Vodka is the easiest spirit to discuss stylistically. Generally Vodka is made from grain or potatoes, with grain accounting for well over 90 per cent of the production on the international market. Vodka is rectified spirit which means it is distilled at least three times. The final and very important step in vodka production is filtering through charcoal, though some brands claim to use diamond dust, glacial sand or even quartz crystals.
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Gin is made from a mash of cereal grain - primarily corn, rye, barley and wheat - that is flavoured with botanicals to give it a distinct taste. Though many botanicals are used by individual producers, juniper is usually the most prominent fragrance and flavour note, the common factor that unifies all gins. Others include coriander, lemon and orange peels, fennel, cassia, anise, almond and angelica.
700 years ago, the magic of whiskey was born in Scotland and Ireland.Before the "whiskey missionaries" migrated to the new world and discovered corn, whiskey in Ireland and Scotland has made from barley, wheat, rye and even oats. Two grains in particular, barley and sometimes rye, are malted, or encouraged to germinate, to produce a chemical change that helps turn the starch. This is done by drying the malt in a kiln. This is where Scotch and Irish diverge.
Historically , rum is the first spirit of the New World, initially produced in Brazil, Barbados and Jamaica in the wake of Columbus's introduction of sugarcane to the West Indies in 1493. By the mid-eighteen century, rum was being produced all over the Caribbean, in South America and New England, where it was the favourite spirit. The Rum Sling of that era (rum, sugar, water and lemon juice) could have been in the running as the first example of an American cocktail, if only it had employed bitters.
Tequila is the distilled version of a drink originally made by the Aztecs in Mexico called pulque, which was made whit the fermented sap of the maguey plant. Spanish conquistadors didn't much like pulque, so they introduced the Aztecs to the art of distilling. The first spirit to be produced from the maguey plant was called vino mescal and today the overall category to which tequila belongs is known simply as mescal.
Brandy is a liquor distilled from wine or other fermented juice. The name derives from the Dutch "brandewijn" ( burnt wine), referring to the technique of a heating the wine during distillation.
A number of subcategories fall under the broad definition of brandy, including fruit brandy, grappa, marc pomace and eau-de-vie (French for ' water of life') Eau-de-vie and fruit barndies can be made from almost any fruit.
As early as the tenth century, English and Norse seamen came to this western region of France for salt. After repeated journeys they began to buy wine. Eventually, the wine was boiled down before the journey to save it from oxidation, economize on space and avoid taxation, which was levied by bulk.
When Cognac was first distilled sometime after 1600, other brandies were already being produced in France. But until the invention of multiple distillation a century later, most brandy had to be doctored by herb and fruit flavours to hide its imperfections.
The region is located in Gascony, in the south-western part of France, the brandy known as Armagnac was first produced in the fifteenth century. As for Cognac, the grape variety used to make Armagnac is trebbiano, known in France as ugni blanc or Sent-Emilion. Other minor grapes used are picpoul, jurancon and plant de grece. The grapes are picked before they are fully ripe and mature to ensure high acidity, a key component in the finished product.
Calvados is dry apple brandy, which is a speciality of the Normandy region of France.
The Calvados appellation comes from western Normandy and a small area east of Rouen. While apple brandy (called applejack in America) is made in other parts of the world, Calvados is considered the best. It is made by double-distilling the fermented apple cider, then aging it in "Limousin" oak barrels for no less than one year, some as long as forty years. Truly good Calvados, however, should be aged between ten and fifteen years before it is considered drinkable.
Vermouth is a fortified wine, flavored with aromatic herbs and spices.
When it comes to cocktails, the most important of the aromatic wines is vermouth. The word "vermouth" comes from the German word "wermut", for wormwood.