Today we explain what are spirits and the 6 main base alcohols that fall into that category. We get these questions a lot! What makes a drink a spirit? What alcohol counts as spirits? So I decided to answer this the best I can.
Ready your glasses, folks! Today we are talking about spirits - the delicious, sometimes mischievous, and incredibly varied drinks of choice for thrill seekers around the world.
From gin to tequila, whiskey to rum, to vodka and brandy - these beverages have been around for centuries, each with its own unique flavor profile and story of origin.
So come on all you intrepid alcohol aficionados – let's explore the world of alcoholic spirits, together!
What is a Spirit?
At the heart of many of our favorite alcoholic drinks lies a complex and intoxicating mystery - the spirit. This pure, potent form of alcohol is created through the fermentation of a variety of ingredients, which are then distilled to produce a concentrated beverage known as a spirit.
Hard alcohol enthusiasts know that spirits are the crème de la crème of distilled beverages, boasting a range of unique flavors, aromas, and complexities that set them apart from their fermented cousins.
Through the meticulous fermentation process and careful distillation, master distillers extract the essence of each ingredient, resulting in an intoxicating alcoholic drink that is both pure and powerful.
Whether sipping a smooth glass of brandy, swirling a smoky dram of Scotch, or throwing back a fiery shot of tequila, spirits are a true testament to the artistry and science of crafting the perfect distilled beverage.
So next time you're looking to elevate your alcoholic drinks game, raise a glass to the spirit and all the magic that hard alcohol has to offer.
What Makes a Drink a Spirit?
In simplest terms, a spirit is defined as an alcoholic beverage with a high alcohol content, usually derived from grain that has been distilled.
The process of distillation works by taking fermented grains and separating out their components, such as water and ethyl alcohol, through heating and condensation.
This allows for much higher levels of alcohol to be concentrated in the final product, typically between 40%-95%. Thus making it a spirit drink rather than an ordinary beer or wine.
What's the Difference Between Alcohol and Spirits?
You may hear the words alcohol and spirits used interchangeably, but that isn't always the case. Alcohol is a broad category that encompasses all types of beverages containing ethyl alcohol, including beer, wine, and spirits.
A spirit is an alcoholic beverage made by distilling fermented grains, fruits, or vegetables, also known as hard liquor. As opposed to most other alcoholic beverages consumed, distilled drinks typically have a higher alcohol content (between 35-55%). They come in a variety of unique flavor profiles and aromas that make them perfect for exploring different taste combinations.
There are three classifications of other alcoholic drinks or beverages: beer, wine, and spirits.
- Beer is brewed from malted grains, yeast, and water.
- Wine is made by fermenting grapes or other fruits
- Spirits are distilled from fermented grains, fruits, or vegetables.
Each type of alcohol has a unique flavor profile and can be enjoyed in different ways.
What are Spirits used for?
Spirits make wonderful base liquors. What's a base liquor you may ask.
What's the base of any great cocktail? Look no further than the six major types of hard liquor, otherwise known as base liquors, aka spirits!
These versatile spirits are used for mixing up your favorite alcoholic drinks or enjoyed straight for the brave at heart.
While bitters are the flavor wizards of the bar world, brandy, rum, gin, whiskey, vodka, and tequila are among the star players in this spirited line-up.
Get ready to raise a glass and experiment with the many varieties at your fingertips!
The 6 Types of Distilled Spirits
The six types of distilled spirits are:
What happens when you take a neutral spirit and give it a botanical twist? You get gin - the spirit that's shaking up the game with its unique, herbaceous flavor. Produced by a process that involves redistilling the neutral spirit with a carefully curated blend of botanicals ranging from juniper berries, to fennel, to citrus peel, gin is the perfect example of turning simple ingredients into something extraordinary.
And while we're on the subject of gin, let's talk about its quirky name. Did you know that "gin" originates from the French word for juniper tree, "genévrier"? That's right, a tree with tiny berries was the original muse for one of the most beloved spirits in the world.
Flavor Profile: Known for its botanical flavor, which can range from aromatic and floral to citrusy and spicy, depending on the blend of botanicals used.
Aging: Generally not aged, although some aged gins are available.
Styles: London dry and New World.
Famous distillers: Hendrick's, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Monkey 47, Beefeater.
Alcohol content: Commonly around 40% ABV (80 proof).
Common Glassware: Highball glasses, Collins glasses and coupe glasses.
Common cocktails: Martini, French 75, Negroni, Tom Collins, Gin and Tonic.
Vodka is a distilled spirit made from grains, potatoes or fruits. It has a clean, smooth taste and odor that can range from subtle to robust.
When it comes to a refined, flavorless drink that pairs perfectly with just about anything, vodka is king. There are a lot of types of vodka too.
Unlike its botanical infused cousin, gin, the beauty of a good vodka lies in its purity, which is measured by its lack of odor and clean grain taste, making it the perfect choice for those looking for a no-frills, reliable drink.
It also means that it pairs wonderfully with lots of different vodka mixers.
Flavor profile: Generally considered to have a neutral flavor and aroma, although some brands may have subtle notes of grain, citrus, or other flavors.
Aging: Typically not aged, although some aged vodkas exist.
Styles: There aren't officially recognized styles of vodka, but some brands may use different production methods and raw materials to create distinctive products.
