SPIRITS  Hints, Tips and Tricks  2178 reads

All about Distilled Spirits
Tools of the Trade
Bar Set up
North American Whiskey
Irish Whiskey
Tequila and Mezcal
Liqueurs & Cordials

All about distilled spirits

What Are Spirits?

Alcohol, in its basic meaning, is a hydroxyl compound such as ethanol or methanol. Fermentation is the process by which an organic substance (usually a sugar) is converted by a single-celled microorganism such as yeast into alcohol. A spirit is distilled alcohol. Spirits distillation is the process of heating a fermented liquid, evaporating off the alcohol as vapor, and then condensing it back into liquid form.

How Are Spirits Made?

Spirits can be made from any organic substance that can be fermented to create alcohol. Most alcoholic beverages are made by fermenting fruit or grain-based solutions. A still extracts alcohol from a fermented liquid by boiling it and then condensing the alcohol vapors, which evaporate from the boiling liquid at a lower temperature than water. For example, an 8% alcohol by volume (ABV) wine or beer distills into a 20% ABV distillate when it is run through a typical simple pot still. The alcohol content can be further increased by additional redistillations that further concentrate the alcohol and reduce the total volume of liquid.

The first and most basic type of still is the pot still, which is an enclosed vessel (the kettle or "pot") that narrows into a tube at the top to collect alcohol vapor that evaporates when the fermented contents are boiled. The tube bends downward off the top of the pot and runs through a bath of cold water. This causes the alcohol vapor to condense back into liquid and drain into a container at the end of the tube. Most pot stills are made from copper. They are considered "inefficient" in that they carry over a percentage of water and chemical compound vapors along with the alcohol vapor. This "inefficiency" can be considered an advantage when producing spirits such as brandy and whiskey that have distinctive flavors.

The column or continuous still has two enclosed copper or stainless steel columns. The fermented liquid is slowly fed down into the top of the first column while steam is sent up from the bottom. The rising steam strips the alcohol from the descending liquid and carries it over into the second column where it is recirculated and concentrated to the desired percentage of alcohol. Column stills are more "efficient" than pot stills in that they extract a higher concentration of alcohol. They are favored for neutral-flavored spirits such as vodka and white rum and also for industrial alcohol.

How Are Spirits Measured?

Spirits are measured by alcohol content. Different scales are used in different countries. Most countries use alcohol by volume (ABV), also known as the Gay-Lussac system, which expresses alcohol content as a percentage of the total liquid volume of the beverage. A 40% ABV spirit contains 40% alcohol. In the United States, the proof scale of measurement is used, with the proof of a spirit being double the ABV. Thus a 40% ABV spirit is 80 proof. A degree symbol is customarily used when expressing proof.

How Are Spirits Classified?

Generally speaking, spirits are classified by the fermented material that they are distilled from. Whiskies, Vodka, Gin and most types of Schnapps are made by distilling a kind of beer made from grain. Brandy is made from fermented grape juice, and Fruit Brandy is made from other fruits. Rum and Cane Spirits derive from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses. Tequila and Mezcal come from the fermented pulp of the agave plant. Fortified wines are hybrid beverages in that they are a blend of fermented wine and distilled spirits (usually Brandy).

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Tools of the Trade

Cocktail Shaker

This is the most frequently used tool, because it enables you to perfectly mix the ingredients, and in the same time to chill them. You can pour dense ingredients (which cannot be directly mixed in a glass) in it, such as ice cream, marmalade, heavy cream, egg, or powdered sugar in order to obtain a frothy foam "bloom," which stays on the glass' surface, making the cocktail more unctuous. Half-fill the shaker with ice cubes, then add the ingredients, reserving the strong spirits for the end. This minimizes dilution from the melting ice. Quickly shake for about 10 seconds before pouring the cocktail in an appropriate glass. The shaker may have two (a "Boston" shaker) or three pieces (the cap, which you can use as a measure; the strainer and the mug). It can be made of metal or glass (avoid plastic, which does not chill well), and need not be expensive.

Cocktail Blender

The cocktail blender enables you to prepare a cocktail based on fruit chunks, dairy products and whole ice cubes. Cut the fruits in chunks and put them in the blender. Add the other ingredients, push the button, and blend. A true cocktail or bar blender is preferred over an ordinary kitchen blender. It has a bigger motor, stronger blades, and is more heavy-duty.

The Graduated Measuring Cup

This measuring cup, similar to a kitchen measuring cup, enables you to stir (from up to down) the ingredients with a few ice cubes with a long spoon. Some classic cocktails have two or more versions: one that uses the shaker, the other with the graduated measuring cup.

Cocktail, Wine and Beer Glass Selection

If you're shopping with a super double platinum Visa card, Waterford leaded crystal glassware is always in good taste. On the other hand, if you have Booker Noe tastes but an Old Crow budget, your local discount store is selling surprisingly high-quality Eastern European knock-offs at very reasonable prices.

  • Most cocktails are served in a standard cocktail glass, notably those with white spirits (Gin, Vodka, and Tequila)
  • For Whisky, use an Old Fashioned, broad and upright.
  • The Martini glass has become very trendy as of late.
  • Cocktails finished with soda are served in Highball glasses, not very broad but high.
  • Brandies (Cognac, Armagnac, eaux de vie) require a brandy snifter or a small tulip-shaped glass so that the bouquet can form.
  • Punches are simple, mugs are adequate.
  • Champagne cocktails are served in a Champagne glass flute.
  • Red and most white wines are best served in a large, stemmed tulip-shaped wine glass.
  • Ales are traditionally served in a slope-sided pint glass.
  • Lager beers can be presented in either a tall, slope-sided pilsner glass or a handled stein.

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Bar Set Up

Here's what you need for the complete bar

One of the rites of passage in our society is when you graduate from throwing a kegger in the backyard to a cocktail party in the condo. Before you can complete this metamorphosis however, you do need to assemble a proper home bar. If money is no object, then stock your bar with the best. If, however, you're still waiting for that day trader gig to work out then there is still no reason why you can't, with a little planning, have a home bar that is still better than that of your overpaid, but clueless department manager. You will also find our recommendations for the tools of the trade (cocktail shakers, blenders, glassware, etc)

* Vodka
* Sundsvall
* Exceptional aromatics, firm wet stone palate, complex
* Gordon's
* Domestic, yet copper pot distilled
* Bourbon
* A. H. Hirsch 16 year old Pot Stilled
* Only true pot-distilled Bourbon currently available
* Old Fitzgerald 8 year old 1849 Straight Bourbon
* Classic Bourbon profile matches that of brands at twice the price
* Tennessee Whiskey
* Jack Daniel's Single Barrel
* Benchmark for the style
* George Dickel Black Label
* First rate, but often overlooked sippin' whiskey
* Rye
* Old Rip Van Winkle 13 year Straight Rye
* Uncompromising Rye palate for true enthusiasts
* Rittenhouse Rye
* Good Rye, great price
* White Rum
* Rhum Chauvet (Martinique)
* Distinctive floral bouquet, great mixer
* Cruzan Virgin Islands White Rum
* Light-bodied, yet still rum instead of de facto vodka
* Dark Rum
* St. James Millesime Rhum
* Complex, XO Cognac-like palate, truly amazing
* Ron Matusalem Classic Black Rum
* Old line Cuban brand, aged and bottled in Florida, good value for the money
* Gin
* Plymouth Original Dry Gin
* Classic Dry Gin flavor profile
* Gordon's London Dry Gin
* Domestic, yet copper pot distilled
* Blended Scotch
* Johnny Walker Gold Label
* Lush, complex palate
* Famous Grouse
* Leading Blended Scotch in Britain, relatively unknown in US
* Single Malt Scotch
* Bowmore 30 year old
* Because your snobby friends have already had Macallan 25 year old
* Aberlour 10 year old Highland

* Consistently the best choice for $20 or less
* Irish Whiskey
* Midleton 1995 Very Rare
* Vintage dated first still run nectar of the gods
* Power's Gold Label
* #1 choice in Dublin pubs, note the pot still character
* Tequila
* Herradura Seleccion Suprema
* La crema de la crema de la agave azul
* El Toro Gold
* Complex, compact texture, under $10, good mixer
* Brandy
* Kelt Petra, Tour du Monde
* This is what the Masters of the Universe are drinking
* Monarch California Brandy
* Remarkably smooth palate, under $8
* Vintage Port
* Dow 1945 Vintage
* Hugh Johnson says at peak, we agree
* Quady 1990 Starboard Port
* California's best
* Tawny Port
* Taylor 30 year old Tawny
* Perfect flavor profile of nuts and dried fruit
* Ficklin 10 year old Tawny
* Dead ringer for top quality Portuguese Tawny
* Fino Sherry
* Hidalgo Fino Superior, El Cuadrado
* Crisp, dry with hint of almonds. Perfect aperitif
* Lustau Jarana Fino
* Mass produced, but excellent quality, widely distributed
* Oloroso Sherry
* Osborne Rare Oloroso Amoroso
* Lush, concentrated notes of raisin, dates, almonds and Spanish sunlight
* Barbadillo Very Old Oloroso
* Consistent quality, great value for under $15
* Peach Liquor
* Blanca de Navarra Peach
* Very ripe fruit notes, perfectly balanced
* Southern Comfort
* Back bar staple
* Coffee Liquor
* Kahlua
* Benchmark for the style
* Sambrosa
* Pretty good knock-off
* Triple Sec
* Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec (Italy)
* Made from the "Golden Apples" of Greek mythology
* Marie Brizzard Triple Sec
* Good quality, reasonable price
* Amaretto
* Amaretto di Saronno
* The original, and still the best
* Amaretto di Amore
* Pretty good, and half the price of Amaretto di Saronno
* White Vermouth
* Carpano Punt e Mes
* Fresh-tasting, first-rate Italian brand
* Quady Vya Extra Dry
* Pretty good interpretation of the style
* Red Table Wine
* Opus One 1989
* Instant brand recognition, immediate peer envy and it even tastes really good
* California Petit Sirah, Parducci, Concannon, Bogle, most others
* Underappreciated, underpriced grape has complex, spicy palate and early maturity, go 2-4 years
* White Table Wine
* Servin "Bougros" Gran Cru Chablis 1996
* Top rated (97 points) Chablis from Burgundy
* Napa Ridge, Gallo Sonoma
* California Chardonnays with real gumption for less that $20
* Sparkling Wine
* Beaumont des Crayeres Nostalgie Brut 1990 Vintage
* Crisp, refreshing fruit flavors with subtle backnote of toasty yeast. Not just the same old Dom
* Cavas Lavernoya Primerisimo, Lacrima Baccus Grand Cuvee, Brut Cava, NV
* Top Spanish sparkler (90 points), under $20, good deal, as are most other Spanish bubblies
* Domestic Pilsner Beer
* Rolling Rock
* "Bucket 'o Rocks" was best bar promotion of the decade
* Miller High Life
* Retro beer for a retro world
* Domestic Light Beer
* Point Light Lager
* You can actually taste the hops
* Coors Light
* Crisp, clean, harmless
* Domestic Craft Beer
* Capital Blonde Dopplebock
* From Wisconsin, it's what the angels drink after work
* Samuel Adams Boston Lager
* Good, consistent, widely available
* Imported Beer
* Fuller's ESB Ale
* As good as ale gets
* Negra Modelo Dark Lager
* The best non-craft dark lager in the Americas, value priced too
* Bitters
* Angostura
* The benchmark bitters
* Angostura
* No real substitute
* Sweetened Lime Juice
* Key West
* Distinctive and different
* Rose's
* The benchmark lime juice
* Grenadine Syrup
* Homemade from pomegranate juice
* When you make it yourself you can adjust the sometimes cloying sweetness
* DaVinci Grenadine
* All natural, less than $10
* Bar Syrup
* Homemade
* Fresh is better
* Homemade
* Fresh is cheaper, and better
* Tomato Juice
* Fresh, vine-ripened
* Fresh is still better
* Organic from the supermarket cooler
* Canned tomato juice is fit for penal institute inmates
* Orange Juice
* Fresh squeezed Spanish blood oranges
* Unique Mirmosas, killer Screwdrivers
* Fresh squeezed supermarket orange juice
* Cheap luxury, indulge yourself
* Club Soda
* Real (no CO2 cylinder) seltzer bottle
* If it was good enough for both James Bond and the Three Stooges'
* Canada Dry
* The Rat Pack brand of choice
* Tonic Water
* Schweppes
* The original
* Seagram's
* Decent quinine bite
* Ginger Ale
* Blenheim
* South Carolina original, regular and "hot"
* Canada Dry
* The bootlegger brand of choice
* Lemon-Lime Soda
* 7-Up
* The Uncola is still unmatched
* Sprite
* Adequate mixer
* Cola
* Coca-Cola
* It's the real thing
* Pepsi-Cola
* Adequate mixer
* Coarse Salt
* Sea salt from France or Italy
* Salt with character for Margaritas and Bloody Marys
* Kosher salt
* Salt with character, yet relatively inexpensive
* Hot Pepper Sauce
* Endorphin Rush
* Very, very, very hot
* Tabasco Sauce
* Always available, always good
* No. 8 Green Olives
* Fresh Greek
* Available in bulk from your local Greek fruit market
* Collins Green Olives
* Standard bar brand available in most liquor stores, adequate
* Pearl Onions
* Fresh
* Fresh is always better
* Collins Pearl Onions
* Standard bar brand available in most liquor stores, adequate
* Whole Maraschino Cherries
* La Cigalette En Provence
* Top brand from the south of France
* CherryMan Maraschino Cherries
* Most domestic Maraschino cherries come from CherryMan
* Celery Salt
* Kosher celery salt
* You were expecting Morton's maybe?
* McCormick Celery Salt
* Good for hot dogs, adequate for drinks

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North American Whiskey

North American whiskies are all-grain spirits that have been produced from a mash bill that usually mixes together corn, rye, wheat, barley and other grains in different proportions, and then generally aged for an extended period of time in wooden barrels. These barrels may be new or used, and charred or uncharred on the inside, depending on the type of whiskey being made.

