Liquor comes to us in an array of exciting spirits, from gin to tequila and whiskey. Each drink has its own unique, bold flavor and an even more fascinating origin. Before you enjoy your next Tequila Sunrise, we want to tell you about the process involved in producing your favorite liquors and what is inside.
Fermentation is a process used in making beer and wine that relies on yeast to break down organic materials like fruits and grains, and convert their sugars to ethanol. Hard liquor is made from distilling wine and beer down to a more concentrated form by heating it to the boiling point of 173 degrees Fahrenheit. The ethyl vapor that comes off is collected and condensed back into liquid form, and voilà, liquor.
It is commonly believed that vodka is made only using potatoes. While this is true in some cases, vodka can also be made using other grains, such as corn, rice, barley, wheat and sorghum. Vodka is created by fermenting a bland beer wash. Following the fermentation, it is distilled and spring water is added to dilute it. Vodka is immediately bottled. It is not aged.
Gin is prepared the same way as vodka with the infusion of juniper berries. Gin is also often flavored with orange peel, anise, cinnamon and coriander.
Tequila is made from harvesting the agave plant. Spiny leaves are hacked off from the large trunks, the plant is cut into pieces, and its juices are fermented. Color indicates how long the tequila has been aged. Clear-colored (blanco) tequila means it was immediately bottled. Darker, aged tequila (madura) has typically sat a minimum of three years in an oak barrel.
Rum usually comes from the Caribbean or Latin America, where it is made from fermenting and distilling molasses. The length of time it is aged in charred oak barrels affects its color and strength. Rums can be flavored with spices, caramel, coconut and citrus.
Whiskey (or whisky) is initially prepared in a fashion similar to vodka; however, aging is an essential element in creating whiskey. Variations in conditions and the length of time it is aged give us the different varieties of the whiskey family.
Scotch is a whiskey produced from grains that have been smoked in special peat moss smokers. To be officially called a scotch, it must be aged at least three years in oak casks, distilled at least twice and made only in Scotland.
Bourbon is the American variant of whiskey. A bourbon must contain at least 51% corn, be aged in charred oak barrels for at least two years and be made in the United States.
Brandy is one of the oldest distilled spirits. Originally it was developed as a more concentrated form of wine to ship abroad. Brandy is distilled from the wine of grapes, apples and other fruits. Its labels indicate just how long it has been aged: VS (very special) is aged three years in wood barrels while VSOP (very special old pale) is aged at least five years.