Glossary: S

Staves

A stave is a narrow strip of wood that forms part of the sides of a cask. They vary a little in width but typically a whisky, rum or cognac ready barrel (around 200-225L) is made up of 31 to 33 staves with two lids either end.

See Charring

Straight up

To have something served “Straight up” means getting a spirit without ice. For the likes of Vodka you could reasonably expect the spirit to be chilled, whereas order a Whisk(e)y straight up in a bar and it’ll be served neat in a tumbler.

Saccharification

Saccharification literally means “to make into sugar”. It’s when the conversion of starch into fermentable sugars and dextrins occurs. For cereals it happens during the malting and mashing process, while for other base materials it can occur at earlier stages (such as the roasting and milling stage for agave).

Single Malt

Single Malt whisky is malt whisky from a single distillery. It doesn’t mean that the whisky is from a single cask – many of the famous names blend hundreds of casks together to create their signature taste profiles. The “Single” just means that it is a Malt Whisky entirely made by one distillery.

See Blended

Sling (cocktail)

A sling is a traditional family of cocktail that was historically made with sugar, hot or cold water, spice (most typically nutmeg), and a spirit. The sling was intended to be a single-serving punch and over the years it has evolved. Its modern form, it is almost always made with Gin, sweet vermouth, lemon juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and soda water.

The Singapore Sling is  the most famous “sling” cocktail and is attributed to Raffles bartender Ngiam Tong Boon who created it in the early 20th century (containing Gin, Grand Marnier, cherry liqueur, herbal liqueur, pineapple juice, lime juice, bitters, and club soda). It is a variant of the Gin Sling. 

Silent Distillery

Silent distilleries are distilleries that are no longer in operation. Some have just been mothballed for a while (usually due to financial constraints or because of a new site opening elsewhere that relocated the bulk of production) while others may have been abandoned and demolished completely.

The bottlings and casks from these distilleries can gain cult status, especially on the secondary market with many of the auction houses’ big-ticket items coming from there. Some famous Scotch names include Port Ellen, Rosebank, Coleburn while Karuizawa Japanese Whisky (closed since 2001) enjoys near mythic status.

Sotol

Think of Sotol as Mezcal and Tequila’s lesser-known cousin. It’s a fiery spirit made from wild agave plants, Sotol is finally beginning to achieve international recognition.  

Sotol is made by distilling an Agave sub-species commonly known as Desert Spoon (or, in Spanish; Sotol), a plant that grows in northern Mexico. It’s the state drink of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila.

The Desert Spoon makes for a tricky harvest. It takes approximately 15 years to mature and yields very little – on average only one bottle of sotol per plant. Equally, it typically grows on rocky slopes in the Chihuahuan desert grassland between 3,000 and 6,500 feet above sea level making it harder to access. Unlike the Blue agave used for Tequila, which flowers only once in its lifetime, sotols produce a flower stalk every few years. 

Production is similar to that of Tequila: the outer leaves are removed to reveal the heart, which is taken back to the distillery. The heart of the plant can then be cooked, shredded, fermented, and distilled. Classifications are also similar to Tequila - Plata, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo. While each brand is different, in general Sotol is characterised by its subdued, grassy character, often with smoky and earthy undertones.

Sour Mash

Sour mashing is a process used in the distilling industry (predominantly American Whiskey) that uses the leftover material from an older batch of mash to start the fermentation of a new batch - much like the starter in sourdough bread. The spent mash, (also called Backset or Stillage) helps lower the PH in new batches, regulate bacterial growth and ensure flavour continuity from batch to batch.

Some distillers use up to a third of Backset in their new ferments (although it’s more commonly a quarter). While this process gives added character to the resulting whiskey – critically, it doesn’t mean that once distilled and matured the whiskey inside is sour.

See Backset, Dunder for more related to the process.

Single Shot

Single shot distilling, (also known as One shot) refers to gin production. It means that once the botanicals have been distilled, the resulting spirit is diluted with water in order to reach the alcoholic strength required for bottling. 

See multi-shot.

 

 

Single Estate

There is no formal definition of ‘single estate’ spirits, but it is widely understood that producers source the vast majority of ingredients, or at least the primary ingredient, for their product from one specific area of land (much like you would expect single estate coffee to be). 

Typically the distillery in question also owns this area of land and/or played a role in overseeing the growth and harvesting of the produce, but it’s not always the case. 

For example, a Cognac created from eau-de-vie that’s been grown on a single vineyard is sometimes described as single estate, because it is different to the usual practice of blending eaux-de-vie made from grapes sourced from various different estates and/or regions.

Rum pushes the concept a little more loosely, where Molasses rums can be deemed as ‘single estate’ if the producers own sugar factories and therefore use their own molasses in their production process, (even if they may not own all the cane fields the starting ingredient comes from or that the cane was grown at multiple farms). Make of that what you will…

Single Estate is different from Farm to Bottle, as it’s less about a from scratch production process and more about the terroir of the raw material itself.

Sours (cocktail)

A sour is a traditional family of cocktail. Sours are considered as being one of the original cocktails, with references in print dating back to 1862. Sours contain a base Spirit (Whisky or Amaretto being the most common), lemon or lime juice, and a sweetener like sugar syrup. Egg whites are also included in some sours but not always.