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Spirits

Vermouth – not just Martini!

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Vermouth is a fortified wine, flavored with aromatic herbs and spices (“aromatized” in the trade) such as cardamom, cinnamon, marjoram and chamomile.[1] Some vermouth is sweetened; unsweetened, or “dry” vermouth tends to be bitter. The person credited with inventing the vermouth recipe, Antonio Benedetto Carpano from Turin, Italy, chose to name his concoction “vermouth” in 1786 because he was inspired by a German wine flavoured with wormwood, a herb most famously used in distilling absinthe.

Today popular brands are Noilly Prat, Dolin, Lillet, Dubonnet, Martini and Cinzano.


Irish Poteen or Potcheen

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Irish Poteen is a separate and succinct spirit category that has been produced for several centuries and for nearly the last 300 years has been referred to as Ireland’s Moonshine whiskey. During the period 1666 until recently, in various forms it has been illegal to sell it in Ireland. It was not until 1997 that all restrictions were lifted and it could be sold on the mainland in Ireland.

Whilst within the last 10 years several illicit stills were producing limited quantities, the raids carried out by the Garda (Irish Police) have reduced this to a few. With the recent discovery of dead rats in some of the mash that has been confiscated, few people will now drink illegal poteen, despite the substantial saving on the Irish Excise Duty!

Irish Poteen in its legal form over the past decade, has achieved world-wide acceptance, as a separate category of Irish Spirit. There now remain only three family-owned Irish Poteen brands. Knockeen Hills is recognised internationally, as the Irish premium deluxe brand, being either triple or quadruple-distilled and has won over 10 major awards at the International Wine and Spirit Competitions.


History of Grappa or Pomace

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

The origins of this brandy are unclear but it is generally accepted that yesteryear’s thrifty peasants were responsible ; they did not wish to see any part of any crop wasted. It is unlikely that it was much of a business proposition and was probably drunk by those who made it and best used to keep the winter chill at bay. The Italians—who refer to it generically as grappa—assert that it was conceived at their hands ; there is evidence of distillation by the Moors in 9th century Salerno and while this is by no means definitive proof it certainly gives credence to the Italian’s claim.

Arguably, until 25–35 years ago, the majorit y of Italian winemakers seemed more interested in quantity than quality. In these instances grapes were crushed with a view to maximise the yield of must, which resulted in oily, almost bitter pomace. Poor quality pomace led to poor quality grappa, which led to this Italian spirit’s crude reputation. For many years now quality has been the goal for most Italian wineries ; wines are now typically from lower vineyard yields, handled more carefully, pressed more gently and frequently are single varieties. The pomace available to the grappa producer today is lighter, more fragrant and aromatic as are the resultant grappas. Additionally, the increased popularity of varietal wines has led to a trend toward varietal grappas.

Acquavit e d’Uva Also known by many brands names, such as Most, Ue, Prime Uve—normally the highest quality and most aromatic spirit produced by each company.

Grappa di Vitigno Grappa of a single grape variety ; most of Italy’s pomace brandies come from the north where good acidity is virtually resulting in better quality distillates. The grapes used are those that prevail in the sub –regions from Piemonte in the north-west to Friuli in the north- east. These include among many others : nebbiolo, moscato, prosecco, pinot grigio, cabernet, merlot and ramandolo.

Other grappas Sometimes presented as the grappa of a special wine region ; e.g. Grappa di Barolo, in this instance the pomace has come entirely from grapes used to make Barolo. Or, grappa with a link to a famous vineyard or wine estate—here the brand name of the estate or the wine is an important indicator of the perceived quality


Vodka – more than just potatoes!

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

What vodka is made from was initially determined by what was grown in the various producing regions of the world. This helped determined regional style of vodka according to the produce used to make it.

WINTER WHEAT Prevailed in Sweden and some parts of Russia giving vodkas of delicacy with undertones of aniseed and a subtle, layered, almost textured, creaminess. Such as Stolichnaya, Absolut and Russian Standard.

RYE The grain of choice in Poland and other parts of Russia giving more pungent vodkas with a distinct peppery kick on the finish ; they have a subtle nutty middle palate with good body. Such as Chopin rye vodka, Wyborowa,

BARLEY & OATS Impart a smooth, nutty character to the vodka.

CORN Used in the USA and other countries,often when the distillery also produces whiskies.

Mixed grain A blend of different grains whose sum is, in the opinion of the producer, greater than the total of the parts.

