Introduction to Spirits
The production of Brandy is normally associated with France, but any country
that produces wine can also make Brandy.
In its most simple form Brandy is little more than distilled wine.
To age and mature Brandy it is put in oak casks for a period of time.
The longer Brandy is kept in these casks the more the flavour will mellow
and there will be more of an oak flavour imparted into the final product.
Cognac and Armagnac:
Both are essentially a premium version of Brandy and should be served neat
in a brandy ballon.
Cognac comes from the Cognac region of central France.
Unlike brandy it is distilled twice and is aged in used oak casks for a
minimum of twenty years. This makes it somewhat more refined than brandy.
Some brands call their product Champagne Cognac (the word Champagne meaning
'open country' in French, it does not pertain to the region Champagne).
Some common brands are: Hennessey, Remy Martin, Courvoisier, and Camus
Armagnac is produced in the Armagnac region of southern France.
Like brandy it is distilled once but is aged in a similar way to Cognac in
black oak casks for a minimum of twenty years, giving it similar qualities
to both brandy and Cognac.
Being from southern France it is also made in a warmer climate and aged in a
unique type of black oak and this also contributes to its distinctive
character and colouring.
France has devised a unique system for grading the age of Brandies, Cognac's
and Armagnac's from youngest to oldest VS, VSO and VSOP. (These letters mean
Very- Special-Old-Pale) the more letters found on the label the older the
product and the better the quality.
It was first produced as a
medicinal tonic made from Barley flavoured with Juniper berries in the 16th
century. The Dutch name for Juniper is Genever so it was originally called
Genever. It was the English that gave it the modern name Gin.
Today Gin comes in two main styles:
- Dutch, the most flavoursome and sweetest. It is meant to be drunk on
its own (best served frozen like Vodka). In some countries this type of
spirit is called Schnapps or Aquavit.
- English, this style is dryer (the driest of all is Plymouth Gin)
with less flavour and is meant to be drunk with a mix. eg Gin and
Tonic. some more popular brands are: Gordon's, Bombay, Seagars and
This famous spirit had infamous beginnings in the 1600s in the West Indies.
First made by slaves working on the sugar plantations it soon became a firm
favourite of pirates and scoundrels throughout the West Indies.
Its original name was Rumpus or Rumbullion, which loosely translated means
Rum made from sugar can be produced by any country that can produce sugar
cane eg. Puerto Rico, Cuba, Australia, Jamaica.
There are three main types of rum:
- White Rum (made from white sugar is the lightest and driest) eg.
Bacardi, Ron Rico
- Dark Rum(made from molasses is the sweetest and heaviest) eg.
Coruba, Captain Morgan.
- Blended or gold rum (made by mixing white and dark together so
having some characteristics of both)
eg. Bacardi gold, Mount Gay, Bundaberg.
Originally enjoyed by Aztec people of Central America as a wine, it is now
a popular Spirit all over the world. Made from a native cactus it has a unique taste which is popular both on its own or mixed in
cocktails such as the famous Margarita. To drink Tequila serve with a pinch
of salt and a wedge of lime or lemon. Mescal is similar to Tequila and is
usually aged in white oak barrels for a period of time. This gives Mezcal a
golden colour. A unique feature of Tequila and Mescal is the addition of a
worm to the bottle. It is said that these worms absorb the active
ingredients in Tequila and eating one has a very intoxicating effect.
The drink associated with the Russian Tsars actually had a much more humble
beginning. Peasants living in Poland and Russia during the twelfth century
originally invented vodka, by making an extremely strong neutral spirit
(this word means colourless and tasteless) from patato skins. This very
strong brew was immediately popular with the peasants, but the wealthy
ruling the classes were quick to see its merits and adopted as their own.
Soon the method on how to make vodka spread throughout most of Western
Europe and in some countries is called Schnapps.
Today the best Vodka is made from grain or wheat. To drink Vodka in the
traditional way, keep it in the freezer and serve it neat. The Russians have
a saying for this 'a little ray of sunshine on the inside'. One of the
advantages of this tasteless spirit is that in drink mixing you can use
Vodka to "spice" up a drink without changing the orignal flavour.
