ABC’s of Spirits

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Whiskies White Spirits Miscellaneous Spirits

Whiskies

American Whisky

Americans are serious about their whiskey. Whether it’s Kentucky bourbon or Tennessee whiskey, corn, wheat or rye, whiskey made in the United States must be distilled at 160 proof or less and color additives are prohibited. American whiskey gets its golden color from the oak it’s aged in—unless we’re talking corn whiskey. This is the only American whiskey that is not required to rest a while, and it must be made with at least 80% corn.


Bourbon

At least 51% of the grains used to make straight bourbon must be corn, while the rest may be a mixture of other grains (usually barley, rye, or wheat). Usually between 80 and 125 proof; the legal minimum strength is 60 proof. Only limestone filtered spring water may be used to lower the alcohol content.


Canadian Whisky

Mashed, distilled and aged at least three years in Canada in a wooden barrel of not greater than 700 L capacity. Blended, multi-grain liquors typically containing a large percentage of rye, often generically referred to as "rye whisky."


Irish Whiskey

Standard Irish whiskey is a blend of malt and grain whiskies; pure malt will be labeled such. Usually distilled through both column and pot stills, although there are a few solely pot-distilled brands. The oldest distillery, Bushmills, dates to a 1608 license granted by King James I.


Japanese Whiskey

Japanese whiskey takes note from Scotland’s best distillery, producing a spirit that ranges from light to deeply complex. The whiskey produced in the Land of the Rising Sun typically shows notes of honeysuckle, toffee and orange, a combination that characterizes this spirit that is showing rapid popularity growth in the East.


Scotch Whisky

Scotch must be distilled and matured in Scotland. When an age is listed, it is of the youngest whisky in the blend. Single malt is from one specific distillery. It tends to possess intense flavors and aromas. Blended whisky may contain a combination of whiskies from several malt and grain distilleries.


White Spirits

Gin

Gin is typically clean in flavor, but with fruity and herby overtones. It is a dry, white spirit distilled from various grains, and flavored with juniper berries, herbs and spices. It is the juniper that gives gin its distinctive flavor. Imported gins tend to keep more grain character than American gins.


Rum

Slightly sweet, fermented and distilled liquor made from sugar cane. Almost all rum today is aged in oak barrels and the longer it remains in the barrel, the darker the color will be. In general, rum is aged for at least a year, however standards for ABV/proof and aging vary from one rum-producing country to another.


Vodka

Vodka is produced from grain (mostly rye and wheat), potatoes, molasses and other plants. Russian and Swedish vodkas are usually made from wheat, whereas Polish vodkas are usually made from rye or potatoes. All vodka comes out of the still as a clear, odorless spirit. It is sometimes flavored and/or colored with a variety of fruits, herb and spices.


Tequila

Tequila is distilled from the blue agave plant in Mexico. Usually un-aged – and even when it is, it’s nothing like the aging other spirits are renowned for. Reposado, for example, is aged at least two months, but less than a year. Anejo? One to three years. Mixers [for tequila gondola]. Margarita? Tequila Sunrise? Shooter? Whether you’re mixing it up, or keeping it simple, here’s what you need.


Miscellaneous Spirits

Brandy

Basically, fruit (usually grapes, but also apples, pears, cherries and other fruits) fermented into wine (or cider, as in the case of calvados) and then distilled. Some of the best-known brandies are Cognac, Armagnac, kir or kirshwasser (from cherries), and grappa (Italian pomace brandy).

Cognac

One of the best-known brandies is cognac. Hailing from the Cognac region of France, it is said to have been discovered in the 16th century. During the aging process, cognac loses approximately 3-4% of its volume through evaporation – a portion known as “the angels’ share.” Romantic in history, rich in flavor, cognac is an elegant after-dinner drink.


Cordials & Liqueurs

Sweet, flavor-infused spirits. Produced by combining a distilled spirit with a strong flavoring agent. Not usually aged for any length of time (although the spirit used to make the liqueur may be). Proprietary liqueurs are unique, often using an old, secret recipe, such as Jägermeister or Frangelico.


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