There are many cocktails that make use of liquor, or spirits, as one of the key ingredients. Understanding the various types of spirits and how they are made is crucial for any bartender or cocktail enthusiast. This blog will explore the different types of spirits, their origins, and how they are produced.
The term whiskey refers to the distilled spirit that is made from fermented grains mash. It is common for the grains used to make whiskey to differ according to the region, but generally include barley, corn, rye, or wheat. As soon as the mash is fermented, the sugars in the grains are converted into alcohol by yeast. After being distilled and aged in barrels, usually made of oak, whiskey reaches its distinctive flavour and colour as a result of fermenting the mash.
There are several different types of whiskey, including:
- Bourbon: made from at least 51% corn and aged in charred oak barrels
- Rye: made from at least 51% rye and aged in oak barrels
- Scotch: made in Scotland from malted barley and aged in oak barrels
- Irish: made in Ireland from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley and aged in oak barrels
Generally, rum is made from fermented sugarcane juice or molasses. The production process for rum varies depending on the country, but it typically involves fermenting sugarcane juice or molasses with yeast and then distilling the resulting liquid. Oak barrels are used to age rum, giving it its distinctive flavour and colour.
There are several different types of rum, including:
- White rum: unaged or aged briefly in oak barrels, giving it a light flavour
- Gold rum: aged in oak barrels, giving it a slightly darker colour and richer flavour
- Dark rum: aged in oak barrels for a longer period of time, giving it a dark colour and strong, complex flavour
A gin is a distilled spirit made from fermented grain mash and flavoured with juniper berries and other botanicals that are added to the mash. It is usually produced by distilling grain mash with botanicals, then diluting the resulting liquid with water, and then ageing the resulting liquid in oak barrels to give the gin a richer flavour.
There are several different types of gin, including:
- London Dry Gin: a type of gin that is made in London and flavoured with botanicals like juniper berries, coriander, and citrus peel
- Old Tom Gin: a slightly sweeter type of gin that was popular in the 18th century
- Genever: a traditional Dutch gin that is made from malted grain and flavoured with juniper berries and other botanicals
A vodka is a distilled spirit made from fermented grains or potatoes. It is generally produced by distilling fermented grains or potatoes several times to produce a pure, neutral spirit. The vodka is typically filtered through charcoal to remove impurities from the product.
There are several different types of vodka, including:
- Plain vodka: unflavored and made from a neutral spirit
- Flavoured vodka: vodka that is infused with flavours like citrus, fruit, or vanilla
- Premium vodka: high-quality vodka that is usually distilled multiple times and filtered several times to create an ultra-smooth spirit
Tequila is a distilled spirit that comes from the blue agave plant, a plant that is native to Mexico and is used in the production process. It is made by cooking the blue agave plant, crushing it to extract juice, fermenting it, and then distilling it to create tequila.
There are several different types of tequila, including:
- Blanco tequila: unaged tequila that is clear in colour and has a strong, agave flavour
- Reposado tequila: aged in oak barrels for at least two months, giving it a slight golden colour and a smoother flavour than blanco tequila
- Añejo tequila: aged in oak barrels for at least one year, giving it a darker colour and a smoother, more complex flavour than reposado tequila
- Extra Añejo tequila: aged in oak barrels for at least three years, giving it a very dark colour and an extremely smooth, complex flavour
Brandy is a distilled spirit derived from fermented fruit juice, usually grapes, and is distilled from it in the process of making a high-proof spirit by fermenting and distilling the fruit juice. Once the brandy is distilled, it is aged in oak barrels for an extended period of time, which is responsible for its unique flavour and colour.
There are several different types of brandy, including:
- Cognac: a type of brandy that is made in the Cognac region of France and aged in oak barrels for at least two years
- Armagnac: a type of brandy that is made in the Armagnac region of France and aged in oak barrels for at least two years
- American brandy: brandy that is made in the United States and aged in oak barrels for at least two years
Liqueurs are sweet and flavoured spirits typically used as a mixer in cocktails. They are made by infusing a base spirit with various fruits, herbs, spices, and other flavourings to create them. Various steps go into the production of liqueurs. Still, it usually involves infusing a base spirit with the desired flavours and adding sugar or a sweetener to the mixture to achieve the desired taste.
There are countless types of liqueurs, including:
- Triple sec: a clear, orange-flavoured liqueur used in many classic cocktails
- Campari: a bitter, red liqueur used in cocktails like the Negroni
- Amaretto: a sweet, almond-flavoured liqueur used in cocktails like the Amaretto Sour
- Bailey’s Irish Cream: a sweet, creamy liqueur flavoured with Irish whiskey and cream, used in cocktails like the Mudslide.
If you are planning on working in a bar or as a cocktail enthusiast, you need to understand what types of spirits are out there and how they are made. Each spirit has its unique flavour profile, which can significantly impact the taste of a cocktail. A bartender can craft a perfectly balanced cocktail that highlights each ingredient’s flavour by knowing each spirit’s characteristics.