A Guide to Spirits

So what are spirits and how do they differ from alcoholic beverages like wines, liqueurs, ciders and beers?

Spirits are considered hard liquor or hard alcohol. Also called distilled beverage, creating spirits involves not just producing alcohol from fermentation, but distilling the mixture produced from the first process. The higher alcohol content increases because distillation removes other components. By this definition, wine, cider and beer, are not spirits because they are not distilled. On the other hand, liqueur is a type of spirit because it’s distilled but it has added flavors, sugar and sweeteners.

Types of Spirits
Here are the common types of spirits that you might see at the bars.

1. Brandy is from the Dutch word meaning “burned wine.” It is a distilled beverage made from fermented wine, fruit juice, mash or pomace. Some brandies also have hints of herb and fruit flavors, so you might see labels such as fruit brandy, grape brandy, and pomace brandy.

2. Whiskey or Whisky is from fermented and distilled grain mash. The grains used include corn, rye, barley and wheat. There are at least four types which include bourbon whiskey, Canadian, Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey and more.

3. Vodka is a type of neutral spirit from fermented and distilled potatoes, grains or fruits. It is also treated with charcoal to remove the color and taste. Vodka comes from the Slavic meaning “little water.”

4. Rum comes from the distillation of fermented sugar cane or its byproducts such as molasses. After distillation, rum is aged in an oak barrel. It’s produced in different parts of the world although sugarcane originated in South Asia and Melanesia. Rums are classified by grades that refer to where it was produced.

5. Tequila is a Mexican specialty made from the distilled fermented blue agave. The name comes from the region where it was first made. Tequila can be 100% agave or mixtos. The five styles include Joven or young, Blanco or white, Anejo or aged, Extra Anejo and Reposado or rested.

6. Gin comes from distilled fermented grains. Then it is distilled again with juniper berries. The name comes from the the words genever, jenever and genievre which all refer to the juniper. The four types of gin include gin, distilled gin, London gin and juniper-flavored spirit drink.

7. Neutral Spirit is the term for distilled beverages that have 85% or more alcohol by volume or ABV. Sometimes it’s called rectified spirit because the double distillation is a process called rectification.

8. Moonshine is the name for the different types of distilled beverages that are made at home all over the world. Examples are schnaps, arrack, lambanog, yadong, and raki.

9. Mezcal or Mescal is made in Mexico. It comes from the fermented and distilled leaves of the maguey plant and its various types. Its name means “oven-cooked agave” in Nahuatl.

10. Absinthe is an anise-flavored beverage from the flowers and leaves of the grand wormwood. It is mixed with different herbs too such as fennel and anise. It was originally made in Switzerland.