The Silliest Words in Whiskey - The Whiskey Wash

The Silliest Words in Whiskey

Maybe it’s because nothing goes better with a glass of whiskey than a good laugh, but the world of distilling is chock-full of silly words. Stills can puke, pockets can jangle with copper dogs, thumpers can burble, and the number of potentially hilarious bunghole jokes is the closest thing we whiskey lovers have to a true sense of infinity. Here are some of our favorite laugh, snicker, and guffaw-producing words and phrases from the world of whiskey.

Bung

These workers at Heaven Hill are careful to make sure the distillery’s eight millionth barrel comes to rest bung up.

This simple syllable is the source of more tried-and-true tasting room jokes and tongue-in-cheek industry banter than any other word in distilling. Yet it’s also frequently misunderstood. “Bung” refers to the small wooden plug that seals the barrel by fitting tightly into the “bung hole,” the circular hole drilled in the side of the barrel.

Because the bung is such an important part of the whiskey world, it lends humor to dozens of situations. Removing the bung to smell the whiskey inside the barrel? You’re “nosing the bunghole.” Warehouse workers work hard to make sure each barrel is racked “bung up” to avoid leakage from a faulty bunghole. Bunghole too small to fit a standard bung? You need to find yourself a bunghole reamer, a special tool used to enlarge bungholes and return a number of startling, NSFW Google search results. Spend enough time around barrels, and the bung jokes start write themselves.

Puking

Get these stills at BenRiach Distillery too hot, and they could start puking – and nobody wants that!

No, we’re not talking about what happens if you drink way too much whiskey (although there are some similarities). In the distilling world, “puking” is when a pot still gets too hot and sends mash up into the neck, fouling the distillate. In both the over-drinking and over-heating case, it’s something to be avoided.

Another ridiculously named distilling device, the slobberbox, was invented to combat the problems of puking. Instead of following a smooth, straight line, the lyne arm deposits its vapor inside a box—the slobberbox—then continues on the other side of the box, giving any foam, mash, or other heavy components from the pot a place to settle out—something like a deep eddy in a river. The slobberbox can be drained from the bottom, allowing distillers to empty it periodically without interrupting the distillation.

Copper Dog

Lagavulin

Drawing whisky from the casks at Lagavulin. These two are using a thief, but a copper dog is sneakier. (image copyright The Whiskey Wash/Lindsay Brandon)

Distillery dogs are a thriving tradition, but a copper dog isn’t a sweet, fuzzy critter you take on walks. Instead, it refers to a little home-made device made from copper tubing sealed on one end with a copper penny that distillery workers used to use to sneak a few drams home from work. On a chain, it’s just the right size to dip into the bunghole (See what I did there?) and thieve a few ounces right from the barrel, then stop up with a cork and nestle in your pocket until the day’s work is done.

Depheglemator

Dephlegmator

This German brandy still is equipped with a dephlegmator, marked with number 11. Image via Wikicommons

This hard-to-spell word comes to us from the German, who invented this little device to make better. It’s basically a box that’s criss-crossed with little tubes full of cold water. It sits on the top of the column of some kinds of stills, where it gives the vapor more opportunities to bounce into cold surfaces, re-condense, drop back into the pot, and be vaporized again, a process referred to as reflux. Distillers can change the temperature of the water inside the tubes, for different effects.

Oh, and it’s pronounced “dee-FEG-luh-may-ter.”

About the author

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is a food and drinks writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, the managing editor of Edible Portland, and a regular contributor to local and national publications.