When you reach for the alcohol in your cupboard to celebrate an accomplishment or your favorite team making it into the playoffs, you’ll probably be taking shots of liquor. With all the different types of cocktails you can make and the hundreds of liquor brands that exist, it may surprise you to discover that liquor can be broken down into seven core spirits. Let’s learn about each.
What Is Liquor?
‘Liquor’ doesn’t actually refer to all types of alcohol. Wine, beer, and hard ciders are all alcohol, but they’re not considered liquor. To be a type of liquor, the drink must be produced using a distillation process. The different types of liquor are a result of what is being distilled (grains, fruits, vegetables, etc) and the slight variations in the distillation process, giving each type a unique flavor.
The process typically goes something like this: putting together the ingredients, letting them age and ferment, then distilling the liquid before bottling it for sale. But each liquor works a little differently and some don’t require aging. Distillation works by separating the liquor from the water via evaporation and then condensing it back into a liquid. This process not only purifies the alcohol but also makes it much more concentrated which is what gives the liquor its high alcohol content.
Types of Liquor
The base ingredient of gin is grain such as wheat or barley. The grain is typically fermented and then distilled, resulting in a dry flavor that takes on the flavors of other ingredients. For example, most gin has a juniper flavor or light citrusy flavor because citrus peels are commonly used in the process. Some brands will add in other flavors such as licorice or cucumber. The ABV (alcohol by volume) for gin starts at 40% (80 proof) and goes up from there.
Vodka is distilled from fermented high-starch plants such as cereal grains or potatoes. Some brands use rye, corn, sugar cane, fruits, or honey to switch up the flavor notes, but most vodka isn’t very flavorful. However, you can find vodkas that are infused with flavors after the distilling process. Vodka is not aged and has an ABV of 40% (80 proof).
Whiskey is made by using grain, water, and yeast. The grain is mashed, fermented, and distilled, and then the distillate is aged in large oak casks to provide more flavor. The longer the whiskey is aged, the more expensive it is and more flavorful it becomes. Some common whiskey classifications are:
Rye: made using rye as its base, this whiskey is often spicier than other types of whiskey and is described as having a black pepper kind of taste, sometimes with notes of citrus.
Scotch: made using barley that’s malted and then heated over a peat fire, this whiskey has a smokey flavor that makes it distinct. True Scotch is only made and bottled in Scotland.
Bourbon: made using at least 51% corn as its base, this whiskey typically tastes sweeter than the other kinds and can have hints of vanilla, caramel, or fruit. True Bourbon is only made in the United States.
Tequila is made from fermented Weber blue agave, which is a spiky succulent found in Jalisco, Mexico. The liquor tastes somewhat sweet and earthy, often with fruit and floral notes. It goes down smooth, but is considered more robust than some other types of liquor. It’s commonly paired with salt and a lime or sugar and a lemon. Tequila bottles are often some of the most unique liquor bottles you’ll find.
Often confused with tequila, mezcal is also made using an agave plant. While tequila only uses blue agave, mezcal can be made from any type of agave. It’s known for its distinctive smoky flavor which results from roasting the heart of the agave plant in an underground pit for several days before distillation. Sometimes it will be aged afterward which results in a darker spirit. Tequila can also be aged.
Rum is made using sugarcane molasses or sugarcane juice, resulting in a much sweeter liquor. The sugarcane is fermented and distilled, then aged using bourbon casks, wooden casks, or even stainless steel casks. Some rums have a very sweet flavor profile, while some present an earthy taste, all depending on how they’re aged.
Brandy is created using fermented fruit juice (aka wine) that’s then distilled using low heat. The distillation process can happen multiple times for a more concentrated result. Brandy unsurprisingly has a fruity taste and can also have notes of oak due to the wooden casks it’s aged in. When it’s aged over 2 years it is considered mature, and longer aging typically results in a more mellow-bodied brandy. Cognac is a specific variety of brandy that’s made using grapes from western France.
Check out Chip’s Liquor to find all your favorite liquors in hundreds of flavors.