Famous distillers: Absolut, Smirnoff, Grey Goose, Belvedere, Ketel One
Alcohol content: Commonly around 40% ABV (80 proof), although some flavored vodkas may be slightly lower.
Common Glassware: Shot glasses, Martini glasses, and Highball glasses.
Common cocktails: Vodka Tonic, Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule, White Russian, Cosmopolitan, Kamikaze, Vodka Martini
Rum is a distilled spirit made with molasses or sugar cane juice. It is often aged in barrels which gives it its characteristic amber color and smooth flavor. Depending on the amount of time spent aging, different types of rum can have different taste profiles. Light rums tend to be light in flavor and aroma, while darker rums can have notes of oak, molasses, spices and smokey flavors.
Flavor profile: Sweet and complex, with notes of caramel, vanilla, toasted sugar and fruit. The exact flavors depend on the styles and production methods used.
Aging: Rums can be aged anywhere from a few months to decades, with aging categorized into three types:
- White or Silver (unaged or aged for a short period)
- Gold or Amber (aged for a period ranging from a few months to a few years)
- Dark or Black (aged for at least 3 years or more)
Styles: British rum, Spanish rum, English rum
Famous distillers: Bacardi, Mount gay, Ron Zacapa, Captain Morgan, Havana Club, Plantation
Alcohol content: Commonly around 40% ABV (80 proof)
Glassware: Highball glasses, Collins glasses, and rocks glasses
Common cocktails: Daiquiri, Mojito, Pina colada, Rum and Code, Mai Tai
Tequila is a delightful spirit made from the blue agave plant, native to Mexico and beloved around the world. Depending on how long it has been aged for it may have different profiles ranging from earthy notes for unaged tequila to smokiness and vanillas for darker, aged varieties. So enjoy responsibly and cheers to great times ahead with your favorite tequila!
Flavor profile: Dominated by the flavor of the blue agave plant, which is often described as vegetal, herbaceous, and slightly sweet. The aging process introduces additional flavors like vanilla, caramel, and oak.
Aging: Can be aged for anywhere from a few weeks to several years, with aging categorized into three types:
- Blanco (unaged)
- Reposado (aged for 2 to 12 months)
- Añejo (aged for at least 1 year)
Styles: Blanco, Joven (Gold), Reposado and Añejo.
Famous distillers: Jose Cuervo, Sauza, Patrón, Don Julio, Casa Noble, El Jimador.
Alcohol content: Commonly around 40% ABV (80 proof), though some can go up to 50% ABV (100 proof) or higher.
Glassware: Shot glasses, Caballitos (small glasses), and specialty glasses like the Sombrero glass and the Margarita glass.
Common cocktails: Margarita, Tequila Sunrise, Tequila Old Fashioned, Paloma, Ranch Water.
Whiskey is a distilled spirit made from fermented grains. It can be crafted from barley, corn, wheat and rye depending on the type of whiskey. Depending on how long the whiskey has been aged or what it's been aged in can give it different flavors like oak, smokiness, vanilla, honey and caramel.
A trip down memory lane reveals some early evidence that whiskey has been around since the late 15th century when it was first spotted in Scotland. Of course, our language doesn't have to go that far back to appreciate this beloved spirit. The term whiskey actually comes from the Scottish Gaelic phrase "uisge beatha," which translates to "water of life."
Flavor profile: Can vary greatly depending on the style, but common notes include vanilla, caramel, oak, smoke, and spice.
Aging: Typically aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 2-3 years, but some top-shelf whiskies are aged for decades.
Styles: Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, Rye, Scotch, Irish Whiskey
Famous distillers: Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Crown Royal, Johnnie Walker
Alcohol content: Commonly around 40-50% ABV (80-100 proof), though some can go up to 60% ABV (120 proof) or higher.
Glassware: Traditional rocks or highball glasses, as well as specialty glasses like Glencairns and copitas.
Common cocktails: Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, Irish Coffee, Rob Roy
Brandy is made from grapes and is a spirit that has been enjoyed around the world for centuries. It's known for its complex and varied flavor profiles, with each type of brandy having a unique aroma and taste that sets it apart from the rest.
Depending on the type of brandy you’re drinking, you may detect aromas like white grape, stonefruit, vanilla or oak and flavors like toffee, honey, citrus fruits or apple.
There are also some sweeter varieties of brandy that contain distinct flavors of caramel and butterscotch due to being aged in barrels that previously held high-sugar liquids like sherry or port wine.
Whatever type of brandy you choose to drink, you can be sure that it will have an interesting array of aromas and flavors that will tantalize your taste buds!
Flavor profile: Fruit-forward with notes of vanilla, oak, and spice. The exact flavors depend on the fruit used to make the brandy.
Aging: Generally aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years, with some high-end brandies aged for decades.
Styles: Cognac, Armagnac, Grappa, Applejack, Pisco, Brandy de Jerez
Famous distillers: Hennessy, Remy Martin, Courvoisier, Martell, Korbel
Alcohol content: commonly around 40% ABV (80 proof)
Traditional glassware: Snifters, tulip glasses and small wine glasses
Common cocktails: Brandy sour, Sidecar, Brandy Alexander, Vieux Carré, Sazerac
I hope we answered the age old question "What are spirits?" And as always, have fun and be safe when serving up or drinking alcohol!