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Spirits are one of the main ingredients in mixed drinks, along with other alcoholic beverages, mixers and garnishes. They are prepared by distillation from a fermented substance such as fruit, vegetables, grain, sugar cane, cactus juice, etc. The word spirits generally refers to distilled beverages low in sugars and containing at least 40º proof / 20% ABV (alcohol by volume). (In Germany distilled beverages as low as 15% ABV (30ºproof) are considered spirits.)

1½ ounces of 40% ABV / 80ºproof spirits contains about 1 American Standard Unit of Alcohol (which is 14 grams of alcohol, or about 18 ml/0.6 ozs. by volume). This is much higher than the United Kingdom's unit which is 7.9 g/10 ml. This must be borne in mind when calculating units of alcohol in drink recipes.

Brandy[edit | edit source]

  • 40-60% ABV (80-120º proof)

Brandy (short for 'brandywine', from Dutch brandewijn—'burnt wine') is a general term for distilled wine. In addition to wine, this spirit can also be made from grape pomace or fermented fruit juice. Unless specified otherwise, brandy is made from grape wine. It is normally consumed as an after-dinner drink. Brandy made from wine is often colored with caramel coloring to imitate the effect of long aging in wooden casks; pomace and fruit brandies are generally drunk un-aged, and are not usually colored. Cognac is the most highly regarded spirit in this category.

Cachaça[edit | edit source]

With Cachaça you make the famous long drink Caipirinha. Cachaça is made by the distillation of fermented squeezed sugar cane, and is a very common drink in Brazil. It is also called Pinga or Aguardente. People drink it mostly pure, straight up, room temperature, no ice, nothing on it, on a very small glass like tequila type glass, or vodka type glass. In Brazil it is an inexpensive drink, but not in Europe, since it has to be imported. There are some old brands that can cost quite a lot. It can be found in many supermarkets all around Europe. A simple drink can be made with Cachaça, honey and lemon, serve in the same small glass, no ice, room temperature. Cachaça can be used also as an ingredient in many long drinks, called Batidas (shaken) with fruits, sweet condensed milk, and a lot of ice. The most famous long drink is Caipirinha, very refreshing, and very strong: one whole lime cut in 8 equal parts (don´t peel), two soup spoons of sugar, squeeze both inside a glass with a thick stick, smash the lime with the sugar until all the juice is mixed with sugar, (serve with the cutted lime wedges on stick bagasse in the glass)(use a long glass type, or short fat glass), add a lot of Cachaça usually 60-70ml, and a lot of ice, mix, drink, and forget.

Gin[edit | edit source]

  • 37.5% ABV (75º proof)

Gin is a spirit, or strong alcoholic beverage. It is made from the distillation of an agricultural source and juniper berries, which provide its distinctive flavor. The taste of ordinary gin is very dry, and as such it is frequently mixed with other beverages. It should not be confused with sloe gin, a sweet liqueur traditionally made from sloes (the fruit of the blackthorn) infused in gin.

The most common style of gin, typically used for mixed drinks, is "London dry gin", which refers not to brand, marque, or origin, but to a distillation process. London dry gin is a high-proof spirit, usually produced in a column still and re-distilled after the botanicals are added to the base spirit. In addition to juniper, it is usually made with a small amount of citrus botanicals like lemon and bitter orange peel. Other botanicals that may be used include anise, angelica root, orris root, cinnamon, coriander, and cassia bark. The dry character and forward juniper flavor of these gins allows them to be mixed with comparatively sweet ingredients without becoming overwhelmed, whereas sweeter or more subtle gins might disappear, making the cocktail more like a vodka cocktail with none of the classic aromatic gin character.

A well-made gin will be very dry with a smooth texture lacking in harshness. The flavor will be harmonious yet have a crisp character with a pronounced juniper flavor.

Compound gin is gin where the juniper flavoring is added to the neutral spirit and there is no re-distillation

Rum[edit | edit source]

  • 37.5 - 57% ABV (75 - 114º proof)

The production of rum dates back to the seventeenth century. It is distilled from either fermented sugarcane-juice or fermented molasses, and can be nearly colorless and faintly aromatic with a light body, or dark brown with a heavy body, flavorful and having a rich aroma.

Most of the world's rum comes from the Caribbean. Puerto Rico is home of the white or silver rum which is clear and light in body and flavor. Puerto Rican golden and amber rums have a deeper color and flavor, while Jamaican and Cuban rums are rich and full-bodied.

