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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.


Origins of Rum

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Rum, rhum or ron is the product obtained by distilling the ferment of either sugar cane juice or molasses. It comes from many parts of the tropical and sub-tropical world including Central and South America, Australia, India, Mauritius, Hawaii and, of course, the Caribbean. It can be distilled either in a continuous still or a pot still and has no requirement to be aged in barrel. It can be any strength above 37.5 % abv with some as high as 80 % abv and can be white, light and elegant, dark, rich and pungent, or indeed any possible combination thereof.

Rum is made from sugar cane, either the raw juice Rhum Agricole or from molasses.

Rums from the English speaking Carribean.

Antigua (English Harbour), Barbados (Mount Gay, Doorlys), Bermuda (Goslings Black Seal), Cayman Islands, Grenada, St Lucia (Admiral Rodney, Chairmans reserve, , St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago (10 cane, Angostura and Caroni) and the Virgin Islands (Cruzan), all produce light and golden rums, and some with great style and finesse. Labels often use proprietary terms for differing qualities and many use age statements, from three year old up through five, seven etc. In some instances terms such as XO are borrowed from the brandy world.

Jamaica( Appleton, Myers and Wray & Nephew) produces pungent high-ester rums, valuable for blending as well as for their own style and forthright flavours. Labels tend to indicate simply white and for the aged, special (gold), often a proprietary brand names and some age statements do actually refer to the minimum age of the blend.

Guyana (El Dorado, XM Rum) is a powerhouse of molasses production and produces a softer style of medium and heavily-bodied rums. The whites tend to be labelled very simply whilst the golden and dark rums generally utilise age statements which refer to the youngest parts of the blends. Many blended white and black rums are sourced from the countries above for bottling in the Caribbean orgin Europe, and these tend to be labelled with brand names and often carry no age statements or qualitative marks at all.

Rums from French Islands

Guadeloupe, Marie Galante (Pere Labatt) and Martinique (la Mauny, Bally, Clement and JM Rhum) produce both agricole and molasses based rums. The agricole have strict rules and follow a defined quality ladder : Blanc and Ambré followed by Vieux (minimum of three years), Hors d’Âge and age statements or vintages. The molasses-based rums are labelled with brand names and rarely carry any other quality statements, many of which are bottled in France.

Haiti (Barbancourt) has only one major producer ; the rums are produced and aged in a similar way to cognac and carry age statements which refer to the minimum age of the blend. Hispanic Caribbean, Central and South American Rums Cuba (Havana Club, Matusalem, Santiago de Cuba), Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala (Ron Zacapa), Mexico, Nicaragua (Flor de Cana) , Puerto Rico and Venezuela (Dilpomatico, Ron Pampero, Santa Teresa) produce light rums, predominantly white and gold and labelled with terms such as silver and blanca for the whites, and añejo, reserva, gran reserva and numerous age statements for the golden. Some are aged in solera systems and the stated age or number on the label can be a reference to the average age of the blend, or the youngest or oldest part of the blend or simply a special number that has been applied to a particular blend.

Brazil deserves a mention on its own. It produces a great deal of the world’s molasses and some traditional rums but cachaça is its main spirit. Many of these do not qualify as true rums as grain and sugar syrup are also used alongside the molasses.

Other Rums around the World

From Australia (Bundaberg) through the Philippines, India, South Africa and the Frenchspeaking islands in the Indian Ocean, many types of rum are produced with brand names providing the best indication of quality. The French tend to be the greatest respecters of the age statement ; the Indian rums tend to have colonial-sounding brands ; the Australians may differ mostly on alcoholic strength, whilst the Spanish-speaking producers will tend towards the reserva and añejo systems.

Rum has become an extremely popular drink, either by itself or mixed in many famous cocktails like Mojito, Cubra Libra, Zombie and Pina coloada to name but a few.


Whisky types explained

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

American Whiskies

American whiskies are the result of a mash of cereals and water that have been saccharified by enzymes, fermented by yeast, subsequently distilled, aged and bottled. Neither bourbon nor rye may be artificially coloured.

Bourbon Whiskey Must be made from a minimum 51 % corn, distilled to a maximum of 160˚proof or 80 % abv and finally aged in new charred oak barrels at no more than 62.5 % abv. It may not be bottled below 40 % abv.

Tennessee Whiskey Must be made from a minimum of 51 % of one grain—in practice corn— and be distilled in Tennessee at less than 80 % abv. The resultant whiskey must be filtered through a bed of sugar-maple charcoal—the famous Lincoln County Process—and aged in charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The maple charcoal imparts a certain sweetness and smokiness, a point of difference that was legally recognised in 1941when the term Tennessee whiskey was born.

