Liquor – No Experience Necessary

Time to enjoy some Liquor knowledge! How you enjoy the pleasures of liquor is very individual. There are only really 6 ‘base’ types of liquor (spirits) – Brandy, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Vodka, and Whisky (Whiskey). But it is more important to get an understanding of where they come from and how they have developed.

You may know the term ‘spirit’, but it is more correctly known as liquor (hard liquor in the US), hard alcohol, or distilled drink. The term spirit refers to liquor that contains no added sugar and has at least 20% alcohol by volume. It is an alcoholic drink produced by distillation of grains, fruit, or vegetables that have already gone through alcoholic fermentation. The distillation process purifies the liquid and removes diluting components like water, increasing its proportion of alcohol content

There are so many distilled spirits available today, though there are just six base liquors that form the foundation of most cocktails and liqueurs. Brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey are each unique and have distinct styles within themselves. So here is the critical information and a different way of thinking about spirits and liquors (and see the table below for the massive range of products).

  • The fermentation substance: Grains, Juices, Vegetables and ‘other sources’
    • Grains include: Barley, Buck wheat, corn, millet, rice, rye, sorghum, wheat,
    • Juices/fruits include: Apples, Apricots, cherries, palm, grapes, juniper, pears, pineapples, plums, pomegranate
    • Vegetables include: Cassava, Gingerroot, Potato, Sugarcane, sweet potato, Ti root
    • Other sources: Honey, Milk, Sugar
  • Fermentation then occurs and the product is moved to next process – the distillation where there range of products is enormous – from beers to wines
  • Distillation – then takes this to the next level and uses the heat to evaporate and remove the water from the fermented products.

As liquors contain significantly more alcohol, they are considered ‘harder’; in North America, the term hard liquor is used to distinguish distilled alcoholic drinks from non-distilled ones. They do not include beverages such as beer, wine, mead, sake, or cider, as they are fermented but not distilled. These all have a relatively low alcohol content, typically less than 15%. Brandy is a liquor produced by the distillation of wine, and has an ABV of over 35%. Other examples of liquors include vodka, baijiu, gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, and whisky.

The origin of liquor and its close relative ‘liquid’, meaning simply “a liquid”, can be dated to 1225. The first use was the Latin verb liquere, meaning to be fluid. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an early use of the word in the English language the OED mentions of its meaning “a liquid for drinking” occurred in the 14th century. Its use as a term for “an intoxicating alcoholic drink” appeared in the 16th century.

Distillation equipment used by the 3rd century alchemist Zosimos of Panopolis, from the Byzantine Greek manuscript Parisinus graces. Early evidence of distillation comes from Akkadian tablets dated circa 1200 BC describing perfumery operations, providing textual evidence that an early, primitive form of distillation was known to the Babylonians of ancient Mesopotamia. Early evidence of distillation also comes from alchemists working in Alexandria, Roman Egypt, in the 1st century. Distilled water was described in the 2nd century AD by Alexander of Aphrodisias. Alchemists in Roman Egypt were using a distillation alembic or still device in the 3rd century.

Distillation was known in the ancient Indian subcontinent, evident from baked clay retorts and receivers found at Taxila and Charsadda in modern Pakistan, dating back to the early centuries of the Christian era. These Gandhara stills were only capable of producing very weak liquor, as there was no efficient means of collecting the vapours at low heat. Distillation in China could have begun during the Eastern Han dynasty (1st–2nd centuries), but the distillation of beverages began in the Jin (12th–13th centuries) and Southern Song (10th–13th centuries) dynasties according to archaeological evidence.

Freeze distillation involves freezing the alcoholic beverage and then removing the ice. The freezing technique had limitations in geography and implementation limiting how widely this method was put to use. The medieval Arabs used the distillation process extensively, and there is evidence that they distilled alcohol. Al-Kindi unambiguously described the distillation of wine in the 9th century. The process later spread to Italy, where later evidence of the distillation of alcohol comes from the School of Salerno in southern Italy during the 12th century.

In China, archaeological evidence indicates that the true distillation of alcohol began during the 12th century Jin or Southern Song dynasties. A still has been found at an archaeological site in Qinglong, Hebei, dating to the 12th century. In India, the true distillation of alcohol was introduced from the Middle East, and was in wide use in the Delhi Sultanate by the 14th century. Fractional distillation was developed by Taddeo Alderotti in the 13th century. The production method was written in code, suggesting that it was being kept secret. In 1437, burned water (brandy) was mentioned in the records of the County of Katzenelnbogen in Germany. It was served in a tall, narrow glass called a Goderulffe.