Potatoes New to Europe at the time that these traditions were springing up ; however, by the 19th century special high-starch varieties were grown near the Baltic Coast for the purpose of making vodkas ; they have a rich, oily creaminess and are full-bodied. Such vodkas as Luksosowa, Chase vodka, Cold River vodka.

Molasses Obtained from sugar cane or sugar beet and used in neutral and inexpensive vodkas.

Grapes Wine rectified through distillation until almost all of the initial character has been lost. Such as Ciroc,

Vodka falls into two main categories, plain and flavoured, the later can have many different ingredients which all impart different flavours to the neutral spiri

Popular flavours are:

Lemon , Limmonaya or Cytrynowka Traditionally made from lemon peel, leaves or a combination of both

Pepper, Pertsovka , or Pieprzowka Made with anything from black pepper to chillies

Blackcurrant , Kurant Made with blackcurrants

Others from Russia and Poland include:

Žubrowka Flavoured with bison grass and then bottled with a single glass blade in each bottle

Jarezebiak Flavoured with rowanberries

Krupnik Flavoured with honey and spice

Starka Flavoured with sweet wine, brandy, port and sometimes the leaves of apple and pear trees

Žytnia Flavoured with apple and plum spirits.


Cachaca – what’s in it?

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Cachaça pronounced (ka-sha-sa) is a spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. It is the national drink of Brazil, but has become very popular here in the UK, especially its signature cocktail the Caipirinha. Cachaça can have an Alcoholic strength of between 38% vol and 54% vol.

Cachaça differs from rum in that most rum is made from molasses. Use of molasses allows for the use of the byproduct of sugar production and a smaller still but has the taste affected by heating. Cachaca can be classified as a “rhum agricole” which is rum produced directly from cane juice. The taste is different from rum though, with its flavours more reminiscent of tequila with earthy, etheral flavours, aromas of balsam, cinnamon and oak..

Cachaca has two main types unaged (white) and aged (golden). Today many smaller producers (Beija Flora , Abela, Germana) create handcrafted, artisan cachaças.

Traditional caipirinha is made with cachaça, sugar, and crushed limes, served over ice. It is always muddled (crushed with a masher or the blunt end of a wooden spoon). Make sure to muddle in a shaker or a sturdy, non-breakable glass. You can also try replacing lime with about 1/2 cup of fresh tangerine, star fruit, passion fruit, peach, pear, pineapple, plum, orange, mango, grape, guava, figs, etc.

Popular Cachaca’s in the UK are Sagatiba, Beija Flora, Brasilla, Velho Barreiro and Germana.


What is Gin or Geneva..?

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Gin or Geverer is a spirit whose predominant flavour must be juniper . Although several different styles of gin have existed since its origins, gin is broadly differentiated into two basic legal categories. Distilled gin is crafted in the traditional manner, by re-distilling neutral spirit with juniper berries and other botanicals. Compound gin is made by simply flavoring neutral spirit with essences and/or other ‘natural flavorings’ without re-distillation, and is not as highly regarded. The minimum bottled alcoholic strength for gin is 37.5% ABV in the E.U., 40% ABV in the U.S.

Some would argue that the ideal is between 40–55 % abv as below this a gin is unable to hold its flavours and the complexity and balance are thus adversely affected.

There are several distinct styles of gin:

Old Tom Gin is a botanically-intensive and lightly sweetened style of gin that consequently delivers a balanced and mild undertone which results in a subtle and distinctive gin experience.

Genever or Dutch style sweet gin is full bodied, malt based spirit that was introduced to the Netherlands in the 16th century. The popularity spread so quickly that it soon was hailed as Hollands national drink, just as it remains today.

Plymouth gin is another style which has a distinctively different, slightly less-dry flavour than the much more commonly available London Dry Gin, as it contains a higher than usual proportion of root ingredients, which bring a more ‘earthy’ feel to the gin, as well as a smoother juniper hit

London dry gin remains the most popular style, which is a type of distilled gin. In addition to the predominant juniper content, London dry gin is usually distilled in the presence of accenting citrus botanicals such as lemon and bitter orange peel, as well as other combination of spices such as, Angelica, Anise, Cardamom, Cassis, Coriander, Ginger, Lemon peel, Liquorice, Orange peel, Orris root and Paradise grains. London dry gin may not contain added sugar or colorants, water being the only permitted additive

The explosion of new gins on to the market has seen some quite unusual additions to the classic recipe with such botanicals as sencha tea – Beefeater 24, Blue berries and blackberries – Brockmans gin, Rose petals and cucumber – Hendricks Gin, Edlerflower and blue Iris – Blue Zephyr Gin are but a few of the wonderful new gins available.


