Glossary: N

Noble Rot

Noble Rot is the beneficial form of a grey fungus, Botrytis cinerea, affecting wine grapes. 

It predominantly occurs on ripe vines when the weather remains wet, as infestation by Botrytis requires moist conditions. If grapes become infected but are then exposed to drier conditions and become partially raisined, it is known as noble rot. Grapes picked at a certain point during this ‘infestation’ can produce particularly fine and concentrated sweet wine. 

Although not ideal, due to the blending process most houses implement, Noble Rot is less of an issue from flavour perspective for Brandy and Cognac, although they carefully monitor their vineyards as it can affect yields.

Navy Strength

Navy Strength is a term that’s used to describe the alcoholic strength of a gin or rum. It’s not protected by law or a regulated term, but for Gin it is widely accepted as 57% ABV, while in Rum, it is 54.5% ABV.

The reason for this difference is convoluted, but to paraphrase… Bartholomew Sikes invented an accurate hydrometer in 1816 and declared 100 proof at just over 57% alcohol by volume. Sikes' new scale was adopted in law in 1818 but the British Navy conducted its own tests to establish the strength their rum should be issued at, and declared that 54.5% ABV was the number they were going to adopt as standard “Navy Strength”.

As there are many records of Rum being sold at Navy Strength, it’s clear that this the official ABV of the Navy and a part of the Rum category’s heritage. 

Gin as a category is different due to the fact that there are little to no records to show the ABV it was sold at (just that Gin was indeed sold to the Navy by the hundreds of gallons). The only remaining brand that had a connection to that era and who still produced their gin, Plymouth Gin (who incidentally coined the phrase Navy Strength for the category in a marketing decision to place it on label in the late 90’s), is bottled at 57% ABV. Combine this % with being the logical ABV based on the Sikes hydrometer and this became the adopted norm for a new generation of craft gin distillers. 

New Make

A term used for Whisky; New Make spirit is the un-aged malt spirit that flows off the still (usually around 65-75% ABV). For most types of whisky (e.g. Scotch) it’s obliged to rest in oak for several years before emerging as the finished article, but today an increasing number of distilleries are choosing to share their theirs with the public as a preview of what’s to come. 

NGS / Neutral Spirit

NGS (sometimes also referred to as GNS) refers to Neutral Grain Spirit. Neutral spirit, also known as neutral alcohol, rectified alcohol or ethyl alcohol is highly concentrated ethanol distilled until it reaches a min of 95% ABV (higher in Europe). 

Think of NGS as a raw form of vodka. 

NGS is an integral base for spirits like Gin as well as key to ‘cut’ liqueurs and make bitters. The really cheap vodkas are actually just NGS cut with water to bottling strength. It can be made from grains, grapes, molasses, potatoes, and many other agricultural origins (like apples or rice). 

Neutral spirits are considered to be neutral in flavour and odour but contrary to popular belief this is not quite true. There are variations among the neutral spirits, some very noticeable to taste, with some having different mouthfeels and ways of “carrying” flavour. For example, wheat will be more creamy and slightly sweet, potato will be fuller mouthfeel, while rye has a warming bite on the finish. 

The suppliers, the process, scale and agricultural origin of a Neutral Spirit all play a role in shaping the spirit, and while subtle, this is carried over into the flavour. Some suppliers even grade them in neutrality and while their inert nature is a talking point, it is more of a subjective preference and their suitability to match a recipe or a distiller’s intention which makes one better than another.