resulting sake will be likely to have more umami flavours, whereas if they decide to remove almost all layers and getting as close to pure starch as they can - the resulting sake will most likely have a fruity and floral aroma. It also has an impact on price as that the more layers they remove, the less they can produce and therefore the higher the polish, the more expensive the sake.

Peat (Phenols)

Peat is decomposed organic plant matter that has been compressed in the ground for thousands of years. It is essentially young coal.

The “peaty” flavour in Scotch occurs during the malting process when peat is burned in the kiln. When it is burned, peat produces an especially aromatic smoke which imbues the drying barley with compounds called ‘phenols’ and gives it the typical flavours of smoke, tar, ash and iodine.

Peaty’ness is measured in phenol parts per million. A lightly peated whisky may measure up to 10-20 parts, while there will be a very noticeable peated note to whiskies above 50ppm. The full-blown bonfires at the bottom of your glass and TCP at the back of your throat weigh in at over 150ppm.