Liqueurs – why so sweet?

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Probably the oldest of all high-strength alcoholic beverages they were originally the preserve of monks who produced them primarily for medicinal purposes. The first record of a liqueur belongs to Kummel in 1575 ; made with caraway seeds as an aid to digestion. Some liqueurs sold today still retain their ancient heritage and their recipes are often closely guarded secrets. In some instances they are not even written down but passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next, while with others, the holders of these secrets refuse to fly on the same plane as one another.

It is important to make a distinction between liqueurs and spirits even if this distinction can on occasion become somewhat blurred. A liqueur is a spirit that has been sweetened and flavoured, whereas natural sugars are fermented into alcohol and subsequently distilled to make a spirit.

In order to make a liqueur, one needs something with which to sweeten the spirit—generally sugar or honey—and something soluble with which to flavour it. The character of a liqueur will always come from these flavouring agents rather than from the base spirit.

There is diverse range of liqueurs, which can be broadly categorised as follows :

Fruit e.g. cherry and apricot brandy such as De kuypers, cherry brandy.

N.B. Despite their nomenclature these are not actually brandies at all ; they are by definition liqueurs. The real cherry brandy is Eau de Vie de Kirsch.

Crèmes Notably Crème de Cassis. Or Creme de Mure, Creme de Mrytille, Creme de Abricot etc.

Citrus e.g. triple sec, curaçao, Blue Curacao, Cointreau and Grand Marnier.

Mixed & single herb or flower (petals, seeds or roots) e.g. caraway, mint, aniseed, violet, rose and bitters, which have more than 100g / litre of sugar and anise. Popular liqueurs in the category are Wolfschmidtt Kumel, Benedictine, Parfait amour, Chartreuse.

Beans & kernels e.g. cocoa beans, coffee beans, vanilla pods, nuts. Creme de Cacao, Kahlua, Tia Maria Grand Marnier Navan and Frangelico are a few examples.

Creams e.g. based on Irish whiskey, brandy, toffee, peppermint, such as Baileys, Dooleys Cream, Aamrula and Coole Swan.

Mistelles Fresh fruit juice with its fruit distillate and a minimum of 100g / litre sugar if classified as a liqueur ; the addition of high-strength alcohol prevents the juice from fermenting whilst stabilising the character and natural sugars of the fruit. Containing no wine, yet sometimes erroneously referred to as wine spirit liqueurs ! e.g. Pineau de Charentes from Cognac, Floc de Gascogne from Armagnac, Pommeau de Normandie from Calvados and Ratafias—which nowadays refers to French grape-based


Absinthe – fiercely potent?

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Absinthe is an aromatic, dry and highly alcoholic herbal spirit. It contains anis (Liquorice flavour) and the notorious wormwood plant (Artemisa) as well as optional various other aromatic components, such as peppermint, cloves, cinnamon, (the juice of spinach, nettles and parsley are also sometimes used.) Historically it was widely regarded as a “very dangerous drink” and is still banned in many countries! Turn-of-the-century Absinthe was fiercely potent stuff… The constituent herbs are macerated for about 8-10 days in alcohol and then distilled, the result being an emerald coloured spirit.

Rumour has it that Vincent Van Gogh cut his ear off whilst under the influence of the early types of Absinthe.

Today absinthe has seen a revival with varieties coming from France, Spain, Switzerland and the Czecg Republic.

There are several different styles:

Blanche, or la Bleue Blanche absinthe (also referred to as la Bleue in Switzerland) is bottled directly following distillation and reduction, and is uncoloured (clear). The name la Bleue was originally a term used for bootleg Swiss absinthe, but has become a popular term for post-ban-style Swiss absinthe in general.

Verte (“green” in French) absinthe begins as a blanche. The blanche is altered by the “colouring step,” by which a new mixture of herbs is placed into the clear distillate. This confers a peridot green hue and an intense flavour. Vertes are the type of absinthe that was most commonly drunk in the 19th century. Artificially coloured green absinthe is also called “verte,” though it lacks the herbal characteristics.

Bohemian-style absinth (also called Czech-style absinthe, anise-free absinthe, or just “absinth” (without the “e”)) is best described as a wormwood bitters. It is produced mainly in the Czech Republic from which it gets its designations as “Bohemian” or “Czech,” although not all absinthe from the Czech Republic is Bohemian-style. It contains little or none of the anise, fennel, and other herbs that are found in traditional absinthe and bears very little resemblance to historically produced absinthes. Typical Bohemian-style absinth has only two similarities with its authentic, traditional counterpart: it contains wormwood and has a high alcohol content.