The Distillation of North American Whiskies

Most North American whiskies are made in column stills. The United States government requires that all whiskies:

Be made from a grain mash.

Be distilled at 90% ABV or less.

Be reduced to no more than 62.5% ABV (125 proof) before being aged in oak barrels (except for Corn whiskey, which does not have to be aged in wood).

Have the aroma, taste, and characteristics that are generally attributed to whiskey.

Be bottled at no less that 40% ABV (80 proof).

Classifications of North American Whiskies

North American whiskies are essentially classified by the type or variety of grains in the mash bill, the percentage or proof of alcohol at which they are distilled, and the length and manner of their aging.

Bourbon Whiskey must contain a minimum of 51% corn, be produced in the United States, be distilled at less than 80% ABV (160 proof) and be aged for a minimum of two years in new charred barrels, although in practice virtually all straight whiskies are aged at least four years. Any Bourbon, or any other domestic or imported whiskey, for that matter, that has been aged less than four years must contain an age statement on the label. Small Batch Bourbons are bourbons that bottled from a small group of specially selected barrels that are blended together. It should be noted though that each distiller has their own interpretation of what constitutes a "small batch." Single Barrel Bourbon is Bourbon from one specifically chosen cask.

Tennessee Whiskey must contain a minimum of 51% corn, be produced in Tennessee, be distilled at less than 80% ABV (160 proof), filtered through a bed of sugar maple charcoal, and be aged for a minimum of two years in new charred barrels.

Rye Whiskey must contain a minimum of 51% rye grain, be distilled at less than 80% ABV (160 proof) and be aged for a minimum of two years in new charred barrels. A small amount of straight Rye whiskey is bottled and marketed, but most of the industry production is blended into other whiskies to give them additional character and structure. Canadians frequently refer to their whisky as "Rye," though it is in fact made primarily from corn or wheat.

Blended American Whiskey is required to contain at least 20% straight whiskey; with the balance being unaged neutral spirit or, in a few cases, high-proof light whiskey. It has a general whiskey flavor profile (most closely resembling Bourbon), but lacks any defining taste characteristic.

Corn Whiskey is a commercial product that must contain at least 80% corn, be distilled at less than 80% ABV (160 proof) and be aged for a minimum of two years in new or used uncharred barrels.

Moonshine Whiskey (a.k.a. white lightning, Corn likker, or white dog) is distilled from a varied mix of corn and sugar and is aged in Mason jars and jugs for the length of time that it takes the customers to get home, or the Dukes of Hazzard to make a delivery in the General Lee.

Canadian Whisky is made primarily from corn or wheat, with a supplement of rye, barley, or barley malt. There are no Canadian government requirements when it comes to the percentages of grains used in the mash bill. Unlike Bourbons, they are aged, primarily in used oak barrels. The minimum age for Canadian Whisky is three years, with most brands being aged four to six years. Virtually all Canadian whiskys (except the pot-distilled malt whiskies of Glenora in Nova Scotia) are blended from different grain whiskies of different ages. Bulk Canadian Whiskys are usually shipped in barrels to their destination country where they are bottled. These bulk whiskies are usually bottled at 40% ABV (80 proof) and are usually no more than four years old. Bottled in Canada Whiskys generally have older components in their blends and are bottled at 43.4% ABV (86.8 proof).

United States

Kentucky produces all types of North American whiskies except for Tennessee and Canadian. It has the largest concentration of distilleries on the continent.

Tennessee started out as Bourbon country, but today its two remaining distilleries specialize in the distinctive Tennessee style of whiskey.

Other states-primarily Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, and Missouri have distilleries that produce straight whiskeys, although some of these plants are currently mothballed. California has one tiny micro-distillery that produces Rye. Additionally there are a number of distilling plants scattered around the country that rectify (dilute and blend), process and bottle spirits that were originally distilled elsewhere. These distilleries, in addition to sometimes bottling Bourbon that has been shipped to them in bulk, may also create their own blended whiskies. These whiskies tend to be relatively inexpensive "well" brands that are sold mainly to taverns and bars for making mixed drinks.


Ontario has the largest concentration of whisky distilleries in Canada, three. Alberta has two and Manitoba, Quebec, and Nova Scotia each have one. With the exception of Glenora in Nova Scotia, which is a malt whisky distillery, all of the Canadian distilleries produce only blended Canadian whisky.

A Whiskey Lexicon

Bonded Whiskey is 100 proof Bourbon from a single distillery that was produced in a single "season" and then aged for at least four years in a government-supervised "bonded" warehouse. Distillers originally did this in order to avoid having to pay the excise tax until the whiskey was aged and ready for market. Consumers came to (incorrectly) regard the "bottled in bond" designation as a statement of quality. Bonded whiskies are not much of a factor in today's market, although they still exist.

The Mash is the mix of crushed grain (including some malt that contains enzymes to break down grain starches into sugars) and hot water from which the distiller draws a liquid extract called wort. The wort is fermented into a simple beer called the wash, which is then distilled.

Sour Mash is the fermentation process by which a percentage of a previous fermentation is added to a new batch as a "starter" to get the fermentation going and maintain a level of consistency from batch to batch. A sweet mash means that only fresh yeast is added to a new batch to start fermentation.

Straight Whiskey is unblended whiskey that contains no neutral spirit. Bourbon, Tennessee, Rye, and Corn whiskey are straight whiskies. There is also a spirit, simply called "straight whiskey," that is made from a mixture of grains, none of which accounts for 51% of the mash bill.

Origins and History of Bourbon Whiskey

The first waves of British settlers in North America were a thirsty lot. It is recorded that the Pilgrims chose to make final landfall at Plymouth, Massachusetts, even though their original destination was elsewhere, primarily because they were almost out of beer.

The first locally-made alcoholic beverage was beer, although the limited supply of barley malt was frequently supplemented by such local substitutes as pumpkin pulp. Distilled spirits soon followed, with rum made from imported Caribbean molasses dominating in the northern colonies, and an assortment of fruit brandies in the south.

In the early 1700s a combination of bad economic times and religious unrest against the Established Church in Great Britain set off a great wave of emigration from Scotland and Ireland. These Scots, and the Protestant Scottish settlers from the Northern Irish province of Ulster who came to be known as the "Scotch-Irish" in the new World, brought to North America their religion, their distrust of government control, and their skill at distilling whiskey.

This rush of humanity, augmented by German immigrants of a similar religious and cultural persuasion, passed through the seaboard colonies and settled initially in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and western Virginia. Mostly small farmers, they quickly adapted to growing rye because of its hardiness, and, in the western counties, Native American corn because of its high yields. Grain was awkward to ship to East Coast markets because of the poor roads; so many farmers turned to distilling their crops into whiskey. In Pennsylvania these were primarily Rye whiskies; farther to the west and south Corn whiskies predominated. By the end of the American War of Independence in 1784, the first commercial distilleries had been established in what was then the western Virginia county of Kentucky. From the start they produced corn-based whiskies.

In 1794 the new, cash-strapped Federal government imposed the first federal excise tax on distillers. The farmer-distillers of western Pennsylvania responded violently in what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Federal tax agents were assaulted and killed by angry mobs. Order was finally restored when the federal government sent in an army of 15,000 militiamen, led by George Washington, to put down the revolt. The ringleaders were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, but cooler heads prevailed, and after jail time they were pardoned and released.

This situation did provoke a new migration of settlers into the then-western frontier lands of Kentucky and Tennessee. In these new states farmers found ideal corn-growing country and smooth, limestone-filtered waterA~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^?two of the basic ingredients of Bourbon whiskey.

The name "Bourbon" comes from a county in eastern Kentucky, which in turn was named for the Bourbon kings of France who had aided the American rebels in the Revolutionary War. Bourbon County was in the early 19th century a center of whiskey production and transshipping (ironically, at the present time, it is a "dry" county). The local whiskey, made primarily from corn, soon gained a reputation for being particularly smooth because the local distillers aged their products in charred oak casks. The adoption of the "sour mash" grain conversion technique served to further distinguish Bourbon from other whiskey styles.

By the 1840s Bourbon was recognized and marketed as a distinctive American style of whiskey, although not as a regionally specific spirit. Bourbon came to be produced in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia, among other states. Nowadays Bourbon production is confined to Kentucky and Indiana, although the only legal location requirement for calling a whiskey "Bourbon" is that it be produced in the United States. Initially Bourbon was made in pot stills, but as the century progressed the new column still technology was increasingly adopted. The last old-line pot still plant closed in Pennsylvania in 1992, but the technique was revived in Kentucky in 1995 when the historic Labrot & Graham Distillery was renovated and reopened with a set of new, Scottish-built copper pot stills.

The late 19th century saw the rise of the Temperance Movement, a social phenomenon driven by a potent combination of religious and women's groups. Temperance societies, such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, operated nationally, but were particularly active in the southern states. The notion of temperance soon gave way to a stated desire for outright prohibition, and throughout the rest of the century an assortment of states and counties adopted prohibition for varying lengths of time and degrees of severity. This muddle of legal restrictions played havoc in the Bourbon industry, as it interfered with the production and aging of stocks of whiskey.

National Prohibition in 1919 had effects on the Bourbon industry beyond shutting down most of the distilleries. Drinking did not stop, of course, and the United States was soon awash in illegal alcohol, much of it of dubious quality. What did change was the American taste in whiskey. Illicit moonshine and imported Canadian whiskeys were lighter in taste and body than Bourbon and Rye. The corresponding increase in popularity of white spirits such as Gin and Vodka further altered the marketplace. When Repeal came in 1933, a number of the old distilleries didn't reopen, and the industry began a slow consolidation that lasted into the early 1990s, at which time there were only 10 distilleries in Kentucky and two in Tennessee.

It may seem odd, but Scotch whisky may be Bourbon's inspiration for long-term revival. The steady growth in sales of single malt and high-quality Scotch whiskies has not gone unnoticed in Bourbon country. All of the Kentucky and Tennessee whiskey distilleries are now marketing high-end "single cask" and "small batch" whiskies that have found great success among upscale consumers. Three small specialty distilleries have opened in the last few years in Kentucky and California to cater to this increasing demand for quality over quantity. The United States may yet, in the words of one commentator, "turn away from foreign potions and return to its native spirit.""

Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee whiskey is a first cousin of Bourbon, with virtually an identical history. The same sort of people used the same sort of grains and the same sort of production techniques to produce a style of whiskey that, remarkably, is noticeably different. The early whiskey distillers in Tennessee, for reasons that are lost in the mists of history, added a final step to their production process when they began filtering their whiskey through thick beds of sugar maple charcoal. This filtration removes some of the congeners (flavor elements) in the spirit and creates a smooth, mellow palate. The two remaining distillers in the state continue this tradition, which a distiller at the Jack Daniel's Distillery once described as being "same church, different pew."

