A spirit is any alcoholic beverage that has been distilled, rather than its alcohol occurring through a natural process of fermentation. Distillation, as seen in Beverly Hillbillies reruns, is a process whereby one cooks a liquid to collect the alcohol spirit via a comical contraption of tubes, flasks and such. The resulting beverage typically contains somewhere between 20% to 40% grain alcohol.
Dave’s rural Kentucky forbears were distillers during the Prohibition, just as Joe’s Italian-American ancestors were vintners. Maybe these guys were pre-destined to this business after all.
Our Spirits products are grouped into several categories:
These beverages are called “liqueurs” everywhere in the world, except in the U.S. , where apparently that three-vowel combo in the middle confuses us. So we go with “cordials”, which sounds very…..umm, cordial.
This funky category contains spirits that are flavored with herbs, fruits, spices and sometimes cream. They are the descendants of herbal remedies that were made by monks as far back at the 13 th century. In fact, some liqueurs still are made by monks, though not by Thelonious.
In addition to the flavor categories, we must make a distinction between naturally-flavored liqueurs and the cheap artificially-flavored spirits, such as Triple Sec. We know that it costs more, but this is one time when it really pays to buy the real stuff.
We think of liqueurs as belonging to one of several categories:
- Anise liqueurs taste like licorice, and include Absinthe, Galliano, Ouzo, Pastis, and Sambuca.
- Herbal liqueurs include Drambuie (made with Scotch), Irish Mist (Irish whiskey), and Benedictine (Brandy) infused with herbs.
- Fruit liqueurs include the orange group (Grand Marnier, Citronge, Cointreau, etc.), as well as Lemoncello, Midori (watermelon), Amarula and the new fruity Hpnotic and Everglo stuff.
- Nutty liqueurs, such as Amaretto (almond), Frangelico (hazelnut), Nocello (walnut), and the vanilla liqueurs (Tuaca, Licor 43) make excellent after-dinner drinks.
- Coffee flavors are well-represented with Kahlua, Starbucks, Tia Maria and Kamora. Chocolate gets its play with the Godiva and Just Desserts brands. Finally, cream liqueurs include the Irish creams, as well as Advocaat (an egg cream) and Xanath, an excellent Mexican vanilla cream liqueur.
Gin was invented in 1650 in the Netherlands . It was originally intended as a remedy for kidney disorders. It was originally made with neutral grain spirits flavored with oil of juniper, and was called Genever, meaning juniper.
The most common method of making gin involves flavoring neutral spirits. This has lead to various debates as to whether gin is merely flavored vodka. In addition to juniper, other botanicals including coriander, cassia bark, angelica, orange peel, orris root, cardamon, licorice, and other stuff, are often present.
London Dry Gin is the most common type today. English Gins are generally more flavorful and are considered to be superior to American Gins. The driest gin is Plymouth Gin, made in English city of the same name.
Rum is distilled from fermented molasses, sugar cane, or cane syrup. American colonists drank rum so that they could forget that they were living in the gnarly 17 th and 18 th centuries. An American article describing Barbados in 1651 states, "the chief fudling they make in this island is Rumbullion alias Kill Divil - a hot hellish and terrible liquor." George Washington campaigned with seventy-five gallons of free rum, leading many to eventually remark "I voted for WHO?".
Rum is produced at various proofs from 80 to 151. White or Silver rum is the lightest and best used for mixing cocktails. Dark rums made from molasses are best for cooking and are used as blending additions to cocktails.
The most famous of light and Puerto Rican rums is Bacardi. Bacardi was originally made in Cuba , and was the first light rum. Jamaican Rum is among the finest of aged rums. Wray & Nephew produce Appleton, which comes in many varieties. Myers's rum is distilled in Jamaica . Barbados is home to many different rums. The oldest and one of the most popular is Mount Gay , which has been made in the same location since 1703.
But those are the easy ones. We recommend that you branch out and experiment with some of the fine rums of Haiti , Venezuela , Brazil and other exotic alternatives such as Cachaca.
Tequila is Mexican liquor distilled from the fermented juices of the hearts of blue agave plants. The liquor gets its name from the town of Tequila located in the state of Jalisco where production started more than 200 years ago.
The blue agave has long bluish green spiny leaves with sharp points and a large heart (called piña or pineapple) from which the juices are extracted and then distilled twice. One liter of distilled tequila requires between 6 and 8 kilos of agave pulp.