  • Now the exciting bit – spirits can be served in multiple ways and as a no experience necessary guide:
  • Neat — at room temperature without any additional ingredient(s)
  • Up — shaken or stirred with ice, strained, and served in a stemmed glass.
  • Down — shaken or stirred with ice, strained, and served in a rocks glass.
  • On the rocks — over ice cubes
  • Blended or frozen — blended with ice
  • With a simple mixer, such as club soda, tonic water, juice, or cola
  • As an ingredient of a cocktail
  • As an ingredient of a shooter
  • With water
  • With water poured over sugar (as with absinthe)
Grains Fermented drink Distilled drink
Barley Beer, barley wine Gin, Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, jenever (Netherlands), ginebra (Spain, Argentina, Philippines), shōchū (Japan), soju (Korea)
Buckwheat Buckwheat whisky (Brittany), shōchū (Japan)
Corn Chicha, corn beer, tesguino Bourbon whiskey, moonshine, also vodka (rare)
Millet Millet beer (Sub-Saharan Africa), tongba (Nepal, Tibet), boza (the Balkans, Turkey)
Rice Beer, brem (Bali), huangjiu and choujiu (China), ruou gao (Vietnam), sake (Japan), sonti (India), makgeolli and chungju (Korea), tuak (Borneo Island), thwon (Nepal) Aila (Nepal), rice baijiu (China), shōchū (komejōchū) and awamori (Japan), soju (Korea), (Myanmar), arrack(Indonesia)
Rye rye beer, kvass rye whiskey, vodka(Russia), korn (Germany)
Sorghum Burukutu (Nigeria), pito (Ghana), merisa (southern Sudan), bilibili (Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon) maotai, kaoliang wine, certain other types of baijiu (China).
Wheat wheat beer Horilka (Ukraine), vodka, wheat whiskey, weizen korn (Germany), soju (Korea)
Fruit juice Fermented drink Distilled drink
Apples Cider (U.S. hard cider), apfelwein Jabukovača (Serbia), applejack (or apple brandy), calvados, cider
Apricots Kajsijevača (Serbia), kaisieva rakia (Bulgaria), pálinka (Hungary)
Bananas or plantains chuoi hot (Vietnam), cauim (Kuna Indians of Panama), urgwagwa (Uganda, Rwanda), mbege (with millet malt; Tanzania), kasikisi with sorghum malt. Majmunovača (Serbia),
Cashew Feni (India)
Cherries Cherry wine (Denmark) Kirsch (Germany, Switzerland)
Coconutor Palm Toddy (Sri Lanka, India) arrack, lambanog (Sri Lanka, India, Philippines)
Gouqi gouqi jiu (China) gouqi jiu (China)
Ginger with sugar, ginger with raisins ginger ale, ginger beer, ginger wine
Grapes wine brandy, cognac (France), vermouth, armagnac (France), branntwein (Germany), pisco (Peru, Chile, Grozdova), Rakia (The Balkans, Turkey), singani (Bolivia), arak (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan), törkölypálinka (Hungary)
Juniper berries gin, jenever (Netherlands/Belgium), borovička (Slovakia)
Mulberry Oghi (Armenia)
Pears Perry, or pear cider; poiré (France) Viljamovka (Serbia), Poire Williams, pear brandy, Eau-de-vie(France), pálinka(Hungary), krushova rakia/ krushevitsa (Bulgaria)
Pineapples Tepache (Mexico), Pineapple Wine (Hawaii)
Plums plum wine, plum jerkum Šljivovica (Serbia), slivovitz, țuică, umeshu, pálinka, slivova rakia/ slivovitsa (Bulgaria)
Quinces Dunjevača (Serbia)
Raspberries Raspberry wine (US, Canada) Himbeergeist (Germany, Switzerland)
Myrica rubra yangmei jiu (China) yangmei jiu (China)
Pomace pomace wine Raki /ouzo/pastis/ sambuca (Turkey/Greece/France/Italy), tsipouro / tsikoudia( Greece), grappa (Italy/Argentina/Uruguay), trester (Germany),marc(France), orujo (Spain), zivania( Cyprus), bagaço (Portugal),  tescovină (Romania), arak(Iran)
Pomegranate Pomegranate wine (Armenia)
Vegetables Fermented drink Distilled drink
Agave juice Pulque tequila, mezcal, raicilla
Cassava Saliva-fermented beverages:
chicha: Throughout the Amazon Basin, including the interiors of Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, chicha is made most often with cassava; in Peruvian Amazonia chichia is known asmasato.
kasiri(Sub-Saharan Africa)
nihamanchi (South America) a.k.a. nijimanche (Ecuador and Peru)
parakari (Guyana)
sakurá (Brazil, Surinam)
Ginger root juice Ginger beer (Botswana)
Potato Potato beer Horilka (Ukraine), vodka (Poland), Kartoffel schnaps (Germany), akvavit (Scandinavia), poitín (poteen) (Ireland), tuzemák (Czech Republic)
Sugar cane juice, or molasses basi, betsa-betsa (regional) rum(Caribbean), rhum agricole (Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe and the rest of the French Caribbean), clairin (Haiti), cachaça (Brazil), Desi daru (India), aguardiente de caña (Spain), aguardiente, guaro, lavagallo, pinga( Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua), Mamajuana (Dominican Republic), Gongo, Konyagi (Tanzania), Cocoroco (Bolivia), caña (Argentina, Uruguay), espinillar (Uruguay), caña blanca (Paraguay)
Sweet potato shōchū (imojōchū) (Japan), soju(Korea)
Ti root Okolehao (Hawai’i)
Other raw materials Fermented Drink Distilled Drink
Sap of palm coyol wine (Central America), tembo (Sub-Saharan Africa), toddy (Indian subcontinent)
Sap of Arenga pinnata, Coconut, Borassus flabellifer palm wine arrack
Honey mead, horilka (Ukraine), tej (Ethiopia) distilled mead, honey-flavored liqueur
Milk kumis, kefir, blaand arkhi (Mongolia)
Sugar Kiljuand meador sima (Finland) shōchū kokutō shōchū