Rye Whiskey

The Scotch-Irish immigrant distillers had some exposure to using rye in whiskey production, but for their German immigrant neighbors rye had been the primary grain used in the production of Schnapps and Vodka back in northern Europe. They continued this distilling practice, particularly in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where Rye whiskey, with its distinctive hard-edged, grainy palate, remained the dominant whiskey type well into the 20th century.

Rye whiskey was even more adversely effected by National Prohibition than Bourbon. A generation of consumers weaned on light-bodied and relatively delicate white spirits turned away from the uncompromising, pungent, full-bodied straight Rye whiskies. Production of Rye whiskies had vanished altogether from its Mid-Atlantic homeland by the 1980s. A handful of modern Rye whiskies are currently being made by Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky and Indiana. America's first indigenous whiskey style is today only barely surviving in the marketplace. Its primary use is for blending to give other whiskies more character and backbone, although a small but vocal group of Rye whisky enthusiasts continue to champion it.

Blended American Whiskey

Blended whiskies date from the early 19th century when the invention of the column still made possible the production of neutral spirits. Distillers would blend one or more straight whiskies (Bourbon and Rye) with these neutral spirits in varying proportions to create their own branded blend. The taste and quality of these whiskies, then as now, varies according to the ratio of straight whiskey to neutral grain spirit. Early blends were frequently flavored with everything from sherry to plug tobacco. Compared to straight whiskies they were relatively inexpensive and bland in character. Modern blends utilize dozens of different straight whiskies to insure a consistent flavor profile. Blended American whiskies had a great sales boost during and just after World War II when distillers promoted them as a way of stretching their limited supply of straight whiskey. This sales spike did not last, however. Blended whiskies were considered to be too bland by Bourbon and Rye drinkers, and consumers with a taste for lighter spirits soon migrated to Vodka and Gin. Blended whiskies have been leading the pack in declining sales over the past few decades.

Corn Whiskey

Corn whiskey was the first truly American whiskey, and the precursor to Bourbon. An unaged, clear spirit, it was the type of whiskey that Scotch-Irish farmers produced in their stills for family consumption or to trade for store goods. When state and federal excise taxes were permanently introduced during the Civil War, most of the production of Corn whiskey went underground to become moonshine, where it has remained ever since. A modest amount of commercial Corn whiskey is still produced and consumed in the South.

Canadian Whisky

Canadian whiskies, as with their American cousins, originated on the farm. These early whiskies were made primarily from rye. In time most Canadian distillers turned to corn, wheat, and other grains, but Canadians continue to refer to their whisky as "Rye" even though the mash bill for most Canadian Whisky is now predominantly a mix of corn, wheat, and barley, with only a modest perportion of rye for flavor, which results in a lighter-bodied spirit.

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Irish Whiskey

The Scots most likely learned about distilling from the Irish (though they are loath to admit it). The Irish in turn learned about it, according to the Irish at least, from missionary monks who arrived in Ireland in the seventh century. The actual details are a bit sketchy for the next 700 years or so, but it does seem reasonable to believe that monks in the various monasteries were distilling aqua vitae ("water of life"), primarily for making medical compounds. These first distillates were probably grape or fruit brandy rather than grain spirit. Barley-based whiskey (the word derives from uisce beatha the Gaelic interpretation of aqua vitae) first appears in the historical record in the mid-1500s when the Tudor kings began to consolidate English control in Ireland. Queen Elizabeth I was said to be fond of it and had casks shipped to London on a regular basis.

The imposition of an excise tax in 1661 had the same effect as it did in Scotland, with the immediate commencement of the production of poteen (the Irish version of moonshine). This did not, however, slow down the growth of the distilling industry, and by the end of the 18th century there were over 2,000 stills in operation around the country.

Under British rule Ireland was export oriented and, along with grains and assorted foodstuffs, Irish distillers produced large quantities of pot-distilled whiskey for export into the expanding British Empire. Irish whiskey outsold Scotch whisky in most markets because it was lighter in body. It is said that in the late 19th century over 400 brands of Irish whiskey were being exported and sold in the United States.

This happy state of affairs for Irish distillers lasted into the early 20th century when the market began to change. The Irish distillers, pot still users to a man, were slow to respond to the rise of blended Scotch whisky with its column-distilled, smooth grain whisky component. When National Prohibition in the United States closed off Irish whisky's largest export market, many of the smaller distilleries closed. The remaining distilleries then failed to adequately anticipate the coming of Repeal (unlike the Scotch distillers) and were caught short without adequate stocks when it came. The Great Depression, trade embargoes between the newly independent Irish Republic and the United Kingdom, and World War II caused further havoc among the distillers.

In 1966 the three remaining distilling companies in the Republic of IrelandA~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^?Powers, Jameson, and Cork DistilleriesA~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^?merged into a single company, Irish Distillers Company (IDC). In 1972, Bushmills, the last distillery in Northern Ireland, joined IDC. In 1975 IDC opened a new mammoth distillery at Midleton, near Cork, and all of the other distilleries in the Republic were closed down with the production of their brands being transferred to Midleton. For a 14-year period the Midleton plant and Bushmills in Northern Ireland were the only distilleries in the country.

This sad state of affairs ended in 1989 when a potato-peel ethanol plant in Dundalk was converted into a whiskey distillery. The new Cooley Distillery began to produce malt and grain whiskeys, with the first three-year-old bottlings being released in 1992.

Irish whiskeys, both blended and malt, are usually triple distilled through both column and pot stills, although there are a few exclusively pot-distilled brands. Irish Pure Pot Still Whiskey is generally labeled as such. Otherwise, Irish whiskeys are a mix of pot and column-distilled whiskeys. Irish Malt Whiskey is likewise so designated. Standard Irish Whiskey is a blend of malt and grain whiskies.

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Scotch Whiskey

A Note on Spelling. For reasons that have yet to be adequately explained, American and Irish distillers tend to spell the word whiskey with an "e" while their Scotch, Canadian, Japanese and New Zealand peers spell whisky without it.

As long as Scottish kings ruled the country from Edinburgh the status quo of whisky as just another farm product was more or less maintained. But the Act of Union in 1707 that combined England, Wales, and Scotland into the United Kingdom altered the Scotch whisky scene forever. The London government soon levied excise taxes on Scottish-made whisky (while at the same time cutting the taxes on English gin). The result was a predictable boom in illicit distilling. In 1790s Edinburgh it was estimated that over 400 illegal stills competed with just eight licensed distilleries. A number of present-day Scottish distilleries, particularly in the Highlands, have their origins in such illicit operations.

The Excise Act of 1823 reduced taxes on Scotch whisky to a tolerable degree. This act coincided with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and entrepreneurs were soon building new, state-of-the-art distilleries. The local moonshiners (called smugglers) did not go quietly. Some of the first licensed distillers in rural locations were threatened by their illicit peers, but in the end production efficiencies and the rule of law won out. The whisky that came from these distilleries

was made primarily from malted barley that had been kiln-dried over peat fires. The smoke from these peat fires gave the malt a distinctive tang that made the Scottish product instantly identifiable by whisky drinkers all over the world.

The 19th century brought a rush of changes to the Scotch whisky industry. The introduction of column stills early in the 1830s led to the creation of grain whisky, a bland spirit made primarily from unmalted grains such as corn. Grain whisky in turn led to the creation of blended Scotch whisky in the late 1860s. The smooth blandness of the grain whisky toned down the assertive smoky character of the malt whiskies.

The resulting blended whisky proved to be milder and more acceptable to foreign consumers, particularly the English, who turned to Scotch whisky in the 1870s when a phylloxera infestation in the vineyards of Europe disrupted supplies of Cognac and PortA~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^?two of the mainstays of civilized living. Malt whisky distilleries were bought up by blending companies and their output was blended with grain whiskies to create the great blended brands that have come to dominate the market. The malt whisky distilleries took a back seat to these brands and sold most or, in some cases, all of their production to the blenders. But the recent popular revival of malt whiskies has led most of the distilleries to come out with bottlings of their own products.

By the 1970s international liquor companies owned most of the malt whisky distilleries, a situation that continues to this day. Today, all Scotch malt whiskies are double or triple distilled in pot stills, whereas Scotch grain whiskies are made in column stills. Single Malt Scotch Whisky is malt whisky that has been produced at one distillery. It may be a mix of malt whiskies from different years (in which case the age statement on the bottle label gives the age of the youngest spirit in the mix). The barley malt for Scotch whisky is first dried over fires that have been stoked with dried peat (a form of compacted grass and heather compost that is harvested from the moors). The peat smoke adds a distinctive smoky tang to the taste of the malt whisky. Vatted Malt Scotch Whisky is a blend of malt whiskies from different Scottish distilleries. Scotch Grain Whisky (which is rarely bottled as such) is made primarily from wheat or corn with a small percentage of barley and barley malt (the latter not being dried over peat fires). Blended Scotch Whisky is a blend of grain whisky and malt whisky.

Why Blended Scotch Whisky Is A Good Thing, Even If You Prefer Single Malts

It is a truism of religion that converts frequently become the most zealous of believers. Among freshly minted modern-day enthusiasts of Scotch malt whiskies, it is a frequently heard refrain that malt whiskies are superior to the blended article, and that the latter are just not worth bothering with. Personal taste is ultimately subjective of course, but single-malt drinkers should raise their hats in salute whenever a Dewar's or Johnnie Walker delivery truck drives by, because without these blended brands most of the remaining malt distilleries would not exist. Blended Scotch whiskies require a mix of dozens of different malt whiskies to be combined with grain whisky in order to create the desired blend. The individual percentages of each malt whisky may be small, but each contributes its unique character to the blend. A blender will thus need to buy or produce a large amount of different malt whiskies in order to maintain the consistency of the blend. Thus, for a malt whisky distillery, the single malt may get all of the glory, but the blends ultimately pay the bills.

Independent Merchant Bottlings

Before the present-day revival in popularity of single malt Scotch whiskies, a number of the 100 or so malt whisky distilleries did not bother to bottle their own product. Almost all of their production would be sold to blenders, directly or through brokers. The one exception to this rule was the relative handful of casks from each season's production that would be sold to independent retail merchants or bottlers who would mature the whisky on their own, then at an age of their own choosing, bottle and sell them to the public. This commercial tradition was more prevalent before the rise of supermarket and discount liquor chains, but a handful of independent bottlers remain in Scotland. The best known of these are Cadenhead, Gordon & McPhail, and The Malt Whiskey Society. These merchant bottlings can offer interesting variations on official distillery bottlings, but that variance is not always a good thing. Caveat emptor.

Ghost Whiskies

The modern history of Scotch whisky has been a series of boom-and-bust cycles. In the late 1800s a large number of new distilleries were established, but at the turn of the century came a crash when financial hijinks among wholesale whisky merchants were brought to light. The industry revived, only to be disrupted by the advent of World War I and a prohibitionist mood in the government (it was at this same time that Britain's famously odd hours of operation for pubs were established). National Prohibition in the United States disrupted sales to a major export market, but, oddly enough, far more whisky was shipped to Canada, the Bahamas and Mexico than had hitherto been the case (perhaps for transshipment to the United States?). World War II resulted in many distilleries turning to industrial alcohol production, but in the postwar years whisky production was boosted by substantial exports to the United States. All of these ups and downs have led to the phenomenon of distilleries being mothballed, reopened and mothballed again depending on the demands of the marketplace. In such cases, and also when plants are permanently closed down, their brands of single malt whiskies continue to live on in the marketplace for decades as the previously distilled whisky slowly finishes its aging time and is bottled. These "ghost" or "fossil" whiskies keep alive the proud names of distilleries that were torn down long ago and replaced by parking lots and housing developments.

Scotch Whisky RegionsThe Highlands consist of the portion of Scotland north of a line from Dundee on the North Sea coast in the east to Greenock on the Irish Sea in the west, including all of the islands off the mainland except for Islay. Highland malt whiskies cover a broad spectrum of styles. They are generally aromatic, smooth and medium bodied, with palates that range from lushly complex to floral delicacy. The subregions of the Highlands include Speyside; the North, East and West Highlands; the Orkney Isles; and the Western Islands (Arran, Jura, Mull, and Skye).

The Lowlands encompass the entire Scottish mainland south of the Highlands except the Kintyre Peninsula where Campbeltown is located. Lowland malt whiskies are light bodied, relatively sweet, and delicate.

Islay is an island off the west coast. Traditional Islay malt whiskies are intensely smoky and pungent in character with a distinctive iodine or medicinal tang that is said to come from sea salt permeating the local peat that is used to dry the barley malt.