The latest vibe in tequila has been the introduction of premium 100% blue agave sipping tequilas, led by Patron in its unique blown-glass bottles. We also highly recommend the Don Julio line, which is the best-selling brand in Mexico.
Tequila is famous around the world for its unique taste and bouquet and is the key ingredient in Margaritas, which we drink in the shop for breakfast every morning. Not really.
The traditional spirit of Russia, Poland and the Baltic states is now the largest selling spirit in the United States . Favored for its neutral aroma and flavor, vodka is essentially a neutral grain spirit containing just grain alcohol and water.
While some vodkas are distilled in the classic way from potatoes (Luksusowa, Blue Ice), most of the best are made from grain. Most vodkas attain a high degree of purity, resulting from four or even five distillations. As a result, vodka is less prone to causing hangovers than any other alcoholic beverage.
There has been an explosion of vodka brands and flavors in recent years. In addition to standby premium brands like Stolichnaya, there are now other premiums like Vox, Grey Goose, Belvedere and Chopin. There are American exotics like Tito’s and the naturally-flavored Charbay vodkas. Ciroc is a French vodka made from grape spirits – cognac on steroids!
Bear with us here, as it is generally the custom that American and Irish are spelled "whiskey", while Scotch and Canadian are spelled "whisky". Didn’t want you to think we just blew off the spell-checker.
Whiskeys are distilled from grains and are aged in oak barrels to impart their brown color and smoky, dark taste. There are a number of different varieties. There are four main types: Irish, Canadian, American, and Scotch.
Irish whiskeys are made from malted (sprouted) barley grains. Light in style, they differ from Scotch whiskeys in that peat is never used in Irish whisky, meaning that it will have less of the smoky character so associated with Scotch. Popular brands include Midleton, Jameson, Bushmills and Powers.
Canadian whisky – brands include Crown Royal, Forty Creek and Canadian Club – is a blended grain whisky containing a combination of barley, rye, corn and wheat. Canadians are generally light in style.
American whiskies include Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and Rye whiskey.
- Bourbon is generally made in Kentucky , and must include between 51% and 80% corn malt. Sweet and smooth, this classic American whiskey is conditioned with sour mash, the leftover solids of from the previous batch of whiskey. Interestingly, no distilleries exist today in Bourbon County . Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, and Woodford Reserve are among the more famous brands of bourbon.
- Tennessee whiskey is similar to Bourbon, but this whiskey is subjected to the “Lincoln County Process”, which involves filtering the whiskey through ten feet of maple charcoal. The process imparts a unique flavor and smooth quality to Tennessee whiskey. Jack Daniels is the big dog in these parts, along with smaller pup George Dickel.
- Rye whiskey was at one point the main whiskey consumed in the north-eastern states, but is now only produced by a few distillers. By law, it must be at least 51% rye. The main brand available now is Jim Beam Rye.
Scotch whiskys can be divided into the categories of Malted whiskys and Blends.
- Malted Scotch whiskys are made by roasting barley sprouts over a peat fire. It is the peat that gives Scotch its unique smoky flavor. The roasted barley mash is then mixed with water and permitted to ferment before distillation.
- Blended Scotch (such as Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker, and Chivas Regal) whiskys are a combination of malted and grain whiskies. Blends are considerably lighter in character than malts.
- Malt whiskys can be blended with other malts to form “vatted” whiskys, but these are fairly rare. Far more common are Single Malts, which are malted whiskys made at a single distillery in Scotland . These are strong in flavor and very smoky. Single Malts are often grouped into the various whisky-making districts of Scotland:
- Islay (“Eye-la”) is the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides islands. It produces the strongest flavored whiskys in Scotland. These whiskys have huge peaty, salty, iodine flavor notes. Islay distilleries include Lagavulin, Laphroig, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila and Bowmore.
- In addition to Islay, single malts are also produced the islands of Arran, Jura, and Skye (Talisker). These are designated in the shop as Island malts.
- Highland whiskys are produced in the north of Scotland . These are lighter in flavor and peat than the other single malts, though they are still far manlier than blends. Highland distilleries include Dalmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenmorangie, McClelland, and Oban.
- While technically Highland, a number of distilleries designate themselves as Speyside, as they are located along the River Spey in the northeast, home to the greatest concentration of distilleries in Scotland . Brands include Aberlour, Balvenie, Cragganmore, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Macallan.
- Lowland distilleries are now few in number, owing to the public’s preference for stronger flavored single malts. Glenkinchie is one of the three remaining Lowland distilleries.