The distillation process decides the flavor and aroma of the rum, with continuous- or patent-still distillation giving a light-bodied rum, and the traditional pot still a richer and heavy-bodied rum. Some rums are given additional flavor by the addition of herbs, spices or fruits.

The color of the rum depends on how the rum is aged. Most rum is aged in charred oak casks giving it a brownish or yellowish color, frequently enhanced with caramel, while rum aged in steel tanks remains colorless.

In bartending, rum is one of the most important liquors. It is used in a variety of classic cocktails including the Cuba Libre, Mai Tai, Daiquiri and Piña Colada. It can also be served neat (straight) or on the rocks.

Schnapps[edit | edit source]

  • 20 - 40% ABV (40 - 80º proof)

Schnapps is a type of distilled beverage. The word "schnapps" is derived from the German word Schnaps and refers to usually clear alcoholic beverages distilled from fermented grains, roots, or fruits, including cherries (Kirschwasser), apples, pears, plums, and apricots. German Schnaps has no sugar or flavoring added, but American schnapps typically do have these additives. German Schnaps has a light fruit flavor and is similar to eau-de-vie. Its alcohol content is usually around 40% by volume.

American schnapps (such as peach schnapps and butterscotch schnapps) are different from true German Schnaps. They are produced by a method that does not involve fermentation. They are made from grain alcohol, to which flavoring and sugar are added. Their alcohol content can be as low as 15% by volume.

Tequila[edit | edit source]

  • 40% ABV (80º proof)

Tequila is a spirit made primarily in the area surrounding Tequila, a town in Mexico. It is made from the Tequila agave - the blue agave. Tequila is most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80º proof), but there are also several varieties of Tequila produced with 43–46% alcohol content (86–92º proof).

Tequila is technically a type of Mezcal. While the agave hearts are roasted or grilled in the production of standard Mezcal, the agave is instead baked in the production of Tequila. Thus, Tequila does not have the distinctive smokey flavor typically found in a Mezcal.

Mexican law no longer requires that tequila be entirely composed of blue agave distillates, and lower-quality tequilas known as mixtos may contain up to 49% other, more cheaply obtained distillates, resulting in many off-flavors and a generally unpleasant taste. These tequilas are often labeled as "gold", and are often artificially coloured to resemble the natural gold color of aged tequilas such as reposados and anejos. Be sure to only purchase tequila which is clearly labeled "100% de agave", even for mixing purposes.

Many people prefer the simpler but more vegetal taste of blanco (un-aged and clear colored, also known as silver or platinum) tequilas for cocktails, but slightly aged reposado tequilas may do equally well, so experiment. However, anejo tequilas (aged longer in a series of different barrels) are almost always very complex and subtle, and should be drunk neat or on the rocks, as mixing them would mask much of their interest and be a waste.

Vodka[edit | edit source]

Vodka is purified by distillation from a fermented substance such as grain or molasses, and it usually has an alcohol content of 35% to 50% by volume (70 - 100º proof). Vodka consists primarily of water and alcohol (ethanol), and sometimes various flavorings. Most other spirits are defined by using a specific grain, vegetable or fruit. Although vodka is traditionally known for being produced from grains, potatoes and grapes, it can actually be created from nearly any other vegetable or fruit.

While most spirits are distilled until reaching the desired proof or alcohol content, vodka is instead distilled until it is almost entirely ethanol. At this point, there are no other properties in the spirit to impart any flavors or odors, aside from the ethanol itself. The ethanol is then mixed with water at a ratio of approximately 40:60. This is why vodka is traditionally known as being flavorless and odorless, making it a popular spirit for use in cocktails.

Whiskey[edit | edit source]

  • 40 - 53.5% ABV (80 - 107º proof) and higher (barrel proof)

Whisky (Scottish Gaelic: uisge-beatha}, or whiskey (Irish: uisce beatha), refers to a broad category of alcoholic beverages that are distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden casks (generally oak).

Different grains are used for different varieties, including: barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and maize (corn). Whisky derives from the Gaelic word for "water" (uisce or usige), and is called in full uisge-beatha (in Scotland) or uisce beatha (Ireland), meaning "Water of Life". It is related to the Latin aqua vitae, also meaning "water of life". It is always Scotch whisky, and Irish whiskey; other countries may use either spelling.

Types of whisky[edit | edit source]

Whisky or whisky-like products are produced in most grain-growing areas. They differ in base product, alcoholic content, and quality.