Campbeltown is a port located on the tip of the Kintyre Peninsula on the southwest coast that has its own distinctive spicy and salt-tinged malt whiskies.

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The word Brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, ("burnt wine"), which is how the straightforward Dutch traders who introduced it to Northern Europe from Southern France and Spain in the 16th century described wine that had been "burnt," or boiled, in order to distill it. The origins of Brandy can be traced back to the expanding Moslem Mediterranean states in the 7th and 8th centuries. Arab alchemists experimented with distilling grapes and other fruits in order to make medicinal spirits. Their knowledge and techniques soon spread beyond the borders of Islam, with grape Brandy production appearing in Spain and probably Ireland (via missionary monks) by the end of the 8th century. Brandy, in its broadest definition, is a spirit made from fruit juice or fruit pulp and skin. More specifically, it is broken down into three basic groupings.

Grape Brandy is Brandy distilled from fermented grape juice or crushed but not pressed grape pulp and skin. This spirit is aged in wooden casks (usually oak) which colors it, mellows the palate, and adds additional aromas and flavors.

Pomace Brandy (Italian Grappa and French Marc are the best-known examples) is Brandy made from the pressed grape pulp, skins, and stems that remain after the grapes are crushed and pressed to extract most of the juice for wine. Pomace Brandies, which are usually minimally aged and seldom see wood, are an acquired taste. They often tend to be rather raw, although they can offer a fresh, fruity aroma of the type of grape used, a characteristic that is lost in regular oak-aged Brandy.

Fruit Brandy is the default term for all Brandies that are made from fermenting fruit other than grapes. It should not be confused with Fruit-Flavored Brandy, which is grape Brandy that has been flavored with the extract of another fruit. Fruit Brandies, except those made from berries, are generally distilled from fruit wines. Berries tend to lack enough sugar to make a wine with sufficient alcohol for proper distillation, and thus are soaked (macerated) in high-proof spirit to extract their flavor and aroma. The extract is then distilled once at a low proof. Calvados, the Apple Brandy from the Normandy region of Northwestern France, is probably the best known type of Fruit Brandy. Eau-de-vie ("water of life") is the default term in French for spirits in general, and specifically for colorless fruit brandy, particularly from the Alsace region of France and from California.

Brandy, like Rum and Tequila, is an agricultural spirit. Unlike grain spirits such as Whisky, Vodka, and Gin, which are made throughout the year from grain that can be harvested and stored, Brandy is dependent on the seasons, the ripening of the base fruit, and the production of the wine from which it is made. Types of Brandies, originally at least, tended to be location-specific. (Cognac, for example, is a town and region in France that gave its name to the local Brandy.) Important Brandy-making regions, particularly in Europe, further differentiate their local spirits by specifying the types of grapes that can be used and the specific areas (appellation) in which the grapes used for making the base wine can be grown.

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French Brandies: Cognac and Armagnac

Cognac is the best known type of Brandy in the world, a benchmark by which most other Brandies are judged. The Cognac region is located on the west-central Atlantic coast of France, just north of Bordeaux, in the departments of Charente and Charente-Maritime. The region is further subdivided into six growing zones: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Bois Ordinaries, Borderies, Fins Bois, and Bons Bois. The first two of these regions produce the best Cognac and will frequently be so designated on bottle labels. Cognacs labelled Fine Champagne are a blend of Petite and Grande Champagne. The primary grapes used in making Cognac are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. The wines made from these grapes are thin, tart, and low in alcohol; poor characteristics for table wines, but oddly enough, perfect for making Brandy. Cognac is double distilled in pot stills and then aged in casks made from Limousin or Troncais oak. All Cognacs start out in new oak to mellow the fiery spirit and give them color. Batches that are chosen for long-term aging are, after a few years, transferred to used, or "seasoned," casks that impart less of the oak flavor notes while the Brandy matures.

Virtually all Cognacs are a blend of Brandies from different vintages, and frequently, different growing zones. Even those from single vineyards or distilleries will be a mix of Brandies from different casks. As in Champagne, the production of local vineyards is sold to Cognac houses, each of which stores and ages Cognacs from different suppliers and then employs master blenders to draw from these disparate Brandies to create continuity in the house blends. Because there are no age statements on Cognacs, the industry has adopted some generally accepted terms to differentiate Cognacs. It is important to note that these terms have no legal status, and each Cognac shipper uses them according to his own criteria. V.S./V.S.P./Three Star: (V.S., very superior; V.S.P., very superior pale) A minimum of two years aging in a cask, although the industry average is four to five years. V.S.O.P.: (very superior old pale) A minimum of four years cask aging for the youngest Cognac in the blend, with the industry average being between 10 and 15 years.

X.O./Luxury: (X.O., extra old) A minimum of six years aging for the youngest cognac in the blend, with the average age running 20 years or older. All Cognac houses maintain inventories of old vintage Cognacs to use in blending these top of the line brands. The oldest Cognacs are removed from their casks in time and stored in glass demijohns (large jugs) to prevent further loss from evaporation and to limit excessively woody and astringent flavors. Luxury Cognacs are the very finest Cognacs of each individual Cognac house.

Armagnac is the oldest type of Brandy in France, with documented references to distillation dating back to the early 15th century. The Armagnac region is located in the heart of the ancient province of Gascony in the southwest corner of France. As in Cognac, there are regional growing zones: Bas-Armagnac, Haut Armagnac, and Tenareze. The primary grapes used in making Armagnac are likewise the Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. But distillation takes place in the unique alambic Armagnacais, a type of column still that is even more "inefficient" than a typical Cognac pot still.

The resulting brandy has a rustic, assertive character and aroma that requires additional cask aging to mellow it out. The best Armagnacs are aged in casks made from the local Monlezun oak. In recent years Limousin and Troncais oak casks have been added to the mix of casks as suitable Monlezun oak becomes harder to find.

Most Armagnacs are blends, but unlike Cognac, single vintages and single vineyard bottlings can be found. The categories of Armagnac are generally the same as those of Cognac (V.S., V.S.O.P., X.O., etc.). Blended Armagnacs frequently have a greater percentage of older vintages in their mix than comparable Cognacs, making them a better value for the discerning buyer.

Have Still, Will Travel

Up until the 1970s, portable alambic Armagnacais mounted on two-wheel carts were hauled among small vineyards in Armangnac by itinerant distillers called bouillers de cru. These traveling stills, alas, have mostly given way to larger fixed-in-place setups operated by farmer cooperatives and individual operators.

French Brandy is the catch-all designation for Brandy produced from grapes grown in other regions. These Brandies are usually distilled in column stills and aged in oak casks for varying periods of time. They are frequently blended with wine, grape juice, oak flavorings, and other Brandies, including Cognac, in order to smooth out the rough edges. Cognac-like quality designations such as V.S.O.P. and Napoleon are frequently used, but have no legal standing.

Spanish Brandies

Brandy de Jerez is made by the Sherry houses centered around the city of Jerez de la Frontera in the southwest corner of Spain. Virtually all Brandy de Jerez; however, is made from wines produced elsewhere in Spain -- primarily from the Airen grape in La Mancha and Extremadura -- as the local Sherry grapes are too valuable to divert into Brandy production. Nowadays most of the distilling is likewise done elsewhere in Spain using column stills. It is then shipped to Jerez for aging in used Sherry casks in a solera system similar to that used for Sherry wine. A solera is a series of large casks (called butts), each holding a slightly older spirit than the previous one beside it. When brandy is drawn off (racked) from the last butt (no more than a third of the volume is removed) it is replenished with brandy drawn from the next butt in line all the way down the solera line to the first butt, where newly distilled brandy is added. This system of racking the brandy through a series of casks blends together a variety of vintages (some soleras have over 30 stages) and results in a speeding up of the maturation process.

Basic Brandy de Jerez Solera must age for a minimum of six months, Reserva for one year and Gran Reserva for a minimum of three years. In practice, the best Reservas and Gran Reservas are frequently aged for 12 to 15 years. The lush, slightly sweet and fruity notes to be found in Brandy de Jerez come not only from aging in Sherry casks, but also from the judicious use of fruit-based flavor concentrates and oak essence (boise).

Penedes Brandy comes from the Penedes region of Catalonia in the northeast corner of Spain near Barcelona. Modeled after the Cognacs of France and made from a mix of regional grapes and locally-grown Ugni Blanc of Cognac, it is distilled in pot stills. One of the two local producers (Torres) ages in soleras consisting of butts made from French Limousin oak, whereas the other (Mascaro) ages in the standard non-solera manner, but also in Limousin oak. The resulting Brandy is heartier than Cognac, but leaner and drier than Brandy de Jerez.

Italian Brandies

Italy has a long history of Brandy production dating back to at least the 16th century, but unlike Spain or France there are no specific Brandy-producing regions. Italian Brandies are made from regional wine grapes, and most are produced in column stills, although there are now a number of small artisanal producers using pot stills. They are aged in oak for a minimum of one to two years, with six to eight years being the industry average. Italian Brandies tend to be on the light and delicate side with a touch of residual sweetness.

Pomace Brandies: Getting to grips with Grappa

Italy produces a substantial amount of Grappa, both of the raw, firewater variety and the more elegant, artisanal efforts that are made from one designated grape type and frequently packaged in hand-blown bottles. Both types of Grappa can be unaged or aged for a few years in old casks that will tame the hard edge of the spirit without imparting much flavor or color. Marc from France is produced in all of the nation's wine-producing regions, but is mostly consumed locally. Marc de gewA~f?’A~‚A^1/4rztraminer from Alsace is particularly noteworthy because it retains some of the distinctive perfumed nose and spicy character of the grape. California pomace Brandies from the United States are broadly in the Italian style and are usually called Grappas, even when they are made from non-Italian grape varieties. This is also true of the pomace Brandies from Canada.

German Brandies

German monks were distilling Brandy by the 14th century and the German distillers had organized their own guild as early as 1588. Yet almost from the start, German Brandy (called weinbrand ) has been made from imported wine rather than the more valuable local varieties. Most German Brandies are produced in pot stills and must be aged for a minimum of six months in oak. Brandies that have been aged in oak for at least one year are called uralt or alter (meaning "older"). The best German Brandies are smooth, somewhat lighter than Cognac, and finish with a touch of sweetness.

United States Brandies

Brandy production in California dates back to the Spanish missions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the years following the Civil War, Brandy became a major industry, with a substantial export trade to Europe by the end of the century. For a time Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University, was the world's largest brandy producer. Phylloxera and National Prohibition almost shut down the industry in the 1920s.

Repeal started things up again, but as with the bourbon industry, the advent of World War II resulted in the brandy producers further marking time. Soon after the end of the war the industry commissioned the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at the University of California at Davis to develop a prototype "California-style" brandy. It had a clean palate, was lighter in style than most European Brandies, and had a flavor profile that made it a good mixer. Starting in the late 1940s, the California brandy producers began to change over to this new style.

Contemporary California Brandies are made primarily in column stills from table grape varieties such as the Thompson Seedless and Flame Tokay, although a handful of small new-generation Cognac-inspired pot distillers, such as Jepson and RMS, are using the classic Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche grapes. California Brandies are aged for two to 12 years in used American oak (both Brandy and Bourbon casks) to limit woodiness in the palate, although the pot distillers also use French oak. Several California distillers, most notably Korbel, have utilized the Spanish solera method of maturing their Brandy. California Brandies do not use quality designations such as V.S.O.P. or stars. The more expensive brands will usually contain a percentage of older vintages and pot-distilled Brandies in the blend.

Latin American Brandies

In Mexico a surprising amount of wine is made, but it is little known outside of the country because most of it is used for Brandy production. Mexican Brandies are made from a mix of grapes, including Thompson Seedless, Palomino, and Ugni Blanc. Both column and pot stills are used in production whereas the solera system is generally used for aging. Brandy now outsells tequila and rum in Mexico.

South American Brandies are generally confined to their domestic markets. The best known type is Pisco, a clear, raw Brandy from Peru and Chile that is made from Muscat grapes and double-distilled in pot stills. The resulting Brandy has a perfumed fragrance and serves as the base for a variety of mixed drinks, including the famous Pisco Sour.

