The Different Types of Liquor demystified
Want a shot of liquor? Or would you like a bottle instead? If you have ever answered this question affirmatively at a liquor bar then the next question would obviously either be what kind of liquor or what kind of shot do you want?
Well, this question as direct as it may seem might not be easily answered by some people when they find themselves at a bar or at a party. Sometimes the situation becomes jumps from complication to embarrassment when the subject tries to play smart by asking “what do you have?” Uhm… but there are many bottles of liquor in front of you, can you identify and pick exactly what suits your taste? Sometimes you can be given time to figure out what you want while the bartender or event host serve others. But does that help? Are you bold enough to ask for assistance? Do you even enjoy the drink after finally making a choice from either guidance from a friend or guesswork? Well, today you will be freed from such future embarrassments after reading this article about different types of liquor and how they taste, where they are made and a little history of their existence… Basically, Whisky/Whiskey, Brandy, Liqueur, Vodka, Gin, Rum, and Tequila are the most common liquor type that you are most likely consuming either at home or at the commercial entertainment spot. There are several laws governing the production and distributions of whiskies but for the purpose of this blog, we will not go into those details. Anyone interested in becoming a liquor merchant can refer to several resources available online.
Liqueur often confused with liquor, is a type of sweet alcoholic drink made from flowers, nuts, spices, herbs and some type of alcohol. Basically, liqueurs are sweetened liquors. They are bold enough to stand on their own but also make great mixers, examples include grand manner, baileys etc..
Before we delve into the science that differentiates these liquor types, it is imperative that we define what liquor is. Hence the definition goes thus; Liquor is alcohol beverage that is derived from fermentation of sugars through distillation. Now that is verbiage huh? True because most of you reading me either didn’t pay attention to your elementary chemistry teacher or must have forgotten since it’s been long or didn’t attend chemistry classes at all or probably didn’t formerly attend school. Fermentation and Distillation are the two boss words here and basically, these two terms would feature in the production of other types of alcohol. Fermentation is simply the breaking down of sugar to produce alcohol while distillation purifies the alcohol by eliminating the water content through heating and cooling. Since this isn’t a chemistry class, I will limit the definition and derivation of liquor at this level for the sake of simplicity.
To start with the different types of liquor let’s start with the giant in this industry – Whisky/Whiskey
Whisky is the liquor derived from distilled grains and allowed to mature in wooden barrels. Now, what the heck does that mean? This means grains such as corn, barley, oats, malt, wheat etc can be used to produce whisky. Every country due to climate and vegetation has a different kind of grain that they use to produce their own whisky. Malt, for example, is the grain used in Scotland (top whisky producer in the world) while Rye and Corn are used in America (Second largest producer of whisky). Now that whisky has been defined, what the heck then is whiskey? Well, the answer is whisky. In case you still don’t get it, whisky is whiskey, it’s just a spelling difference from Ireland. Ireland decided they will spell whisky whiskey don’t ask me why you may want to ask why the USA spells Flavour “Flavor”. It is worth noting that the whisky family is very broad. The reason is that different countries grow different grains, hence – the whiskies differences. The most commonly drunk whiskies being distributed around the world are Scotch (from Scotland), Bourbon, Rye (from America) and Irish (from Ireland).
- Scotch is the powerhouse in the world of whisky. It is produced from malted barley grains in Scotland, hence the name Scottish Malt as commonly written on Scotch whisky bottles. The prerequisite for scotch production and distribution is that it must be stored and allowed to mature for at least 3 years in wooden casks/barrels, the reason why Scotch whiskies must be accompanied with an age statement. These barrels are sometimes imported from other countries like the Spain and United States. They may be recycled barrels that previously held bourbon or sherry which help in the aromatization and smoothness of the whisky.
