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A liqueur is an alcoholic beverage made from a distilled spirit that has been flavoured with fruit, cream, herbs, spices, flowers or nuts and bottled with added sugar or other sweeteners. Liqueurs have a rich heritage as medicinal elixir: even before sugar reached Europe, elixirs from complex blends of herbs and secret ingredients were being made to cure any and all illnesses (Chartreuse). Liqueurs are typically quite sweet; they are usually not aged for long after the ingredients are mixed, but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavours to marry. Most liqueurs have a lower alcohol content (15–30% abv) than spirits, but some contain as much as 55% abv such as Green Chartreuse. The name liqueur originates from the Latin word liquifacere meaning to liquefy. Some liqueurs are prepared by infusing certain woods, fruits, or flowers in either water or alcohol and adding sugar or other items. Others are distilled from aromatic or flavouring agents.
Cognac is a type of brandy, and after the distillation and during the ageing process, is also called eau de vie. It is produced by twice distilling white wines produced in the designated growing regions. The white wine used in making cognac is very dry, acidic, and thin. Though it has been characterized as "virtually undrinkable", it is excellent for distillation and ageing. After the grapes are pressed, the juice is left to ferment for 2–3 weeks, with the region's native, wild yeasts converting the sugar into alcohol; neither sugar nor sulfur is allowed to be added. Distillation takes place in traditionally shaped Charentais copper alembic stills, the design and dimensions of which are legally controlled. Two distillations must be carried out; the resulting eau de vie is a colourless spirit of about 70% alcohol. Once distillation is complete, cognac must be aged in Limousin oak casks for at least two years. It is typically put into casks at an alcohol by volume strength around 70%. As the cognac interacts with the oak barrel and the air, it evaporates at the rate of about 3% each year, slowly losing both alcohol and water. This phenomenon is called locally la part des Anges, or "the angels' share". The age of the cognac is calculated as that of the youngest component used in the blend. The blend is usually of different ages and from different local areas. This blending, or marriage, of different Eaux de vie, is important to obtain a complexity of flavours absent from an Eaux de vie from a single distillery or vineyard. Each cognac house has a master taster, who is responsible for blending the spirits so that cognac produced will have a consistent house style and quality.
Whisk(e)y is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Grain mash includes barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, buckwheat & corn. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of oak. Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. The unifying characteristics of the different classes and types are the fermentation of grains, distillation, and ageing in wooden barrels.
The earliest records of the distillation of alcohol are in Italy in the 13th century, where alcohol was distilled from wine. The art of distillation spread to Scotland and Ireland no later than the 15th century, as did the common European practice of distilling “aqua vitae”, spirit alcohol, primarily for medicinal purposes. In America, whisky was used as currency during the American Revolution; George Washington operated a large distillery at Mount Vernon. In 1823, the UK passed the Excise Act, legalizing the distillation, and this put an end to the large-scale production of Scottish moonshine.
The base ingredient for single malt is barley. Once the barley is ready to be used, it is placed into a steeping tank or Saladin box. The barley is steeped in water. Steeping is wetting the barley to hydrate the grain which initiates germination. Germination can take up to 6 to 7 days depending on the maltster & the distillery climate & barley type.
Floor Malting was the traditional way of producing malt for brewing before the Industrial Revolution. It was largely a manual process, and today floor malting is considered a niche artisanal practice.
The modern way of drying the barley is by kilning. The desired grain moisture level is around 4% and it can take anything from 36 hours to 5 days.The barley is now ready for crushing into grist & then onto mashing. Mashing re-awakens the enzymes in the grain, in order to extract the sugars from the grain.
Fermentation is when the yeast becomes active & eats the sugars in the wort, this, in turn, causes two by-products alcohol & carbon dioxide. Fermentation time can vary between whisky & style of distillery.
Distillation is the process of separating alcohol from water in the fermented mix… turning a 7 to 9% ABV wash into a higher-proof spirit. In the process the still will separate the alcohol from the water, the alcohol will rise as a vapour and once it starts to cool will condense back down as a liquid.
Once the new make spirit has been created, it is then transferred to the barrel.
Maturation contributes between 60% to 80% of the overall flavour, depending on the producer & house style. Before the spirits are filled into casks to age, they are usually diluted to below 65% ABV. All casks are porous, allowing the spirit to evaporate which is necessary for maturation. Good casks that have been well cared for can last for up to 50 years or longer.
Finishing is the popular term for transferring a matured whisky to a second cask, perhaps one that previously held port, sherry, madeira, wine or any desired spirit or flavour.
The Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) uses the following division of regions: Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown & Islay.
Highland Whiskies were renowned for flavours of heather and honey, with 38 single malt distilleries located within the region.
The Lowlands currently contains 6 whisky distilleries with 5 more currently in development, which was renowned to be light in character & colour.
The Speyside region is regarded as the whisky triangle containing 43 Single malt distilleries, all of which are known for flavours such as honey, apple, pear & vanilla.
Campbelltown is a unique region, once holding around 30 whisky distilleries & calling itself the whisky capital of the world. Campbeltown was renowned for whiskies containing brine like characteristics.