Other Brandies from around the world

Greece produces pot-distilled Brandies, many of which, such as the well-known Metaxa, are flavored with Muscat wine, anise, or other spices. Winemaking in Israel is a well-established tradition dating back thousands of years. But Brandy production dates back only to the 1880s when the French Jewish philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild established what has become the modern Israeli wine industry along French lines. Israeli brandy is made in the manner of Cognac from Colombard grapes, with distillation in both pot and column stills and maturation in French Limousin oak casks. In the Caucasus region, along the eastern shore of the Black Sea, the ancient nations of Georgia and Armenia draw on monastic traditions to produce rich, intensely flavored pot still Brandies both from local grapes and from such imported varieties as Muscadine (from France), Sercial and Verdelho (most famously from Madeira). South Africa has produced Brandies since the arrival of the first Dutch settlers in the 17th century, but these early spirits from the Cape Colony earned a reputation for being harsh firewater (witblits, white lightning, was a typical nickname). The introduction of modern production techniques and government regulations in the early 20th century gradually led to an improvement in the quality of local Brandies. Modern South African Brandies are made from Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Chenin Blanc, and Palomino grapes, produced in both pot and column stills, and aged for a minimum of three years in oak.

Apple and Other Fruit Brandies

Normandy is one of the few regions in France that does not have a substantial grape wine industry. Instead it is apple country, with a substantial tradition of producing hard and sweet cider that in turn can be distilled into an Apple Brandy known as Calvados. The local cider apples, which tend to be small and tart, are closer in type to crab apples than to modern table apples. This spirit has its own appellations, with the best brands coming from Appellation Controlee Pays d'Auge near the Atlantic seaport of Deauville, and the rest in 10 adjacent regions that are designated Appellation Reglementee. Most Pays d'Auge and some of the better Appellation Reglementee are produced in pot stills. All varieties of Calvados are aged in oak casks for a minimum of two years. Cognac-style quality and age terms such as V.S.O.P. and Hors d'Age are frequently used on labels, but have no legal meaning. In the United States, Applejack, as Apple Brandy is called locally, is thought by many to be the first spirit produced in the British colonies. This colonial tradition has continued on the East Coast with the Laird's Distillery in New Jersey (established in 1780 and the oldest distillery in America). Apple Brandies that are more like eau-de-vie are produced in California and Oregon.

The fruit-growing regions of the upper Rhine River are the prime eau-de-vie production areas of Europe. The Black Forest region of Bavaria in Germany, and Alsace in France, are known for their Cherry Brandies (Kir in France, Kirschwasser in Germany), Raspberry Brandies (Framboise and Himbeergeist), and Pear Brandies (Poire). Similar eaux-de-vies are now being produced in the United States in California and Oregon. Some Plum Brandy is also made in these regions (Mirabelle from France is an example), but the best known type of Plum Brandy is Slivovitz, which is made from the small blue Sljiva plum throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

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Gin and its Lowlands cousin Genever (Jenever in Belgium) are white spirits that are flavored with juniper berries and so-called botanicals (a varied assortment of herbs and spices). The spirit base of Gin is primarily grain (usually wheat or rye), which results in a light-bodied spirit.

Genever is made primarily from "malt wine" (a mixture of malted barley, wheat, corn, and rye), which produces a fuller-bodied spirit similar to raw malt whisky. A small number of genevers in Holland and Belgium are distilled directly from fermented juniper berries, producing a particularly intensely flavored spirit.

The chief flavoring agent in both Gin and Genever is the highly aromatic blue-green berry of the juniper, a low-slung evergreen bush (genus Juniperus) that is commercially grown in northern Italy, Croatia, the United States and Canada. Additional botanicals can include anise, angelica root, cinnamon, orange peel, coriander, and cassia bark. All Gin and Genever makers have their own secret combination of botanicals, the number of which can range from as few as four to as many as 15.

Distillation of Gin

Most Gin is initially distilled in efficient column stills. The resulting spirit is high-proof, light-bodied, and clean with a minimal amount of congeners (flavor compounds) and flavoring agents. Genever is distilled in less-efficient pot stills, which results in a lower-proof, more flavorful spirit.

Low-quality "compound" gins are made by simply mixing the base spirit with juniper and botanical extracts. Mass-market gins are produced by soaking juniper berries and botanicals in the base spirit and then redistilling the mixture.

Top-quality gins and genevers are flavored in a unique manner. After one or more distillations the base spirit is redistilled one last time. During this final distillation the alcohol vapor wafts through a chamber in which the dried juniper berries and botanicals are suspended. The vapor gently extracts aromatic and flavoring oils and compounds from the berries and spices as it travels through the chamber on its way to the condenser. The resulting flavored spirit has a noticeable degree of complexity.

Classifications of Gin

London Dry Gin is the dominant English style of Gin. As a style it lends itself particularly well to mixing. London Dry Gin is the dominant Gin style in the United Kingdom, former British colonies, the United States, and Spain.

Plymouth Gin is relatively full-bodied (when compared to London Dry Gin). It is clear, slightly fruity, and very aromatic. Originally the local Gin style of the English Channel port of Plymouth, modern Plymouth Gin is nowadays made only by one distillery in Plymouth, Coates & Co., which also controls the right to the term Plymouth Gin.

Old Tom Gin is the last remaining example of the original lightly sweetened gins that were so popular in 18th-century England. The name comes from what may be the first example of a beverage vending machine. In the 1700s some pubs in England would have a wooden plaque shaped like a black cat (an "Old Tom") mounted on the outside wall. Thirsty passersby would deposit a penny in the cat's mouth and place their lips around a small tube between the cat's paws. The bartender inside would then pour a shot of Gin through the tube and into the customer's waiting mouth. Until fairly recently limited quantities of Old Tom-style Gin were still being made by a few British distillers, but they were, at best, curiosity items.

Genever or Hollands is the Dutch style of Gin. Genever is distilled from a malted grain mash similar to that used for whisky. Oude ("old") Genever is the original style. It is straw-hued, relatively sweet and aromatic. Jonge ("young") Genever has a drier palate and lighter body. Some genevers are aged for one to three years in oak casks. Genevers tend to be lower proof than English gins (72-80 proof or 36-40% ABV is typical). They are usually served straight up and chilled. The classic accompaniment to a shot of Genever is a dried green herring. Genever is traditionally sold in a cylindrical stoneware crock. Genever-style gins are produced in Holland, Belgium, and Germany.

Gin Regions

The United Kingdom produces mostly dry Gin, primarily from column stills. British gins tend to be high proof (90A~fa^ˆs(A~‚A^° or 45% ABV) and citrus-accented from the use of dried lemon and Seville orange peels in the mix of botanicals. British gins are usually combined into mixed drinks.

Holland and Belgium produce Genever, mostly from pot stills. Genevers are distilled at lower proof levels than English gins and are generally fuller in body. Many of these gins are aged for one to three years in oak casks. Some Genever producers now market fruit-flavored genevers, the best known being black currant. Dutch and Belgian genevers are usually chilled and served neat.

Germany produces a Genever-style Gin called Dornkaat in the North Sea coast region of Frisia. This spirit is lighter in body and more delicate in flavor than both Dutch Genever and English dry Gin. German Gin is usually served straight up and cold.

Spain produces a substantial amount of Gin, all of it in the London Dry style from column stills. Most of it is sold for mixing with cola.

The United States is the world's largest Gin market. London Dry Gin accounts for the bulk of domestic Gin production, with most of it being produced in column stills. American Dry gins (often termed "soft" gins) tend to be lower proof (80A~fa^ˆs(A~‚A^° or 40% ABV) and less flavorful than their English counterparts ("hard" gins). This rule applies even to brands such as Gordon's and Gilbey's, which originated in England. America's best-selling Gin, Seagram's Extra Dry, is a rare cask-aged Dry Gin. Three months of aging in charred oak barrels gives the Gin a pale straw color and a smooth palate.

The Martini and the Meaning of Life

The best known of hundreds of Gin-based mixed drinks is the Gin and white vermouth combination called the Martini. As is usually the case with most popular mixed drinks, the origins of the martini are disputed. One school of thought holds that it evolved from the late-19th-century Martinez cocktail, a rather cloying mixture of Old Tom-style Gin and sweet vermouth. A dissenting sect holds that it was created in the bar of the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City in the early 20th century. The ratio of Gin to vermouth started out at about 2 to 1, and it has been getting drier ever since. The great British statesman Winston Churchill, who devoted a great deal of thought and time to drinking, was of the opinion that passing the cork from the vermouth bottle over the glass of Gin was sufficient.

The martini has frequently served as a metaphor for some of the great social and political issues of our times. President Jimmy Carter denounced the "three martini lunch" in a thinly-veiled attempt at class warfare during his election campaign. He was not reelected.

Gin - Origins and History

Gin is a juniper berry-flavored grain spirit . The word is an English shortening of Genever, the Dutch word for juniper. The origins of Gin are rather murky. In the late 1580s a juniper-flavored spirit of some sort was found in Holland by British troops who were fighting against the Spanish in the Dutch War of Independence. They gratefully drank it to give them what they soon came to call "Dutch courage" in battle. The Dutch themselves were encouraged by their government to favor such grain spirits over imported wine and brandy by lack of excise taxes on such local drinks.

A clearer beginning was a few decades later in the 1600s when a Dr. Franciscus de la BoA~f?’A~‚A^« in the university town of Leiden created a juniper and spice-flavored medicinal spirit that he promoted as a diuretic. Genever soon found favor across the English Channel; first as a medicine (Samuel Pepys wrote in 1660 of curing a case of "colic" with a dose of "strong water made with juniper") and then as a beverage.

When the Dutch Protestant William of Orange and his English wife Mary became co-rulers of England after the "Glorious Revolution" drove James II from the throne, he moved to discourage the importation of brandy from the Catholic wine-making countries by setting high tariffs. As a replacement he promoted the production of grain spirits ("corn brandy" as it was known at the time) by abolishing taxes and licensing fees for the manufacture of such local products as Gin. History has shown that prohibition never works, but unfettered production of alcohol has its problems too. By the 1720s it was estimated that a quarter of the households in London were used for the production or sale of Gin. Mass drunkenness became a serious problem. The cartoonist Hogarth's famous depiction of such behavior in "Gin Lane" shows a sign above a Gin shop that states, "Drunk for a penny/Dead drunk for twopence/Clean straw for Nothing." Panicky attempts by the government to prohibit Gin production, such as the Gin Act of 1736, resulted in massive illicit distilling and the cynical marketing of "medicinal" spirits with such fanciful names as Cuckold's Comfort and My Lady's Eye Water.

A combination of reimposed government controls, the growth of high-quality commercial Gin distillers, the increasing popularity of imported rum, and a general feeling of public exhaustion gradually brought this mass hysteria under control, although the problems caused by the combination of cheap Gin and extreme poverty extended well into the 19th century. Fagin's irritable comment to a child in the film Oliver A~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^?"Shut up and drink your Gin!"A~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^?had a basis in historical fact.

Starting in the 18th century the British Empire began its worldwide growth; and wherever the Union Jack went, English-style gins followed. In British North American colonies such celebrated Americans as Paul Revere and George Washington were notably fond of Gin, and the Quakers were well-known for their habit of drinking Gin toddies after funerals.

The arrival of the Victorian era in England in the mid-19th century ushered in a low-key rehabilitation of Gin's reputation. The harsh, sweetened "Old Tom" styles of Gin of the early 1700s slowly gave way to a new cleaner style called Dry Gin. This style of Gin became identified with the city of London to the extent that the term "London Dry" Gin became a generic term for the style, regardless of where it was actually produced.

Genteel middle-class ladies sipped their sloe Gin (Gin flavored with sloe berries) while consulting Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (a wildly popular Victorian cross between the Joy of Cooking and Martha Stewart lifestyle books) for Gin-based mixed drink recipes. The British military, particularly the officer corps, became a hotbed of Gin consumption. Hundreds of Gin-based mixed drinks were invented and the mastery of their making was considered part of a young officer's training. The best known of these cocktails, the Gin and Tonic, was created as a way for Englishmen in tropical colonies to take their daily dose of quinine, a very bitter medicine used to ward off malaria. Modern tonic water still contains quinine, though as a flavoring rather than a medicine.

In Holland the production of Genever was quickly integrated into the vast Dutch trading system. The port of Rotterdam became the center of Genever distilling, as distilleries opened there to take advantage of the abundance of needed spices that were arriving from the Dutch colonies in the East Indies (present-day Indonesia). Many of today's leading Dutch Genever distillers can trace their origins back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Examples include such firms as Bols (founded 1575) and de Kuyper (1695).