For Scotch to be called Scotch the aging must be done in Scotland. What this implies is that barley and other grains used in the production of this type of liquor can be grown and malted anywhere in the world but the aging in oak barrels must occur in Scotland. Scotch comes in 5 categories and is produced in 6 different regions across Scotland. Each region makes a great impact on the taste, flavor, aroma, texture, and color of the Scotch. A post solely dedicated to Scotch in which we will get into the granularity of Scotch styles and categories will be made in the days ahead… Some popular Scotch whiskies include; Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Johny Walker, Shivas Regal etc
- Bourbon is directly behind Scotch in the whiskey world and it’s made in America. Unlike scotch which is made from barley, bourbon is primarily made from Corn. Also worthy of note here is the fact that bourbon can be made of a mixture of multiple grains like corn, wheat, rye, barley etc also called Mash but corn remains the dominant grain which must be 51% for the whisky to be called bourbon. Generally, bourbon is sweeter than Scotch because of the dominance of corn in the mash which sometimes makes it difficult for bourbon lovers to cope with Scotch. Popular bourbon whiskies are; Four Roses, Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon, Maker’s Mark, Colonel E.H. Taylor etc
- Irish whiskey comes from Ireland and it can be made from malted and unmalted barley. Compared to Scotch, Irish whiskey contains much more barley and does not have that Smokey, burnt-rubber taste that peat provides to Scotch. Unlike Scotch which is distilled twice, Irish whiskey goes through three rounds of distillation before reaching the final bottling stage. Most common Irish Whiskey is Jameson, other brands you should know are Midleton, Green Spot and, Tullamore Dew
Fun fact: The Irish are widely acknowledged as being the first country to distill whiskey, although this’s absolutely contested by the Scots. The Bushmills distillery, for instance, is actually the world’s oldest qualified distillery, founded in 1608. Legally, Irish whiskey must be aged in Ireland for at least three years in wooden casks to be considered Irish whiskey!
- Canadian Whisky must be fermented, distilled and aged in Canada. That’s it. And just like bourbon, Canadian whisky is usually made from several different grains even though corn is often most prevalent. For a while, rye was a popular addition, hence the name interchangeability in Canada. However, unlike bourbon, in Canada each grain is usually fermented, distilled and aged separately. The blending occurs at the very end, which means the amount of rye added to each combination varies widely. Canada’s Food and Drugs Act require that whisky labeled as “Canadian Whisky”, “Canadian Rye Whisky” or “Rye Whisky” be mashed, distilled and aged at least three years in Canada. Popular Canadian whiskies you should know are; Canadian Mist, Crown Royal, Canadian Club etc.
- Brandy is actually a distilled fermented fruit beverage. Technically any distilled fermented fresh fruits are actually brandies, though most often, brandy is made by distilling grapes that are fermented (it’s like distilling wine in other words).
Brandy is often aged in solid wood barrels to give the spirit taste, feel, and aroma. And those brandies are typically accompanied by an age statement with several of the greatest being aged for a handful of years! Unlike whisky which has its age statement in years printed on the bottles, brandies bear a distinct type of age statement categorized as vs, vsop, and xo. VS or Very Special indicates the liquor is aged 2years, VSOP or Very Superior Old Pale represents an aging of at least 4years while XO or Extra Old implies the spirit is aged for at least 6years.
The French are actually probably the best known for their brandy production and distribution worldwide labeled – Cognac (e.g Hennessy, Remy Martin, Courvoisier etc). The French poetically refer to their brandies as “eau de vie,” or “water of life,” and the best of them are priced higher than other spirits with some going for thousands of dollars. Cognac (made from grapes) is by far the most popular brandy that comes from the Cognac region in France. Armagnac (also produced from grapes) is actually another high-quality French brandy also from the Armagnac region. Cognac and brandy are often confused or lets me say both terms are used interchangeably, but technically speaking, all cognacs are brandies but not all brandies are Cognacs. Cognac is a French brandy symbolically referencing the region where the brandy is made. Brandies are also made in the US, for example, E&G and Paul Mason.
It is worth making the difference here very clear. A brandy is not a whisky! If you ever approach a bartender or liquor sales person and demand a bottle of whisky and they ask you “what type ?” Please in the name of liquor; do not respond “Hennessy”! It’s like walking into a fastfood restaurant and ordering a pizza and they ask u what kind, and you respond “quarter pounder “. In essence, whiskies are made from grains while brandies are made from grapes!!!