Although true Vodka in the original sense has no flavour there are a growing
number of brands of Vodka available that are flavoured (the Russians have
been doing this for hundreds of years). Some common flavours that are
available in many bars are Citrus, Blackcurrant and Chilli Pepper.
Some of the most poplular brands are: Stolichnaya, Asoulut, Smirnoff,
Finlandia, and Danska.
Whiskey is a barrel-aged distilled spirit made from grain or malt. There are now many different types of whisky, generally
falling into three main categories
- Irish Whiskey
- Whiskey was discovered about 1200 years ago.
Irish Whiskey is best served on its own, with some of the better-known
brands being; Jamieson's Old Bushmills and Tullamore Dew.
- Scotch Whisky
- The knowledge of how to make Whisky made it to Scotland in the Middle Ages.
It was originally called Uisgebaugh (water of life) or more formally called
Scottish Whisky, shortened to Scotch over time. Although using a similar
process to Irish Whisky, there are some differences that make it a
distinctive product of Scotland.
Scotch Whisky is made from malted grain (being grain that has been allowed
to begin to germinate) and later aslo unmalted. (this unmalted grain
produces a nearly neutral spirit similar to Vodka, and is then mixed with a
malted grain to mellow the flavour, producing "blended scotch".)
There are over a hundred and twenty registered brands of Scotch whisky from
various regions of Scotland such as The Isles, the highlands and the
Lowlands providing a huge variety of styles and flavours to enjoy.
Much of this variation comes from slight differences in the ingredients, the
type of water used (eg bore water, distilled water etc) and how long the
product is aged in oak casks before bottling. Even the temperature of the
warehouse where the Whisky is aged has a profound effect. Each maker has
their own opinion and preferred methods on how Whisky should be made.
The three main styles of Scotch Whisky and some better-known brands are:
- Single Malt (should be served neat) - Tallisker (isle of skye),
Glenkinchie (garden of Scotland), Dalwhinnie (highlands), Oban
(higlands), Laphroaig, Lagavaulin (isle of islay), Cragganmore
- Blended (normally served with a mix eg. soda) - Johnnie Walker (red
label) J&B, Cutty Sark
- Premium (should be drunk neat) - Johnnie Walker (blue label), Chivas
Scotch Whisky is immensely popular worldwide and as a result a significant
number of countries have began to produce their own Whisky in the Scotch
style, such as Canada, japan, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. They are
not true Scotch Whiskies (because they are not made in Scotland) and as such
cannot use the words Scotch Whisky on their labels.
- Bourbon and Tennessee Whisky
- A Scotsman, Reverend Elijah Craig, first made the American version of Whisky
in Bourbon county, Kentucky in 1789.
This new style of Whisky was almost always named after its place of origin,
Bourbon County with its official name being 'American Scottish Whisky'. Only
in 1963 did the US government officially adopt the much more polular name of
The main difference between Bourbon and other Whiskies is that Maize (corn)
and/or Rye is used with grain, often replacing it as the principal
ingredient for fermentation. It is distilled in a continuous still and then
matured in charred oak barrels.
Bourbon comes in three main styles.
- Kentucky - eg. Jim Beam (this state is the original home of Bourbon).
- Tennessee - eg. Jack daniel's (technically if this spirit made in
Tennessee it is in fact a "Tennessee Whisky" and not a bourbon.
It is also made using a slightly different process and as such
tastes slightly different to Kentucky Bourbon.
But never the less it is widely referred to as Bourbon by the general
- Rye - This uses rye as opposed to corn as an ingredient (from
All three bourbons have distinctive flavours stemming from the various
combinations of the grains, maizes or ryes used and how long they are
matured in oak casks for.
Canada also makes Whisky, which varies in its classification from Bourbon to
Scotch style depending on what ingredients are used.
For example: Canadian Club uses Rye so is classified as Bourbon. Canadian
Mist uses garin so is classified a Whisky (of Scotch style).
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