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Unlocking the Elegance: A Concise Guide to Celebratory Beverages

Unlocking the Elegance: A Concise Guide to Celebratory Beverages

Can vodka be made with honey? Does brandy have to add fruit? Is bourbon only made in the southern United States?

From Aquavit to vodka, alcoholic beverages can be categorized into various types based on distillation and fermentation. Their magic lies in the craftsmanship and ingredients, making each spirit completely unique. This glossary provides key characteristics of the most popular spirits to assist you in becoming a mixologist.

Vodka

– For many years, the U.S. government’s Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Taxation and Trade has defined vodka as a neutral spirit with no smell, taste, or color. In order to start its life, brewers must begin with pure, nearly tasteless alcohol at 190 degrees. Common bases include grains such as wheat, but vodka can also be made from potatoes, corn, grapes, or honey.

In 2020, the U.S. removed the “unflavored” requirement and now allows the addition of sugar and citric acid. However, the fundamental requirement that it should be odorless and tasteless remains unchanged. Producers hope that this change will enable them to create “an evolution of a different and more flavorful vodka” that showcases their choice of ingredients.

ACE 500L copper vodka column still

Gin

– Start with vodka and add botanicals. The word “gin” originates from the Dutch word “genever,” which means juniper. Juniper is the only essential botanical ingredient for gin to be called gin, although most gins contain additional botanicals.

Juniper flavors are often described as piney, green, waxy, or herbaceous. Other common botanicals include citrus peel, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, sage, as well as more uncommon ingredients such as angelica root and orris root. London dry gins typically have a bright, citrusy flavor, while older styles like genever or Plymouth gin can add robust or spicy flavors to a cocktail.

Brandy

– Brandy is made from the juice of grapes, ripe berries, and tree fruits such as plums, pears, and apples. Its origins lie in Europe, where the French are famous for producing cognac and Armagnac, as well as Calvados, an apple brandy.

Pisco, produced in Peru and Chile, is also considered a type of brandy. Eau de vie is a type of brandy that has not been aged in barrels, which typically give the spirit its flavor and color. In Europe, schnapps often refers to a type of brandy, although in the U.S. it usually refers to a fruit liqueur.

Rum

– Sugar, either in molasses form or sugar cane juice, is necessary to produce rum, which is strongly associated with the Caribbean. The color of rum does not provide much information about its age. “Caramel coloring is often added to young ‘gold’ rums as well as mature rums,” says he, while the dark color and bold character of molasses can obscure its age.

Variations of rum include rhum agricole, which has a funky and earthy style and is made directly from sugar cane instead of fermented molasses, and cachaça, which is made in Brazil and commonly used in caipirinha cocktails.

Whiskey

– Whiskey is made from corn, wheat, malted barley, and/or rye, and is typically aged for at least two years to develop its distinct flavors. White whiskey is sometimes referred to as moonshine. Many classic cocktails such as the mint julep, Sazerac, Old Fashioned, and Manhattan use whiskey as their base.

Bourbon, which is predominantly produced in the southern United States, must have a mash bill or recipe that consists of at least 51% corn. It is usually sweeter compared to rye whiskey, which must have a mash bill consisting of at least 51% rye and tends to have more spicy flavors.

Japanese, Canadian, and Scotch whiskies omit the letter “e” in their names. Each type of whiskey has its own blending parameters, but they all require aging in wooden barrels for at least three years.

ACE micro whiskey distillation equipment

Tequila

– Made in Mexico from blue agave, tequila has three main types: blanco (unaged), reposado (aged two to twelve months), and añejo (aged at least one year in oak barrels). Technically, tequila is a type of mezcal, which is a broader category encompassing all agave-based spirits. However, if you order mezcal in a U.S. bar, you will usually receive a smoky, traditional Mexican spirit.

Other terms to know:

An aperitif is served before dinner to stimulate the palate, while a digestif is consumed after dinner to aid digestion. There are no strict rules for either.

Sherry, vermouth, port, and Madeira are fortified wines, which means they have had a distilled spirit added to them. These wines can be either sweet or dry and often possess complex flavors. They are typically served as aperitifs or digestifs.

Aquavit, popular in Scandinavia, is a grain spirit flavored with spices such as caraway, anise, fennel, cardamom, or dill.

Liqueurs are often made by macerating fruit, herbs, spices, or coffee in a neutral grain spirit. They tend to have lower alcohol content and may be sweetened with sugar.

Sake is a brewed Japanese beverage made from rice, with an alcohol level similar to wine. Shōchū in Japan and soju in Korea are both clear, distilled spirits made from rice, barley, or sweet potatoes.

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