Belgium developed its own juniper-flavored spirit, called Jenever (with a "j"), in a manner similar to that in Holland (which controlled Belgium for a time in the early 19th century). The two German invasions of Belgium in World Wars I and II had a particularly hard effect on Jenever producers, as the occupying Germans stripped the distilleries of their copper stills and piping for use in the production of shell casings. The remaining handful of present-day Belgian Jenever distillers produce Jenever primarily for the local domestic market.

Gin may have originated in Holland and developed into its most popular style in England, but its most enthusiastic modern-day consumers are to be found in Spain, which has the highest per capita consumption in the world. Production of London Dry-style Gin began in the 1930s, but serious consumption did not begin until the mix of Gin and Cola became inexplicably popular in the 1960s.

Gin production in the United States dates back to colonial times, but the great boost to Gin production was the advent of National Prohibition in 1920. Moonshining quickly moved in to fill the gap left by the shutdown of commercial distilleries, but the furtive nature of illicit distilling worked against the production of the then-dominant whiskies, all of which required some aging in oak casks. Bootleggers were not in a position to store and age illegal whisky, and the caramel-colored, prune-juice-dosed grain alcohol substitutes were generally considered to be vile.

Gin, on the other hand, did not require any aging, and was relatively easy to make by mixing raw alcohol with juniper berry extract and other flavorings and spices in a large container such as a bathtub (thus the origin of the term "Bathtub Gin"). These gins were generally of poor quality and taste, a fact that gave rise to the popularity of cocktails in which the mixers served to disguise the taste of the base Gin. Repeal of Prohibition at the end of 1933 ended the production of bootleg Gin, but Gin remained a part of the American beverage scene. It was the dominant white spirit in the United States until the rise of Vodka in the 1960s. It still remains popular, helped along recently by the revived popularity of the Martini.

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Tequila and Mezcal

Tequila, and its country cousin Mezcal, are made by distilling the fermented juice of agave plants in Mexico. The agave is a spiky-leafed member of the lily family (it is not a cactus) and is related to the century plant. By Mexican law the agave spirit called Tequila can be made only from one particular type of agave, the blue agave (Agave Tequiliana Weber), and can be produced only in specifically designated geographic areas, primarily the state of Jalisco in west-central Mexico.

Mezcal is made from the fermented juice of other species of agave. It is produced throughout most of Mexico.

Both Tequila and Mezcal are prepared for distillation in similar ways. The agave, also know as maguey (pronounced muh-GAY), is cultivated on plantations for eight to 10 years, depending on the type of agave. When the plant reaches sexual maturity it starts to grow a flower stalk. The agave farmer, or campesino, cuts off the stalk just as it is starting to grow. This redirects the plant growth into the central stalk, swelling it into a large bulbous shape that contains a sweet juicy pulp. When the swelling is completed, the campesino cuts the plant from its roots and removes the long sword-shaped leaves, using a razor-sharp pike-like tool called a coa. The remaining piA~f?’A~‚A^±a ("pineapple"A~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^?so-called because the cross-thatched denuded bulb resembles a giant green and white pineapple) weighs anywhere from 25 to 100 pounds.

At the distillery the pilas are cut into quarters. For Tequila they are then slowly baked in steam ovens or autoclaves (oversized pressure cookers) until all of the starch has been converted to sugars. For Mezcal they are baked in underground ovens heated with wood charcoal (which gives Mezcal its distinctive smoky taste). They are then crushed (traditionally with a stone wheel drawn around a circular trough by a mule) and shredded to extract the sweet juice, called aguamiel (honey water).

The fermentation stage determines whether the final product will be 100 percent agave or mixed ("mixto"). The highest-quality Tequila is made from fermenting and then distilling only agave juice mixed with some water. Mixto is made by fermenting and then distilling a mix of agave juice and other sugars, usually cane sugar with water. Mixtos made and bottled in Mexico can contain up to 40% alcohol derived from other sugars. Mixtos that have been shipped in bulk to other countries for bottling (primarily the United States) may have the agave content further reduced to 51% by the foreign bottler. By Mexican law all 100% agave or aged Tequila must be bottled in Mexico. If a Tequila is 100 percent agave it will always say so on the bottle label. If it doesn't say 100% it is a mixto, although that term is seldom used on bottle labels.

Distillation and Aging

Traditionally Tequila and Mezcal have been distilled in pot stills to 110 proof (55% ABV). The resulting spirit is clear, but contains a significant amount of congeners and other flavor elements. Some light-colored Tequilas are now being re-distilled in column stills to produce a cleaner, blander spirit.

Color in Tequila and Mezcal comes mostly from the addition of caramel, although barrel aging is a factor in some high-quality brands. Additionally, some distillers add small amounts of natural flavorings such as Sherry, prune concentrate, and coconut to manipulate the product's flavor profile. These added flavors do not stand out themselves, but instead serve to smooth out the often hard-edged palate of agave spiritS.


Beyond the two basic designations of Tequila - agave and mixto - there are four categories: Silver or Blanco/White Tequilas are clear, with little (no more than 60 days in stainless steel tanks) or no aging. They can be either 100% agave or mixto. Silver Tequilas are used primarily for mixing and blend particularly well into fruit-based drinks.

Gold Tequila is unaged silver Tequila that has been colored and flavored with caramel. It is usually a mixto.

Reposado ("rested") Tequila is aged in wooden tanks or casks for a legal minimum period of at least two months, with the better-quality brands spending three to nine months in wood. It can be either 100% agave or mixto. Reposado Tequilas are the best-selling Tequilas in Mexico.

("old") Tequila is aged in wooden barrels (usually old Bourbon barrels) for a minimum of 12 months. The best-quality anejos are aged 18 months to three years for mixtos, and up to four years for 100% agaves. Aging Tequila for more than four years is a matter of controversy. Most Tequila producers oppose doing so because they feel that "excessive" oak aging will overwhelm the distinctive earthy and vegetal agave flavor notes.

Mezcal and the Worm

The rules and regulations that govern the production and packaging of Tequila do not apply to agave spirits produced outside of the designated Tequila areas in Mexico. Some Mezcal distilleries are very primitive and very small. The best known mezcal come from the southern state of Oaxaca (wuh-HA-kuh), although it is produced in a number of other states. Eight varieties of agave are approved for Mezcal production, but the chief variety used is the espadin agave (agave angustifolia Haw).

The famous "worm" that is found in some bottles of Mezcal (con gusano -- "with worm") is actually the larva of one of two moths that live on the agave plant. The reason for adding the worm to the bottle of Mezcal is obscure. But one story, that at least has the appeal of logic to back it up, is that the worm serves as proof of high proof, which is to say that if the worm remains intact in the bottle, the percentage of alcohol in the spirit is high enough to preserve the pickled worm. Consuming the worm, which can be done without harm, has served as a rite of passage for generations of fraternity boys. As a rule, top-quality mezcals do not include a worm in the bottle.

History and Origins

Among the pantheon of Aztec gods was Tepoztacal, the god of alcoholic merriment. Tequila, and Mezcal, trace their origins back at least two thousand years. Around the first century A.D., one or more of the Indian tribes that inhabited what is now central Mexico discovered that the juice of the agave plant, if left exposed to air, would ferment and turn into a milky, mildly alcoholic drink. News of this discovery spread throughout agave-growing areas. The Aztecs called this beverage octili poliqhui, a name that the Spaniards subsequently corrupted into pulque (POOL-kay).

In Aztec culture pulque drinking had religious significance. Consumption by the masses was limited to specific holidays when large tubs of pulque were set up in public squares. The ruling elite was not subject to the same restrictions, however, and drank pulque throughout the year-- a privilege shared by captive warriors just before they were sacrificed to the gods.

When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the early 16th century, they soon began to make and drink pulque, but the low alcohol content (around 3% ABV) and earthy, vegetal taste made it less popular among the conquistadors than European-style beers and brandies. Early attempts to distill pulque were unsuccessful, as the resulting spirit was harsh and acrid. It was soon discovered, however, that cooking the agave pulp resulted in a sweeter juice which, when fermented, became known as Mezcal Wine. This "wine" was then distilled into the spirit that we know today as Mezcal.

Early Mezcal distilleries in the Spanish colony of Mexico operated in a manner similar to modern-day brewpubs. The distilling plant was usually small, and its production was consumed primarily in the distillery tavern (taberna). As the colony grew, the Mezcal wine industry followed apace and soon became an important source of tax revenue for the Crown. Periodic attempts by Spanish brandy producers to shut down the Mezcal industry were about as unsuccessful as similar efforts by English distillers to inhibit rum production in the British colonies of North America.

The Evolution of Tequila

In 1656 the village of Tequila (named for the local Ticuilas Indians) was granted a charter by the governor of New Galicia. Tax records of the time show that Mezcal was already being produced in the area. This Mezcal, made from the local blue agave, established a reputation for having a superior taste, and barrels of the "Mezcal wine from Tequila" were soon being shipped to nearby Guadalajara and more distant cities such as the silver-mining boomtowns of San Luis PotosA~f?’A~‚A^­ and Aguascalientes.

The oldest of the still-existing distilleries in Tequila dates back to 1795, when the Spanish Crown granted a distiller's license to a local padrone by the name of JosA~f?’A~‚A^© Cuervo. In 1805 a distillery was established that would ultimately come under the control of the Sauza family. By the mid 1800s there were dozens of distilleries and millions of agave plants under cultivation around Tequila in what had become the state of Jalisco. Gradually, the locally-produced Mezcal came to be known as Tequila (just as the grape brandy from the Cognac region in France came to be known simply as Cognac).

Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821. But until the 1870s it was a politically unstable country that experienced frequent changes in government, revolutions, and a disastrous war with the United States. Marauding bands of soldiers and guerillas extracted "revolutionary taxes" and "voluntary" contributions in kind from the tabernas and distilleries. In 1876 a general named Porfirio DA~f?’A~‚A^­az, who was from the Mezcal-producing state of Oaxaca, came to power and ushered in a 35-year period of relative peace and stability known as the Porfiriato.

It was during this period that the Tequila industry became firmly established. Modest exports of Tequila began to the United States and Europe, with Jose Cuervo shipping the first three barrels to El Paso, Texas in 1873. By 1910 the number of agave distilleries in the state of Jalisco had grown to almost 100.

The collapse of the Diaz regime in 1910 led to a decade-long period of revolution that inhibited the Tequila industry. The return of peace in the 1920s led to the expansion of Tequila production in Jalisco beyond the area around the town of Tequila, with growth being particularly noteworthy in the highlands around the village of Arandas. This period also saw the adoption of modern production techniques from the wine industry such as the use of cultivated yeast and microbiological sanitary practices.

In the 1930s the practice of adding non-agave sugars to the aguamiel, or "honey water," was introduced and quickly adopted by many Tequila producers. These mixto (mixed) Tequilas had a less intense taste than 100% blue agave Tequilas, but this relative blandness also made them more appealing to non-native consumers, particularly those in the United States.

From the 1930s through the 1980s, the bulk of the Tequila being produced was of the blended mixto variety. The original 100% agave Tequilas were reduced to a minor specialty product role in the market. But in the late 1980s the rising popularity of single malt Scotch whiskies and expensive Cognacs in the international marketplace did not go unnoticed among Tequila producers. New brands of 100% blue agave Tequilas were introduced and sales began a steady growth curve that continues to this day. This sales growth has resulted in the opening of new distilleries and the expansion of existing operations. Tequila is on an upswing.

What Bing Crosby and Jimmy Buffet Have in Common

Modest amounts of Tequila have been exported into U.S. border towns since the late 19th century. The first major boost to Tequila sales in the rest of the United States came in the late 1940s when the Margarita cocktail, a blend of Tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur, and ice was invented. Its origins are uncertain, but Hollywood actors and cocktail parties in California and Mexican resorts seem to be involved in most of the genesis stories. It is known that crooner and actor Bing Crosby was so taken with one particular brand of Tequila, Herradura, that he teamed up with fellow actor Phil Harris to import the brand into the United States. The Margarita, along with the Tequila Sunrise and the Tequila Sour, have become highly popular in the United States; in fact, it is claimed by many in the liquor industry that the Margarita is the single most popular cocktail in the nation. In the 1970s, when balladeer Jimmy Buffet sang of "Wasting away in Margaritaville," the success of the song enticed millions more Americans to sip from the salt-rimmed Margarita glass.

The Worm Turns

The upgrading and upscaling of Tequila has, in turn, inspired Mezcal producers to undertake similar measures. In the past few years an increasing number of high-end Mezcals, including some intriguing "single village" bottlings, have been introduced to the market. Mezcal now seems to be coming of its own as a distinctive, noteworthy spirit.