- Vodka is identified as a neutral flavored, clear spirit. Which essentially means that vodka ought to be tasteless, odorless, as well as colorless (like water). But vodka does have really faint flavors which are distinguishable between brands. Some are actually peppery, while others are creamy, and some have hints of grain or citrus. That said, it is difficult to distinguish these illusive flavors even when you are consuming vodka straight, except for gents with the very best predictive tongues. And of all of the liquors within the world, vodka is actually the most ‘pure’ with the least flavor.
Due to vodka’s flavorlessness, it is incredibly versatile in cocktails. Its capacity to showcase various other ingredients flavors and aromas is compared to none since it has little or no flavor! Whereas various other spirits that have a lot more unique flavors do not usually blend well with various other products when it comes to making cocktails.
Vodka is frequently made from grains or potatoes (mostly cereals). But technically, vodka can be manufactured from whatever. For instance, Ciroc vodka is actually made from grapes. So long as the spirit is actually a neutral flavored (flavorless as well as odorless), distinct spirit and is actually bottled at around forty % ABV, it can be vodka.
- Gin has always been an extremely popular spirit. But lately, it has become much more fashionable. It likely has a thing to do with the quantity of distilleries which have begun experimenting with various botanicals.
Like vodka, gin is actually a sure spirit and it mixes nicely with various other products. But the thing that makes gin different is actually it is flavored with different botanicals to offer gin its unique taste. For gin to be gin, it must be a spirit that is distilled from malt or grains and must be flavored with the infamous Juniper Berry. When individuals try as well as smell gin, the juniper berry is regarded as the prominent aroma and flavor. Other botanicals are usually added to the mix (lemon peel, etc), anise, fennel, grapefruit, though you cannot have gin without the Juniper Berry. That is the thing that makes gin, gin!
The most popular style of gin is actually London Dry Gin with brands like Tanqueray, Beefeater, as well as Bombay are actually many examples of London Dry Gins and it is regarded as to be probably the best quality. But that is not always true. There are several great quality gins available that do not fall under the’ London Dry Gin’ classification.
For instance, Hendricks is actually a high-quality gin which does not fall under the’ London Dry Gin’ classification. All types of gin have to be bottled at a minimum of 37.5 % ABV, but you’ll find stronger gins out there. The navy strength gins on the market are actually a good example.
- Tequila is liquor made from distilling fermented blue agave (a plant native to Mexico) juice and for tequila to be known as tequila, it Must come from one of the five tequila producing states in Mexico. Those states are Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan, and Jalisco. Jalisco is the largest producer of Tequila and that is exactly where it initially came from. Funnily enough, its city of origin is rightly named Tequila.
You will find two primary groups of tequila, Mixto as well as hundred % Blue Agave.
Mixto tequila is the cheapest in terms of quality. It is made from a mash with at least 51 % of the blue agave plant. The majority of the mash is able to come from other sources of high sugar. Mixto tequila isn’t necessarily’ bad quality,’ but its creation is not given anywhere near the exact same quality of care as the hundred % Blue Agave Tequila. It is also well worth noting that mixto tequila will not always be labeled’ mixto.’ It’ll merely be named tequila.
100% Blue Agave Tequila is actually the greatest quality tequila on the marketplace and it is made of 100% blue agave plant. It’s five distinct categories, blanco, joven (means younger in Spanish) or maybe gold, reposado (means rested in Spanish), anejo, and additional anejo.
These categories indicate just how long the tequila has been aged in wood. Like rum, tequila is actually aged in a warm climate, therefore it matures much faster in the barrel. three years is actually sufficient to make an amazing spirit.
Blanco is actually aged for under sixty days and is actually white in color.
Joven (means younger in Spanish), or maybe gold tequila, is actually akin to Blanco tequila in it is not actually aged. Its golden color typically will come from the inclusion of caramel instead of any barrel aging.