Scotch whiskies[edit | edit source]

Scotch whiskies are generally distilled twice, though some are distilled a third time. Laws in many countries require anything bearing the label "Scotch" to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks. Whiskies do not mature in the bottle, only in the cask, so the "age" of a scotch is the time between distillation and bottling. This reflects how much the cask has interacted with the whisky, changing its chemical makeup and taste. If Scotch whisky is from more than one cask, and if it includes an age statement on the bottle, it must reflect the age of the youngest whisky in the blend. Many cask-strength single malts also omit the age as they use younger elements in minute amounts for flavoring and mellowing.

The two basic types of Scotch are Malt and Grain.
  • Malt is whisky made entirely from malted barley and distilled in an onion-shaped pot still.
  • Grain is made from malted and unmalted barley along with other grains, usually in a continuous column still. Until recently it was only used in blends—but there are now some "Single Grain" scotches being marketed.
Malts and Grains are combined in various ways
  • Vatted malt is blended from malt whiskies from different distilleries. If a whisky is labeled "pure malt" or just "malt" it is almost certain to be a vatted whisky. This is also sometimes labeled as "Blended Malt" whisky.
  • Single malt whisky is malt whisky from a single distillery. However, unless the whisky is described as "single-cask" it will contain whisky from many casks, so the blender can achieve a taste recognizable as typical of the distillery . In most cases, the name of a single malt will be that of the distillery (The Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Bowmore), with an age statement and perhaps some indication of some special treatments such as maturation in a port wine cask. Some single malts (often made to attract a premium price from less sophisticated drinkers abroad) will be given a special name.
  • Blended whiskies are normally cheaper whiskies made from a mixture of Malt and Grain whiskies. A whisky simply described as Scotch Whisky is most likely to be a blend in this sense. A blend is usually from many distilleries so that the blender can produce a flavor consistent with the brand, and the brand name (e.g. Bell's, Chivas Regal) will usually not therefore contain the name of a distillery. However, "Blend" can (less frequently) have other meanings. A mixture of malts (with no grain) from different distilleries (more usually called a vatted malt) may sometimes be referred to as a "Blended Malt", and a mixtures of grain whiskies with no malts will sometimes carry the designation "Blended Grain".

Japanese whiskies[edit | edit source]

Japanese whiskies generally fit within the Scotch tradition and can be categorised using the above typology.

Irish whiskeys[edit | edit source]

Irish whiskeys are generally distilled three times and must be aged in wooden casks for a period of not less than three years.[1] Unpeated malt is almost always used, meaning they have none of the smoky character of scotch, and are more suitable for mixing.

Canadian whiskies[edit | edit source]

Canadian whiskies have the regulatory requirement[2] of being aged for at least three years in a barrel. Most Canadian whiskies are blended multi-grain whiskies.

American whiskeys[edit | edit source]

American whiskeys include both straights and blends. To be called "straight" the whiskey must be one of the "named types" listed in the federal regulations and aged in oak casks for at least two years. The most common of the "named types" are;

  • Bourbon, which must be made from at least 51% corn (maize), aged in new charred oak barrels, bottled at 80 proof or higher, and produced in Kentucky.
  • Tennessee, which is identical to Bourbon whiskey, with the exception of being made in Tennessee and undergoing the Lincoln County Process (filtering through maple charcoal).
  • Rye, which must be at least 51% rye.
  • Corn, which is made from a mash made up of at least 80% corn (maize). The whiskey is distilled to not more than 80 percent alcohol by volume. It does not have to be aged but, if it is aged, it must be in new uncharred oak barrels or used barrels. Aging usually is brief, i.e., six months. During aging the whiskey picks up color and flavor and its harshness is reduced.
All straight American whiskeys except straight corn whiskey must be aged in new casks that have been charred on their inside surface. American blended whiskeys combine straight whiskey with un-aged whiskey, grain neutral spirits, flavorings and colorings. These definitions are part of U.S. law. Not defined by the law but important in the marketplace is Tennessee whiskey, of which Jack Daniel's is the leading example. It is identical to bourbon in almost every important respect. The most recognizable difference is that Tennessee whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal, giving it a unique flavor and aroma.

Pure pot still whiskey[edit | edit source]

Pure pot still whiskey refers to Irish whiskey made from a combination of malted and unmalted barley and distilled in a pot still.

Welsh whisky[edit | edit source]

Indian whisky[edit | edit source]

Indian whisky is an alcoholic beverage that is labeled as "whisky" in India. Much Indian whisky is distilled from fermented molasses, and as such would be considered a sort of rum outside of the Indian subcontinent.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Government of Ireland, Irish Whiskey Act, 1980 [1]
  2. Food and Drugs Act, Food and Drug Regulations (C.R.C., c. 870) [2]