Islay contains 8 working distilleries with 3 more planning to be built. Islay is located within the inner Hebridean islands & was always regarded as the fire breathing dragon of all whisky regions, containing smoke.
Rum is a liquor made by fermenting and distilling sugarcane molasses. The distillate is usually aged in oak barrels. Most are produced in the Caribbean and American countries. Light rums are used in cocktails, whereas “golden” and “dark” rums are consumed straight or neat, iced, or used for cooking. Premium rums are made to be consumed either straight or iced.
Rum plays a part in the culture of most islands of the West Indies. The beverage has famous associations with the Royal Navy and piracy. It has also served as a popular medium of economic exchange. The first distillation of rum in the Caribbean took place on the sugarcane plantations there in the 17th century. Plantation slaves discovered that molasses could be fermented into alcohol. Then, the distillation of these alcoholic by-products concentrated the alcohol, producing the first modern rums.
Most rum is produced from molasses, which is made from sugarcane. Yeast and water are added to the base ingredient to start the fermentation process. There is no standard method used for rum distillation. While some producers work in batches using pot stills, most rum production is done using column still distillation. The ageing is commonly performed in used bourbon casks but can be performed in other types of wooden casks or stainless steel tanks. The ageing process determines the colour of the rum. When aged in oak casks, it becomes dark, whereas rum aged in stainless steel tanks remains virtually colourless. Due to the tropical climate, common to most rum-producing areas, rum matures at a much higher rate than is typical for whisky or brandy. After ageing, rum is normally blended to ensure a consistent flavour, the final step in the rum-making process.
The grades and variations used to describe rum depend on the location where rum was produced.
Dark rums, also known by their colour, such as brown, black, or red rums, are classed a grade darker than gold rums. They are usually made from caramelized sugar or molasses. They are aged longer, in heavily charred barrels, giving them much stronger flavours than either light or gold rums.
Flavoured rums are infused with flavours of fruits, such as banana, mango, orange, pineapple, coconut, starfruit, or lime. These are generally less than 40% ABV (80 proof). They mostly serve to flavour similarly-themed tropical drinks but are also often drunk neat or with ice.
Gold rums, also called “amber” rums, are medium-bodied rums that are generally aged. These gain their dark colour from ageing in wooden barrels. They have more flavour and are stronger-tasting than light rum.
Light rums, also referred to as “silver” or “white” rums, in general, have very little flavour aside from a general sweetness. Light rums are sometimes filtered after ageing to remove any colour. Their milder flavours make them popular for use in mixed drinks, as opposed to drinking them straight.
Overproof rums are much higher than the standard 40% ABV with many as high as 75% to 80% ABV available. They are usually used in mixed drinks.
Premium rums, as with other sipping spirits such as Cognac and Scotch whisky, are in a special market category. These are generally from boutique brands that sell carefully produced and aged rums. They have more character and flavour than their “mixing” counterparts and are generally consumed straight.
Spiced rums obtain their flavours through the addition of spices and, sometimes, caramel. Most are darker in colour, and based on gold rums. Among the spices added are cinnamon, rosemary, absinthe/aniseed, pepper, cloves, and cardamom.
Rum is extensively used in cocktails such as Cuba Libre, daiquiri, Pina Colada and Mojito. It is used in a number of cooked dishes as a flavouring agent in items such as rum balls or rum cakes. It is commonly used to macerate fruit used in fruitcakes and is also used in marinades for some Caribbean dishes.
Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila and in the Jaliscan Highlands of the central-western Mexican state of Jalisco. The red volcanic soils in the region of Tequila are well suited for growing the blue agave. Agave grows differently depending on the region. Blue agaves grown in the highlands Los Altos region are larger and sweeter in aroma and taste. Aside from its geographical distinction, tequila is differentiated from mezcal in that it is made only from blue agave. Tequila is served neat in Mexico and as a shot with salt and lime around the world. It must have between 35 and 55%ABV.
The spirit was first produced in the 16th century near the location of the city of Tequila, which was not officially established until 1666. A fermented beverage from the agave plant known as pulque was consumed in pre-Columbian central Mexico before European contact.
Planting, tending, and harvesting the agave plant remains a manual effort, largely unchanged by modern farm machinery and relying on centuries-old know-how. Jimadores harvest the agave (pina) and transport it to ovens where they are slowly baked. The baked piñas are either shredded or mashed under a large stone wheel. The extracted agave juice is then poured into either large wooden or stainless steel vats for several days to ferment, resulting in wort with low alcohol content. The wort is distilled once to produce what is called ordinario and then a second time to produce clear "silver" tequila. Using at least two distillations is required by law. From there, the spirit is either bottled as silver tequila, or it is put into wooden barrels to age, where it develops a mellower flavor and amber color.
A variety of cocktails are made with tequila, including the margarita. Margarita uses tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice though many variations exist. A popular cocktail in Mexico is the Paloma. Also, a number of martini variants involve tequila, and a large number of drinks are made by adding fruit juice. These include the Tequila Sunrise and the Matador.