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Vodka is the dominant spirit of Eastern Europe. It is made by fermenting and then distilling the simple sugars from a mash of pale grain or vegetal matter. Vodka is produced from grain, potatoes, molasses, beets, and a variety of other plants. Rye and wheat are the classic grains for Vodka, with most of the best Russian Vodkas being made from wheat while in Poland they are mostly made from a rye mash. Swedish and Baltic distillers are partial to wheat mashes. Potatoes are looked down on by Russian distillers, but are held in high esteem by some of their Polish counterparts. Molasses, a sticky, sweet residue from sugar production, is widely used for inexpensive, mass-produced brands of Vodka. American distillers use the full range of base ingredients.

Distillation of Vodka

The choice of pot or column still has a fundamental effect on the final character of Vodka. All Vodka comes out of the still as a clear, colorless spirit, but Vodka from a pot still (the same sort used for Cognac and Scotch whisky) will contain some of the delicate aromatics, congeners, and flavor elements of the crop from which it was produced. Pot stills are relatively "inefficient," and the resulting spirit from the first distillation is usually redistilled (rectified) to increase the proof of the spirit. Vodka from a more "efficient" column still is usually a neutral, characterless spirit.

Except for a few minor styles, Vodka is not put in wooden casks or aged for an extensive period of time. It can, however, be flavored or colored with a wide variety of fruits, herbs, and spices.

Classifications of Vodka

There are no uniform classifications of Vodka. In Poland, Vodkas are graded according to their degree of purity: standard (zwykly), premium (wyborowy) and deluxe (luksusowy). In Russia Vodka that is labeled osobaya (special) usually is a superior-quality product that can be exported, while krepkaya (strong) denotes an overproof Vodka of at least 56% ABV.

In the United States, domestic Vodkas are defined by U.S. government regulation as "neutral spirits, so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color." Because American Vodka is, by law, neutral in taste, there are only very subtle distinctions between brands. Many drinkers feel that the only real way of differentiating between them is by alcohol content and price.

Types of Vodka

Since Vodka tends to be a neutral spirit, it lends itself to blending with flavors and fortifying other beverages. In the 19th century, high-proof "Russian spirit" was held in high esteem by Sherry producers in Spain, who imported it to fortify their wines.

Neutral spirits are still used to fortify Port, Sherry, and other types of fortified wines, although the source of alcohol for such purposes these days tends to be the vast "wine lake" that has been created by European Union agricultural practices.

Flavored Vodkas have been produced from the start, originally to mask the flavor of the first primitive Vodkas, but later as a mark of the distiller's skill. The Russians and Poles in particular still market dozens of flavors. Some of the better known types are:

Kubanskaya - Vodka flavored with an infusion of dried lemon and orange peels.

Limonnaya - Lemon-flavored Vodka, usually with a touch of sugar added.

Okhotnichya -"Hunter's" Vodka is flavored with a mix of ginger, cloves, lemon peel, coffee, anise and other herbs and spices. It is then blended with sugar and a touch of a wine similar to white port. A most unusual Vodka.

Pertsovka -Pepper-flavored Vodka, made with both black peppercorns and red chili peppers.

Starka - "Old" Vodka, a holdover from the early centuries of Vodka production, which can be infused with everything from fruit tree leaves to brandy, Port, Malaga wine, and dried fruit. Some brands are aged in oak casks.

Zubrovka - Zubrowka in Polish; Vodka flavored with buffalo (or more properly "bison") grass, an aromatic grass favored by the herds of the rare European bison.

In recent years numerous other flavored Vodkas have been launched on the world market. The most successful of these have been fruit flavors such as currant and orange.

Vodka Regions

Eastern Europe is the homeland of Vodka production. Every country produces Vodka, and most also have local flavored specialties.

Russia, Ukraine and Belarus produce the full range of Vodka types, and are generally acknowledged to be the leaders in Vodka production. Only the better brands, all of which are distilled from rye and wheat, are exported to the West.

Poland produces and exports both grain- and potato-based Vodkas. Most of the high- quality brands are produced in pot stills.

Finland, along with the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, produce primarily grain-based Vodkas, mostly from wheat.

Sweden has, in recent decades, developed a substantial export market for its straight and flavored wheat-based Vodkas.

Western Europe has local brands of Vodka wherever there are distilleries. The base for these Vodkas can vary from grains in northern countries such as the United Kingdom, Holland, and Germany, to grapes and other fruits in the winemaking regions of France and Italy.

The United States and Canada produce nonflavored Vodkas, both from various grains (including corn) and from molasses. American Vodkas are, by law, neutral spirits, so the distinction between brands is more a matter of price and perception than taste.

The Caribbean produces a surprising amount of Vodka, all of it from molasses. Most of it is exported for blending and bottling in other countries.

Australia produces molasses-based Vodkas, but few are exported.

Asia has a smattering of local Vodkas, with the best coming from Japan.

Vodka: Its History and Significance

The story is told that in A.D. 988 the Grand Prince of Kiev in what is now Ukraine decided that it was time for his people to convert from their pagan ways to one of the monotheistic religions that held sway in the civilized countries to the south. First came the Jewish rabbis. He listened to their arguments, was impressed, but ultimately sent them away after remarking that the followers of Judaism did not control any land. Next came the Moslem mullahs. Again he was impressed, both with their intellectual arguments and the success of Islam as a political and military force, but when he was told that Islam proscribed alcohol he was dismayed and sent them away. Finally came the Christian priests who informed him that not only could good Christians drink alcohol, but that wine was actually required for church rituals such as communion. That was good enough for the Grand Prince, and on his command his subjects converted en masse to Christianity.

The point of this historical anecdote is that the Slavic peoples of the north and their Scandinavian neighbors took alcoholic drinks very seriously. The extreme cold temperatures of winter inhibited the shipment of wines and beers, as these relatively low- proof beverages could freeze during transit. Until the introduction of distilling into Eastern Europe in the 1400s, strong drink was made by fermenting strong wines, meads, and beers, freezing them, and then drawing off the alcoholic slush from the frozen water.

The earliest distilled spirit in Eastern Europe was distilled from mead (honey wine) or beer and was called perevara. Vodka (from the Russian word voda, meaning water) was originally used to describe grain distillates that were used for medicinal purposes. As distilling techniques improved Vodka (Wodka in Polish) gradually came to be the accepted term for beverage spirit, regardless of its origin.

Vodka in Russia

Russians firmly believe that Vodka was created in their land. Commercial production was established by the 14th century. In 1540 Czar Ivan the Terrible took a break from beheading his enemies and established the first government Vodka monopoly. Distilling licenses were handled out to the boyars (the nobility) and all other distilleries were banned. Needless to say, moonshining became endemic.

Vodka production became an integral part of Russian society. Aristocratic landowners operated stills on their estates and produced high-quality Vodkas which were frequently flavored with everything from acorns to horseradish to mint. The Czars maintained test distilleries at their country palaces where the first experiments in multiple redistillations were made. In 1780 a scientist at one such distillery invented the use of charcoal filtration to purify Vodka.

By the 18th and well into the 19th century the Russian Vodka industry was probably the most technologically advanced industry in the nation. New types of stills and production techniques from Western Europe were eagerly imported and utilized. State funding and control of Vodka research continued. Under a 1902 law, "Moscow Vodka," a clear 40% ABV rye Vodka made with soft "living" (undistilled) water and without added flavorings was established as the benchmark for Russian Vodka.

The Soviet Union continued government control of Vodka production. All distilleries became government-owned, and while the Communist Party apparatchiks continued to enjoy high-quality rye Vodka, the proletariat masses had to make do with cheap spirits. The societal attitude toward such products could be best summed up by the curious fact that mass-produced Vodka was sold in liter bottles with a non-screw cap. Once you opened the bottle it couldn't be resealed. You had to drink it all in one session.

Vodka production in the current Russian Federation has returned to the pre-Revolutionary pattern. High-quality brands are once again being produced for the new social elite and export, while the popularly priced brands are still being consumed, well, like voda.

Vodka in Poland

The earliest written records of Vodka production in Poland date from the 1400s, though some Polish historians claim that it was being produced around the southern city of Krakow at least a century earlier. Originally known as okowita (from the Latin aqua vita A~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^?water of life), it was used for a variety of purposes besides beverages. A 1534 medical text defined an aftershave lotion as being "Vodka for washing the chin after shaving." Herbal-infused Vodkas were particularly popular as liniments for the aches and pains of life.

In 1546 King Jan Olbracht of Poland granted the right to distill and sell spirits to every adult citizen. The Polish aristocracy, taking a cue from their Russian peers, soon lobbied to have this privilege revoked and replaced by a royal decree that reserved the right to make Vodka exclusively to them.

Commercial Vodka distilleries were well established by the 18th century. By the mid-19th century a thriving export trade had developed, with Polish Vodkas, particularly those infused with small quantities of fruit spirit, being shipped throughout northern Europe and even into Russia.

With the fall of Communism in the late 1980s, the Vodka distilleries soon returned to private ownership. Nowadays high-quality Polish Vodkas are exported throughout the world.

Vodka in Sweden

Vodka production in Sweden, which dates from the 15th century, has its origins in the local gunpowder industry where high-proof spirit (originally called brA~f?’A~‚A^¤nnvin) was used as a component of black powder for muskets. When distilleries were licensed to produce beverage alcohol (primarily spice-flavored Aquavit, but also Vodka), it was with the understanding that gunpowder makers had first priority over beverage consumers.

Home distilling was long a part of Swedish society. In 1830 there were over 175,000 registered stills in a country of less than three million people. This tradition, in a much diminished and illegal form, still continues to this day. Modern Swedish Vodka is produced by the Vin & Sprit state monopoly.

Vodka in the United States

Vodka was first imported into the United States in commercial quantities around the turn of the 20th century. Its primary market was immigrants from Eastern Europe. After the repeal of National Prohibition in 1933, the Heublein Company bought the rights to the Smirnoff brand of Vodka from its White Russian A~f?’A~‚A^©migrA~f?’A~‚A^© owners and relaunched Vodka into the U.S. market. Sales languished until an enterprising liquor salesman in South Carolina started promoting it as "Smirnoff White Whisky A~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^? No taste. No smell." Sales started to increase and American Vodka, after marking time during World War II, was on its way to marketing success. The first popular Vodka-based cocktail was a combination of Vodka and ginger ale called the Moscow Mule. It was marketed with its own special copper mug, examples of which can still be found in the back shelves of liquor cabinets and flea markets of America.

Today Vodka is the dominant white spirit in the United States, helped along by its versatility as a mixer and some very clever advertising campaigns from the various producers. One of the most famous of these was the classic double entendre tag line: "Smirnoff A~fA^?A~?a^ˆs(A^¬A~?a^‚¬A^? It leaves you breathless."

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Rum, and its fraternal twin, cane spirit, are made by distilling fermented sugar and water. This sugar comes from the sugar cane and is fermented from cane juice, concentrated cane juice, or molasses. Molasses is the sweet, sticky residue that remains after sugar cane juice is boiled and the crystallized sugar is extracted.

Most Rum is made from molasses. Molasses is over 50% sugar, but it also contains significant amounts of minerals and other trace elements, which can contribute to the final flavor. Rums made from cane juice, primarily on Haiti and Martinique, have a naturally smooth palate.

Depending on the recipe, the "wash" (the cane juice, or molasses and water) is fermented, using either cultured yeast or airborne wild yeasts, for a period ranging from 24 hours for light Rums up to several weeks for heavy, full varietiesDistillation of Rum

Rum is distilled in the manner described in the introductory chapter of this book. The choice of stills does, however, have a profound effect on the final character of Rum. All Rums come out of the still as clear, colorless spirits. Barrel aging and the use of added caramel determine their final color. Since caramel is burnt sugar, it can be truthfully said that only natural coloring agents are used.

Lighter Rums are highly rectified (purified and blended) and are produced in column or continuous stills, after which they are usually charcoal-filtered and sometimes aged in old oak casks for a few months to add a degree of smoothness. Most light Rums have minimal flavors and aroma, and are very similar to Vodka, particularly those brands that have been charcoal-filtered. Heavier Rums are usually distilled in pot stills; similar to those used to produce Cognacs and Scotch whiskies. Pot stills are less "efficient" than column stills and some congeners (fusel oils and other flavor elements) are carried over with the alcohol. Some brands of Rum are made by blending pot and column distilled Rums in a manner similar to Armagnac production.

