I'm obviously talking about alcohol, the best kind of spirit ;)
What kind of cocktail do you like to drink? Is it as simple as a vodka tonic? Or maybe it's classic like an Old Fashioned. Is it sweet like a Hurricane? Or clean like a Gibson? There are so many cocktails and so many different spirits to try.
As a mixologist, it is required for us to learn a little about the origins of each spirit, and some cordials. For those of you who are beginners, spirit is another word for type of alcohol (rum, vodka, whiskey). Cordial is another word for liqueur (triple sec, chambord, drambouie).
When approaching a bartender, it's completely normal to feel unaware and overwhelmed...most bars are packed with so many different spirits and different drink options! So I'm hoping I can give you a little insight which can make your trip to the bar easier!
The first spirit I want to talk about is vodka. Vodka is known as a neutral spirit. It can be made from virtually anything; potatoes, corn, grape leaves, you name it! It's considered a neutral spirit because it has no specific flavor (unless you're purchasing flavored vodka, which I don't recommend usually unless it's citrus). Most vodka is distilled to 40%. It's great in many drinks because it is so versatile. People often like to claim that vodka is the alcohol least likely to end in a hangover, which makes sense considering there is no sugar in vodka. It depends what cordials and juices you mix with it! My favorite vodkas are Grey Goose, Chopin, Belvedeer, Greenbar Distillery TRU Lemon, and Ketel One.
Next up is gin, vodka's little brother. Gin is actually a type of vodka. Gin was originally made by the British. They didn't like how flavorless vodka was, but they wanted to feel the same affects that vodka provides. So just as vodka is made by distilling to a high proof, gin is the same. But after the clear liquid if formed, juniper berries, coriander, anise and other spices are added to the liquid. Kind of like the favored British drink...TEA! Gin is the "tea" of spirits! The juniper berries and the coriander act together in such away that it adds a delicious note which makes gin the best mixing cocktail. To be honest, gin is my favorite spirit simply because of that! My favorite gins are Hendricks, The Botanist, Tanqueray, and Beefeater.
Moving right along to a spirit getting progressively more popular in the US: Rum! Rum is originally from the Caribbean. Made from distilling sugar and molasses, rum is used in popular drinks like the Hurricane, Mai Tai, Mojito...basically any drink you would want to get on the beach in the Bahamas. But it is also popular in the originally daiquiri: a simple martini style drink with lime, simple syrup (sugar water), and rum! Rum is a great neutral like spirit for daytime drinks and for mixing into something sweet, even cake! This of course is because it's distilled sugary goodness. Of course the well known rum in the US is Bacardi, but there are many delicious rums both light and dark that are becoming more widely available in the US. Oh, and what's the difference between dark rum and silver? Same as silver vs. repo tequila. It's been aged in barrels...unless it's Captain Morgan...who knows what's in that! (haha!) Some great brands I enjoy using are Mount Gay and Zaya!
Tequila, I know many of you have been waiting for this. Well I'll give you a secret, it's a lot like Champagne. Why? Because it cannot be called tequila unless it's made in Jalisco, Mexico. If it's fermented blue agave made anywhere else, it's called Mezcal! Essentially the proper technique for making tequila is by getting blue agave picked from Jalisco, crushing it via a special process called the Tahona process where they take a stone which as the mules pull the it around, crushes the blue agave underneath. Then they ferment the juices and age them in barrels. If it's not aged, it's silver, if it's aged between 3 and 12 months, it's called reposado. If it's aged between 1-3 years, it's called añejo. And if it's aged for over three years, it's called extra añejo. The biggest problem with aging is that because it is so hot in those parts of the world, and with how finicky of a spirit tequila can be, the longer you age it, the more the spirit evaporates…more than any other spirit. So if you want that extra añejo tequila, you’re going to have to sacrifice a bit! Some brands I congratulate, and highly recommend are Campeón, Casadores, Clasé Azul, and Don Julio.
And of course, I cannot forget, America’s sweetheart, the drink of the Irish; whiskey. First off, it can be spelled either way: whiskey, whisky. Both are correct! I am a big whiskey fan, it’s a drink that has lasted the stand of time. Not to mention all of the different types of whisky: Bourbon, Scotch, Rye. Single malt, Japanese, Canadian! There are so many. Of course Japanese whisky is from Japan and Canadian whisky from Canada. And Scotch in fact is whiskey, made in Scotland. So let’s dive deeper. Bourbon whiskey is a whiskey that is fermented grain mash using at least 51% corn. This is what gives it the sweeter more caramel-y flavor profile than the other whiskeys. Easy! Rye is the same as well, with 51% minimum of rye in the grain mash. This is going to give it spicier flavors and it will be drier and a bit more bitter in flavor. Depending on the drink you choose, you might want to be specific in your spirit. But of course whisky like any other drink that has color is aged in wood barrels. Most of the time they use old American Oak wine barrels, sometimes old french barrels, but mainly American Oak in which they age the spirit for anywhere between 3 and 9 months. For scotch, much of it is aged for a long time and it is made with a majority of the grain being malted barley. Scotch has more flavors of burnt rubber, smoke, wood, and dirt…all in a good way! It says somewhere on the bottle for how long it’s aged. And a simple a quick way to explain single malt: it just means it’s all from the same batch, same year, same fermentation. Other ones are mixed and matched to perfect the flavor that way! Some of my favorite whiskeys are Jack Daniels, Jameson, Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, Bulleit, and High West. If we’re going with scotch I always recommend Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Oban, and Macallan 18.
So, there’s a little bit on spirits and my recommendations. I hope you’ve learned something and will try something new next time you go to a bar. Just call out and ask for a drink with one of these guys! Or, check out my recipes in other posts! Drink Responsibly!