Rye Whiskey Must be made from a minimum 51 % rye and matured in new charred oak barrels ;these are rich, powerful whiskies with varying degrees of pungency.

Wheat Whiskey Must be made from a minimum 51 % wheat ; these whiskies have creamy, layered, textured characteristics.

Corn Whiskey Must be made from a minimum 80 % corn and can be aged in used or uncharred oak barrels.

Straight Whiskey Any one of the above or a combination of grains of which none is 51 % of the mash bill ; must be aged for two years in barrel.

Blended Whiskey At least 20 % of one or more of the above straight whiskies blended with unaged neutral spirit ; can be aged, blended, coloured and flavoured.


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.


How is Whisky made?

Monday, September 13th, 2010

How is it Made?

The chosen grains are sometimes malted, and then milled, fermented to a beer with water, distilled and aged. The process for malt whiskies follows, while grain whisky’s process follows from milling onwards :

STEEPING Literally soaking the grains of barley in water. After approximately 48 hours the moisture penetrates the grain. As a result, enzymes in the embryo move to the endosperm—its starch store—thus modifying it from a tough structure to a fragile one and allowing germination. The germination process changes the chemical structure of the starch and the resultant sugars promote seed growth.

MALTING There are less than 10 distilleries in Scotland who use the old-fashioned floor malting to convert barley to malt. Most is bought from specialist maltsters who will effect the process pneumatically in either box or drum, both of which contain turners that keep the grain separate and ensure the free flow of air throughout the bed. As a result of converting starch to maltose, rootlets and seedling shoots appear and the barley is now termed green malt. To maximise fermentable matter and retain adequate diastatic power this process is halted and the green malt is sent for drying.

KILNING OR DRYING A kiln is a tower-shaped hot air chamber with a furnace, sometimes fan assisted, consisting of a grate in which coke, anthracite and peat can be burned at the base. Inside the kiln the green malt is spread out on a wire floor to dry for milling.

MILLING The extent to which the grains are milled is crucial to the effectiveness of the resultant grist as it determines the amount of starch that is extracted and converted to sugar during the mashing stage. Too little and not enough starch will be exposed and converted into sugar, too much and the floury consistency will stick, go soggy and prevent good filtration. Ideally the grist should contain as many unbroken husks as possible as these provide greater buoyancy in the mash and aid filtration in the mash tun—a cylindrical metal vat with rotating paddles.

MASHING The grist is placed in a mash tun and combined with very hot water giving a slurry of about 64 ˚C; the starch dissolves and the mixture is left for about an hour. This converts the starch into sugar producing a sweet liquor known as wort. Towards the bottom is a perforated shelf through which the liquid drains into a worts receiver. The wort is then cooled to about 22 ˚C and pumped into the fermentation vessels known as wash backs. A second batch of water—smaller but hotter at about 70 ˚C is added to the mash tun and combined with the remaining grains. The higher temperature enables more starch to dissolve. Again, the wort is drained and despatched to the wash back. A third batch of hot water—about 89 ˚C—is added and vigorously stirred to issolve as much of the remaining starch as possible. After resting the resulting solution is very weak in sugar, and known as sparge, this is returned and used as part of the first batch of water for the next mash. This use of the sparge is a great aid to consistency. After the three waterings any grains, or draff, remaining, are discarded.

FERMENTATION Yeast is added to the cooled wort and fermentation— depending on factors including the type of yeast, the temperature and the type of malt—generally lasts about 48 hours.

DISTILLATION Methods have evolved around tradition and convention. In Scotland, malt whiskies are distilled twice or thrice in pot still and all grain whiskies are rectified in column stills. In Ireland, both malted and unmalted grains can be pot distilled, either two or three times, whilst lighter grain whiskies are distilled in multi-column continuous stills.

The Ageing of Whisky

Before the spirit is transferred to casks an initial reduction with de-mineralised water may be made to reduce the leaching of character from the oak. The casks are mostly second-use, traditionally old bourbon or sherry. Whisky can also be transferred to another cask for finishing ; this imparts flavours from the new cask, such as sherry, wine or another spirit.

The location of the ageing warehouse is a major factor. Whiskies matured by the sea will generally pick up coastal undertones and on the west coast of both Scotland and Ireland will be affected by the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream. Their respective east coasts are much cooler and the rate of evaporation, and therefore maturation, is slower. The whiskies can then be blended—malt with malt, grain with grain, malt with grain and so on— producing some of the world’s finest whiskies.


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.