Classifications of Rum

White Rums are generally light-bodied (although there are a few heavy-bodied White Rums in the French islands). They are usually clear and have a very subtle flavor profile. If they are aged in oak casks to create a smooth palate they are then usually filtered to remove any color. White Rums are primarily used as mixers and blend particularly well with fruit flavors.

Golden Rums, also known as Amber Rums, are generally medium-bodied. Most have spent several years aging in oak casks, which give them smooth, mellow palates.

Dark Rums are traditionally full-bodied, rich, caramel-dominated Rums. The best are produced mostly from pot stills and frequently aged in oak casks for extended periods. The richest of these Rums are consumed straight up.

Spiced Rums can be white, golden, or dark Rums. They are infused with spices or fruit flavors. Rum punches (such as planter's punch) are blends of Rum and fruit juices that are very popular in the Caribbean.

Aiejo and Age-Dated Rums are aged Rums from different vintages or batches that are mixed together to insure a continuity of flavor in brands of Rum from year to year. Some aged Rums will give age statements stating the youngest Rum in the blend (e.g., 10-year-old Rum contains a blend of Rums that are at least 10 years old). A small number of French island Rums are Vintage Dated.

Rum Regions

The Caribbean is the epicenter of world Rum production. Virtually every major island group produces its own distinct Rum style.

Barbados produces light, sweetish Rums from both pot and column stills. Rum distillation began here and the Mount Gay Distillery, dating from 1663, is probably the oldest operating Rum producer in the world.

Cuba produces light-bodied, crisp, clean Rums from column stills. It is currently illegal to ship Cuban Rums into the United States.

The Dominican Republic is notable for its full-bodied, aged Rums from column stills.

Guyana is justly famous for its rich, heavy Demerara Rums, named for a local river, which are produced from both pot and column stills. Demerara Rums can be aged for extended periods (25-year-old varieties are on the market) and are frequently used for blending with lighter Rums from other regions. Neighboring Surinam and French Guyana produce similar full-bodied Rums.

Haiti follows the French tradition of heavier Rums that are double-distilled in pot stills and aged in oak casks for three or more years to produce full-flavored, exceptionally smooth- tasting Rums. Haiti also still has an extensive underground moonshine industry that supplies the voodoo religious ritual trade.

Jamaica is well known for its rich, aromatic Rums, most of which are produced in pot stills. Jamaica has official classifications of Rum, ranging from light to very full-flavored. Jamaican Rums are extensively used for blending.

Martinique is a French island with the largest number of distilleries in the Eastern Caribbean. Both pot and column stills are used. As on other French islands such as Guadeloupe, both rhum agricole (made from sugar cane juice) and rhum industriel (made from molasses) are produced. These Rums are frequently aged in used French brandy casks for a minimum of three years. Rhum vieux (aged Rum) is frequently compared to high-quality French brandies.

Puerto Rico is known primarily for light, very dry Rums from column stills. All white Puerto Rican Rums must, by law, be aged a minimum of one year while dark Rums must be aged three years.

Trinidad produces mainly light Rums from column stills and has an extensive export trade.

The Virgin Islands, which are divided between the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands, both produce light, mixing Rums from column stills. These Rums, and those of nearby Grenada, also serve as the base for bay Rum, a classic aftershave lotion.

Guatemala and Nicaragua are noteworthy in Central America where a variety of primarily medium-bodied Rums from column stills that lend themselves well to aging. They have recently begun to gain international recognition

Brazil produces vast quantities of mostly light Rums from column stills with unaged cane spirit called Cachaca (caA~fa^ˆs(A~‚A^·shaA~fa^ˆs(A~‚A^·sa) the best-known example.

Venezuela makes a number of well-respected barrel-aged golden and dark Rums.

The United States has a handful of Rum distilleries in the south, producing a range of light and medium-bodied Rums that are generally marketed with Caribbean-themed names.

Canada's 300-year-old tradition of trading Rum for dried cod fish continues in the Atlantic Maritime provinces of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia where golden Rums from Antigua, Barbados, and Jamaica are imported and aged for five years. The resulting hearty Rum is known locally as Screech.

Europe is primarily a blender of imported Rums. Both the United Kingdom and France import Rums from their former colonies in the Caribbean for aging and bottling. Heavy, dark Jamaican Rums are imported into Germany and mixed with neutral spirit at a 1:19 ratio to produce Rum verschnitt. A similar product in Austria is called Inlander Rum.

Australia produces a substantial amount of white and golden Rums in a double- distillation method utilizing both column and pot stills. Rum is the second most popular alcoholic beverage in the country after beer. Light Rums are also produced on some of the islands in the South Pacific such as Tahiti.

Asia Rums tend to follow regional sugar cane production, with white and golden Rums from column stills being produced primarily in the Philippines and Thailand.

Rum: Its History and Significance

The history of Rum is the history of sugar. Sugar is a sweet crystalline carbohydrate that occurs naturally in a variety of plants. One of those is the sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum), a tall, thick grass that has its origins in the islands of present-day Indonesia in the East Indies. Chinese traders spread its cultivation to Asia and on to India. Arabs in turn brought it to the Middle East and North Africa where it came to the attention of Europeans during the Crusades in the 11th century.

As the Spanish and Portuguese began to venture out into the Atlantic Ocean, they planted sugar cane in the Canary and Azore Islands. In 1493 Christopher Columbus picked up cane cuttings from the Canaries while on his second voyage to the Americas and transplanted them to Hispaniola, the island in the Caribbean that is now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Portuguese explorers soon did likewise in Brazil.

The Caribbean basin proved to have an ideal climate for growing sugar cane, and sugar production quickly spread around the islands. The insatiable demand in Europe for sugar soon led to the establishment of hundreds of sugar cane plantations and mills in the various English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Dutch colonies. These mills crushed the harvested cane and extracted the juice. Boiling this juice caused chunks of crystallized sugar to form. The remaining unsolidified juice was called melazas (from"miel," the Spanish word for honey); in English this became molasses.

Molasses is a sticky syrup that still contains a significant amount of sugar. Sugar mill operators soon noticed that when it was mixed with water and left out in the sun it would ferment. By the 1650s this former waste product was being distilled into a spirit. In the English colonies it was called Kill Devil (from its tendency to cause a nasty hangover or its perceived medicinal power, take your choice) or rumbullion (origins uncertain), which was shortened over the years to our modern word Rum. The French render this word as rhum, while the Spanish call it ron.

Locally, Rum was used as cure-all for many of the aches and pains that afflicted those living in the tropics. Sugar plantation owners also sold it, at discounted prices, to naval ships that were on station in the Caribbean in order to encourage their presence in local waters and thus discourage the attentions of marauding pirates. The British navy adopted a daily ration of a half-pint of 160 proof Rum by the 1730s. This ration was subsequently modified by mixing it with an equal amount of water to produce a drink called grog. The grog ration remained a staple of British naval life until 1969.

This naval-Rum connection introduced Rum to the outside world and by the late 17th century a thriving export trade developed. The British islands shipped Rum to Great Britain (where it was mixed into Rum punches and replaced gin as the dominant spirit in the 18th century) and to the British colonies in North America where it became very popular. This export of Rum to North America, in exchange for New England lumber and dried cod (still a culinary staple in the Caribbean) soon changed over to the export of molasses to distilleries in New England. This was done in order to avoid laws from the British parliament, which protected British distillers by forbidding the trade in spirits directly between colonies. This law was, at best, honored in the breech, and smuggling soon became rampant.

The shipping of molasses to make Rum in New England distilleries became part of the infamous "slavery triangle." The first leg was the shipment of molasses to New England to make Rum. The second leg was the shipment of Rum to the ports of West Africa to trade for slaves. The final leg was the passage of slave ships to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean and South America where many of the slaves were put to work in the sugar cane fields.

The disruption of trade caused by the American Revolution and the rise of whisky production in North America resulted in the slow decline of Rum's dominance as the American national tipple. Rum production in the United States slowly decreased through the 19th century, with the last New England Rum distilleries closing at the advent of National Prohibition in 1920. The famed rumrunners of the Prohibition era were primarily smuggling whiskey into the United States.

In Europe the invention of sugar extraction from the sugar beet lessened the demand for Caribbean sugar, reducing the amount of molasses being produced and the resulting amount of Rum being distilled. Many small plantations and their stills were closed. Rum production receded, for the most part, to countries where sugar cane was grown.

The modern history of Rum owes a lot to the spread of air conditioning and the growth of tourism. In the second half of the 20th century, modern air conditioning made it possible for large numbers of people to migrate to warm-weather regions where Rum remained the dominant spirit. Additionally, the explosive increase in the number of North American and European tourists into Rum-drinking regions lead to a steady rise in the popularity of Rum-based mixed drinks. Nowadays White Rum gives Vodka serious competition as the mixer of choice in a number of distinctively nontropical markets.

Aged Rums are gaining new standing among consumers of single malt Scotch whiskies, Armagnacs, and small-batch Bourbons who are learning to appreciate the subtle complexities of these Rums. The pot still Rums of Guyana and Jamaica have a particular appeal for Scotch whisky drinkers (it is no accident that the Scottish whisky merchant and bottler Cadenhead also ages and bottles Demerara Rum), while the subtle and complex rhums of Martinique and Guadeloupe mirror the flavor profiles of the top French brandies in Cognac and Armagnac.

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Liqueurs & Cordials

Liqueurs, Schnapps, Anise, and Bitters are terms that cover a wide variety of types of spirits. What they all share in common is that they are flavored spirits.

Liqueurs (also known as Cordials) are sweet, flavor-infused spirits that are categorized according to the flavoring agent (i.e., fruits, nuts, herbal and spice blends, creams and such). The word liqueur comes from the Latin liquifacere ("to dissolve") and refers to the dissolving of flavorings in the spirits. Artificial flavorings are strictly regulated in most countries, and where allowed, must be prominently labeled as such.

Top-quality liqueurs are produced by distillation of either the fermented flavor materials or the spirit in which they have been infused. Many liqueurs use finished spirits such as Cognac, Rum or Whisky as their base. Others macerate fruit or other flavorings in a neutral spirit. Cremes (creme de menthe, creme de cacao, etc.) are liqueurs with a primary flavor (a single, dominant flavor rather than a mix), while cream liqueurs combine dairy cream and alcohol in a homogenized, shelf-stable blend.

All liqueurs are blends, even those with a primary flavor. A touch of vanilla is added to creme de cacao in order to emphasize the chocolate. Citrus flavor notes sharpen the presentation of anise. Herbal liqueurs may contain dozens of different flavor elements that a master blender manipulates to achieve the desired flavor profile.

Liqueurs are not usually aged for any great length of time (although their base spirit may be), but may undergo resting stages during their production in order to allow the various flavors to "marry" into a harmonious blend.

Liqueurs can be hard to classify, but regardless of flavor they can be broadly divided into two categories.

Generics are liqueurs of a particular type (Creme de Cacao or Curacao, for example) that can be made by any producer.

Proprietaries are liqueurs with trademarked names that are made according to a specific formula. Examples of such liqueurs include Kahlua, Grand Marnier, and Southern Comfort.

Schnapps is a general term used for an assortment of white and flavored spirits that have originated in northern countries or regions such as Germany or Scandinavia. Schnapps can be made from grain, potatoes, or molasses and be flavored with virtually anything (Watermelon and Root Beer Schnapps from the United States being proof of that). The dividing line between Schnapps and Flavored Vodka is vague and is more cultural than stylistic, although European Schnapps tend to be drier than their American counterparts and liqueurs.

Anise-Flavored Spirits can vary widely in style depending on the country of origin. They can be dry or very sweet, low or high proof, distilled from fermented aniseed or macerated in neutral spirit. In France, Anis (as produced by Pernod) is produced by distilling anise and a variety of other botanicals together. Pastis is macerated, rather than distilled, and contains fewer botanicals than Anis. In Italy, Sambucca is distilled from anise and botanicals, but is then heavily sweetened to make it a liqueur. Oil of fennel (also known as green anise) is frequently added to boost the aroma of the spirit. Greece has a drier, grappa-like liqueur called Ouzo , which is stylistically close to pastis.

Bitters are the modern-day descendents of medieval medical potions and are marketed as having at least some vaguely therapeutic value as stomach settlers or hangover cures. They tend to be flavored with herbs, roots, and botanicals, contain lower quantities of fruit and sugar than liqueurs, and have astringent notes in the palate.
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