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the angels’ share

whisky evaporation

TRANSLATION

the angels’ share = die Menge eines alkoholischen Getränks (wie Cognac, Brandy oder Whisky), die durch Verdunstung verloren geht, wenn die Flüssigkeit in porösen Eichenfässern reift

STATISTICS

IN THE PRESS

“Ministers to review whether ‘ANGELS’ SHARE’ of whisky harms environment”

Alistair Grant - Headline in The Scotsman (14th August 2022)

Did you
know?

the angels’ share
noun phrase

- the amount of an alcoholic drink (such as cognac, brandy, or whiskey*) that is lost to evaporation when the liquid is being aged in porous oak barrels

Merriam-Webster

*Whiskey (with an ‘e’) refers to grain spirits distilled in Ireland and the United States. Whisky (with no ‘e’) refers to Scottish, Canadian, or Japanese grain spirits.


PHRASE ORIGIN

The term “whisky” derives originally from the Gaelic uisge beatha, or usquebaugh, meaning ‘water of life’. Gaelic is that branch of Celtic spoken in the Highlands of Scotland.

“The angels’ share” is a loan translation from the French la part des anges. Originally, the angels’ share related specifically to cognac, a high-quality brandy distilled from wine in the area of Cognac, a town in the department of Charente, in western France.


EVAPORATION ECONOMICS

The amount lost in Scotland amounts to only 1-2%, in contrast with considerably warmer climates such as India or Australia where evaporation can reach as high as 12%.

There are currently around 22 million barrels of whisky maturing in Scotland. If you assume that around 2 percent of the content of the cask is lost as angels’ share, this corresponds to around 110,000,000 liters of whisky disappearing annually. Phrased another way 440,000 casks, enough to fill 44 olympic sized swimming pools and equivalent to the amount of wine produced by the whole of Switzerland in a year.


ANCIENT FUNGUS

Not all of the ethanol that escapes from the oak barrels is reserved for the angels alone. An ancient organism competes for their share: Baudoinia compniacensis, millions of years older than humans.

This black, soot-like fungus also feeds on the evaporating ethanol, but needs a high level of humidity for at least a few seasons in order to support its colony formation. It grows on the walls of warehouses and even spreads to surrounding trees, shrubs, and buildings where it can reach a thickness of 1-2 cm.

In the ancient town of Cognac, warehouse roofs are blackened with the lichen which grows only where the fumes of the “angels’ share” of cognac leaks from the maturing casks (1,200,000 bottles a year from Martell alone).

If you do not see a blackened warehouse, this is an indication that the whiskies are not maturing locally but elsewhere.

Adapted from Whiskypedia


THE DEVIL’S CUT

If the angels get their share, the devil also demands his. The expression “the devil’s cut” refers to the loss of distillate which is absorbed by the wood of the casks. In this case, since it is not evaporation, the devil’s cut does not affect the alcohol content of the product, but depends solely on the porosity of the wood used.


SMUGGLE OWAD into an English conversation, say something like:

“Ask any Scot to tell you about THE ANGELS’ SHARE and be prepared for an interesting discussion.”


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