Vodka is a clear distilled alcoholic beverage with different varieties originating in Poland and Russia. It is composed primarily of water and ethanol, but sometimes with traces of flavourings. Traditionally it is made by distilling the liquid from cereal grains or potatoes that have been fermented. Since the 1890s, standard vodkas have been 40% ABV.
Vodka is traditionally drunk "neat" or "straight". It is also used in cocktails and mixed drinks, such as the Vodka Martini, Cosmopolitan, Vodka Tonic, Screwdriver, Greyhound, Black, or White Russian, Moscow Mule, Bloody Mary, and Caesar.
Gin is a distilled alcoholic drink that derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries. Gin emerged in England in various forms by the 17th century, after the introduction of the jenever, a Dutch and Belgian liquor, originally used as medicine. The gin production and consumption in England took off when King William banned all French imported liquors.
The government allowed unlicensed gin production & at the same time imposed a heavy tax on all other imported goods. This created a market for poor-quality grain that was unfit for beer production and thousands of gin shops sprung up throughout England, a period commonly known as Gin Craze.
There are three types of Gin:
Compound Gin which is a macerated gin with no second distillation. A gin produced by steeping botanicals in ethyl alcohol only, without redistilling. Both natural and artificial flavouring may be used, with no restrictions on additives such as colours and sweeteners.
Distilled Gin which is re-distilled with botanicals after maceration. A gin which has been produced by steeping botanicals in ethyl alcohol and redistilling the resulting macerate.
London Dry which is the same as distilled Gin however less sweet. This is a variety of distilled gin made in a traditional still by re-distilling ethyl alcohol in the presence of all-natural flavourings used.
There are also five main styles of Gin: Genever, Plymouth, Old Tom, London dry and New Western.
Genever, also known as Jenever or Dutch Gin, Genever most closely resembles the style of gin produced in 17th century Holland and is distilled from malted grain mash similar to that used for whisky.
Plymouth Gin, unlike ‘London’ Dry Gin, refers to the location of production, as opposed to the style of gin. By law, Plymouth Gin must be produced within the city walls of Plymouth. Plymouth Gin has a strong naval heritage and has traditionally been popular with sailors.
Old Tom Gin refers to a style of slightly sweetened gins that were popular in 18th century England. In later years, the sugar syrup would occasionally be flavoured with orange flower water.
London Dry Gin was first created in the 19th century and has grown to become the most popular style of gin today. It should be noted that ‘London’ relates to the style of gin and not the geographical location of the distillery.
New Western or New Age Gin is the new wave of gins being released that focus less on the traditional juniper botanicals and more on unique or regionally-specific botanicals. Some US producers are attempting to have this recognized formally.
Brandy is a liquor produced by distilling wine. It generally contains 35–60% alcohol by volume.The origins of brandy are tied to the development of distillation. While the process was known in classical times, it was not used for significant beverage production until the 15th century. In the early 16th century French brandy helped kickstart the cross-Atlantic trade when it took over the central role of the Portuguese fortified wine due to its higher alcohol content and ease of shipping.
Brandy is distilled from the base wine in two phases. In the first, a large part of water and solids is removed from the base, obtaining so-called "low wine", basically a concentrated wine with 28–30% ABV. In the second stage, low wine is distilled into brandy. It is usually produced in pot stills (batch distillation), but the column still can also be used for continuous distillation.
After distillation, the unaged brandy is placed into oak barrels to mature. Usually, brandies with a natural golden or brown colour are aged in oak casks (single-barrel aging).
After a period of aging, the mature brandy is mixed with distilled water to reduce alcohol concentration and bottled. Some brandies have caramel colour and sugar added to simulate the appearance of barrel aging.
Brandy is traditionally served at room temperature from a snifter, a wine glass, or a tulip glass. It is added to other beverages to make several cocktails; The Sour, the Brandy Alexander, the Sidecar, the Daisy, and the Old Fashioned. It is used as deglazing liquid in making pan sauces for steak and other meat. It is also used to create a more intense flavour in some soups. Brandy is a common flavouring in traditional foods such as Christmas cake, brandy butter, and Christmas pudding. Also it is used to flambé dishes such as crêpe Suzette and cherries jubilee while serving.
Grappa is an alcoholic beverage: a fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35 to 60% ABV. The flavour of grappa depends on the type and quality of the grapes used, as well as the specifics of the distillation process. Grappa is made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems leftover from winemaking after pressing the grapes. It was originally made to prevent waste by using these leftovers.
Cachaça is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice and it is the most popular spirit among distilled alcoholic beverages in Brazil. Outside Brazil, cachaça is used almost exclusively as an ingredient in tropical drinks, with the caipirinha being the most famous cocktail. Cachaça, like rum, has two varieties: unaged and aged. White cachaça is usually bottled immediately after distillation and tends to be cheaper. It is often used as an ingredient in caipirinha and other mixed beverages. Dark cachaça, usually seen as the "premium" variety, is aged in wood barrels and is meant to be drunk neat.