There are several methods for drinking Absinthe, the first is the French style. A sugar cube is held over a shot of absinthe with a special slotted spoon. Water is then poured slowly through the sugar cube which then turns the absinthe milky white. This method is said to bring out the more subtle herbal flavours of the absinthe.

The second way is relatively new, the Bohemian method. The sugar cube is soaked in absinthe and held over a shot of absinthe then set alight and dropped into the absinthe, setting fire to the liquid. It is then either extinguished by adding a shot of water, or allowing the flame to die out as the alcohol is burnt away. This method produces a stronger flavoured drink than the French method.


German & American Schnapps

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Schnapps is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage. The English word schnapps is derived from the German Schnaps (plural, Schnäpse), which can refer to any strong alcoholic drink but particularly those containing at least 32% ABV . American schnapps, however, are liqueurs.

German Schnapps is clear, colourless, and has a light fruit flavor. It is distilled from fermented fruit, is bottled with no added sugar, and normally contains about 40% ABV (80 proof). Its appearance and taste are the same as that of eau-de-vie, but this French term is seldom used in German-speaking countries. In Austria, Switzerland, and southern Germany, these beverages are commonly called Obstler (from the German Obst, fruit).[3] Obstler are associated with the southern part of the German language area; equivalent beverages exist all over central and southeastern Europe. In northern Germany, almost all traditional distilled beverages are grain-based.

The main kinds of fruit used for German Schnaps are apples, pears, plums, and cherries — listed here in order from the least expensive to the most. Apricot is another popular fruit that is often used in Austrian Schnaps (Marillenschnaps). Fruits other than these five kinds are rarely used for German Schnaps.

Apples are usually used together with pears to make fruit brandy (Obstwasser). Pears alone are used to produce poire Williams (Williamsbirne). Plums make Zwetschgenwasser, and cherries make Kirschwasser.

A raspberry-flavored spirit called Himbeergeist, is also a Schnaps, although it is not produced by means of fermenting raspberries, which produce a low yield of alcohol due to their low sugar content. Instead, alcohol is infused with fresh raspberries, and this mixture is then distilled.

American schnapps – The label on a bottle of American schnapps, peach-flavored and bottled at 15% ABV.

American schnapps are alcoholic beverages that are produced by mixing neutral grain spirit with fruit flavors or with other flavors. This mixture is then bottled with added sugar and (usually) glycerine, producing a smooth, syrup-like drink. Their alcohol content can be anywhere between 15% and 50% ABV(30–100 proof).

American schnapps can be bought in a very wide variety of flavors, including aniseed, apricot, banana, blackberry, black currant (aka crème de cassis), butterscotch, cherry, cinnamon, coffee, lemon, mandarin orange, menthol mint, peach, peppermint, root beer, and sour apple.

These drinks technically fall into the category of liqueurs because of their added sugar content.


Varieties of Tequila

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Tequila is made from the Blue Agave plant. Only one of the 300+ species of agave is permitted by the Tequila Regulatory Council to produce tequila-agave azul tequilana ; this plant will grow for 5-7 years before being harvested. It can only be made made primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 kilometres northwest of Guadalajara and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the western Mexican state of Jalisco.

Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Mexico has claimed the exclusive international right to the word “tequila”.

There are two basic categories of tequila: mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos use no less than 51% agave, with other sugars making up the remainder. Mixtos use both glucose and fructose sugars.

With 100% agave tequila, blanco or plata is harsher with the bold flavors of the distilled agave up front, while reposado and añejo are smoother, subtler, and more complex. As with other spirits that are aged in casks, tequila takes on the flavors of the wood, while the harshness of the alcohol mellows. The major flavor distinction with 100% agave tequila is the base ingredient, which is more vegetal than grain spirits (and often more complex).

Tequila is usually bottled in one of five categories:

* Blanco (“white”) or plata (“silver”): white spirit, un-aged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels;

* Joven (“young”) or oro (“gold”): is the result of blending Silver Tequila with Reposado and/or Añejo and/or extra Añejo Tequila;

* Reposado (“rested”): aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels;

* Añejo (“aged” or “vintage”): aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in oak barrels;

* Extra Añejo (“extra aged” or “ultra aged”): aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels.

Many Tequila brands are owned by multi-national companies such as Sauza, Jose Cuervo, Patron and Herradurra but there are still many family owned Tequilas with high quality Tequila produced on a small scale such as Tapatio, Corralejo.