Reposado is aged between sixty days to one year and is yellowish in color. Caramel could be added, though they are still regarded as superior quality tequilas than joven.
Anejo should be aged for a minimum of one year (often more) and is actually gold in color. Caramel might additionally be added, but several of the colors of it is going to come from the barrel it is aged in.
Extra-anejo is actually regarded as the very best quality tequila, they should be aged for a minimum of three years, and once more, they are yellow in color. These’re the tequilas that are sometimes compared to fine French Cognac… Both in quality and cost!
El Jimador, Patron, and Don Julio are actually all recognized models of hundred % blue agave tequila you are more likely to see behind the bar.
- Rum is actually a spirit distilled from molasses or sugarcane (thick deep brown juice received from raw sugar, many rums are produced from molasses). It is usually aged in wooden barrels, but because rum is predominantly made in the Caribbean, rum laws are not as stringent as whisk(e)y laws.
Because rum is normally made aged in tropical climates, it matures much faster in the barrel. Which suggests that a rum aged 12years should theoretically be a better-quality spirit than a scotch (matured in a cold climate) aged twelve years. Clearly, that is only in case you are judging the spirit by its age declaration.
But the exact same would be accurate in case you aged whisk(e)y in tropical climates. Liquor matures/ages much faster in the barrel in warmer climates. There exist four kinds of rum; White rum, medium bodied dark rum, full-bodied dark rum, and spiced rum.
White rums are actually clear in color and typically have probably the least flavor among the various kinds of rum. That is what makes them outstanding base spirits in cocktails (think the mojito). That said, white rums do not have to be probably the least flavorful. Actually, some are loaded with flavor! Bacardi Blanca and Havana Club 3 are examples of white rum.
Medium-bodied dark rums are actually fuller in taste and are usually gold in color. Sometimes that is because of aging. But the majority of the time, it is because caramel or maybe molasses has been added to dye the spirit. Havana Club Anejo is a good example of a medium bodied dark rum.
Full-bodied dark rums are usually darker compared to medium bodied rums. Majority of the time, full-bodied black rums are actually darker in color since they’ve been well aged in the barrel. But caramel or molasses may be included. These’re the very best quality runs among the four different kinds listed here. Appleton Estate twelve years and Diplomatico are actually both excellent examples of sound full-bodied dark rums.
And lastly, spiced rums are actually rums which have been flavored with different spices as cinnamon, anise, pepper, etc. Sailor Jerry’s and Captain Morgans are actually by far the most widely used spiced rums out there.
- Vermouth is a fortified wine—wine spiked with distilled alcohol to raise the proof—that’s flavored with herbs and spices, often including wormwood. (The name comes from Wermut, the German word for wormwood). There are two main varieties of vermouth: sweet, which is reddish-brown in color, sweetened with sugar and sometimes called Italian vermouth; and dry, which is straw-colored, typically more bitter and sometimes called French vermouth. Interestingly, nearly all vermouth actually starts as white wine: The color of sweet vermouth comes from the botanicals used, plus caramelized sugar. Thanks to the resurgence of cocktails, we’ve seen the selection of vermouth explode in liquor stores and at bars. Most brands are still made in France and Italy, but several American upstarts have gotten into the vermouth game in recent years. Vermouth is not a liquor per se, but I thought to include it here since it’s often used in making cocktails just like vodka or gin. Most popular vermouth you will find behind bars or you will need for your cocktail are Antica Formula, Martini, Punt e Mes, Cocchi, Vya etc
There are a whole host of other liquors/spirits that get used behind more sophisticated bars or liquor stores like Total wine. Pisco, cachaca rum, mezcal, grappa, absinthe, and ouzo are all great examples. But the aforementioned types are easily the most common. I hope this article has helped you understand the different types and their subtypes available across the globe. With a huge number of spirit or liquor brands on the market, I hope this article has given you insides on where to start your journey in:
– Stocking up your personal bar
– Becoming a bartender
– Exploring different liquors from other countries
– Participate in a liquor conversation at bar comfortably
– etc etc
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