While there are a variety of liquors to choose from when ordering a mixed drink at your favorite bar or restaurant, you may not be familiar with their origin or ingredients. Maybe you want to explore outside of your comfort zone and try something new. To find out about flavor and popular cocktails to taste-test, read on about the basics of hard liquor.
Vodka is a clear spirit great for making cocktails, thanks to its neutral flavor. It’s made from grains, corn, rye, wheat, barley, and sometimes potatoes, beets or grapes. When it’s made, the fermentation leaves it with a very high proof of about 190 – which is 95% alcohol – that eliminates most of it’s flavor. Vodka traces its roots back to Russia and parts of Poland as the first countries to create this transparent alcohol that has become one of the most popular spirits around.
Martinis, Bloody Marys, Cosmopolitans, Hairy Navels, Vodka Cranberry, Screwdrivers, and Vodka Tonics are all popular drinks featuring this liquor.
Gin is a liquor made from a fermentable mash consisting of at least two thirds corn, followed by barley malt and other grains, spices and herbs. Though most gins have a similar flavor, they are almost always distilled in the London dry style, which gives it flavor with added juniper berries, orange peels, cardamoms, cassia bark, coriander and angelica root. This complex recipe of fruit and herbs is added during the distillation process to produce a liquor of about 80 proof.
Gibson, Gimlet, Gin & Tonic, Gin ‘n Juice, Gin Sour, Martini, and Tom Collins are all drinks you may have heard – and now know – are made with gin.
Whiskey is a dark, amber colored liquor. There are four basic types of whiskey: Scotch, Irish, Canadian and American. Their geographic location gives them a distinct flavor.
Scotch whiskey (scotch) is more popular with mature drinkers who have acquired the taste of it. It has a prominent smoky flavor, as it is made from malted barley that has been dried over a fire. Within the scotch family, there are two types: single malts and blends. Simply put, single malt means it was made at one distillery, while blends means it has been blended with other whiskies.
Irish whiskey does not have a strong, smoky taste like scotch whiskies. Though it is still high quality, it can often be found at a less expensive price. Whiskey from Ireland is made from barley, corn, rye and other grains and is distilled three times and aged for three to nine years in oak barrels. The result of the aging process: a smooth flavor that is more easily accessible than scotch whisky.
Canadian whiskey is more affordable than Irish whiskies, but is still a great quality liquor. The only difference from other whiskey distilling processes is that Canadian whiskey is blended and aged even longer. This gives the liquor a lighter and sweeter taste than other whiskies and is great for making cocktails.
American whiskey is often confused with bourbon – they are essentially the same liquor, but their different aging processes sets them apart. Tennessee and Kentucky are where most whiskey distilleries can be found, a fact that these states takes pride in. Bourbon whiskey is made from 50-80% fermented corn, and is not blended or changed after distillation as whiskey often is. Then, it ages for at least two years in oak barrels and results in an 80 proof liquor.
Neat, On the Rocks, Scotch and Soda, Irish Coffee, Crown and Coke, Old Fashioned, Mint Julep and Whiskey Coke are just a few of the ways you can order whiskey.
Rum is a tricky spirit that can come in both dark and light colors. It’s distilled from sugarcane or sugarcane molasses – usually in the Caribbean – and is a versatile liquor used in many mixed drinks, a popular one being the Rum and Coke. The three main types of rum are light, dark, and flavored. Light rums can be 160 proof and higher, while dark rums stay between 140-160 proof and both are aged in oak barrels to add flavor. Flavored rums are usually lighter and have been blended with fruit juices or spices to give them a sweeter taste.
Frozen Daiquiris, Hurricanes, Mai Tais, Mojitos, Piña Coladas, and Rum & Cokes are great cocktails featuring rum.
Tequila is a liquor made from blue agave, a plant found in parts of Mexico. The best tequilas are made from 100% blue agave, a fact that will be clearly noted on the bottle, and can reach a proof of 110. Tequila that is not 100% agave is called mixto because it is blended with sugar and water during the distillation process. These mixtos are often produced outside of Mexico. There are three separate colors of tequila: silver (or blanco), gold and reposado.
Silver tequila is aged for only sixty days in steel tanks, giving the liquor the rawest flavor of agave available. This color of tequila has a strong earthy flavor.
Gold tequila is an unaged tequila that has been colored and flavored with caramel, oak extract, glycerin, syrup, and other additives. Tequila of this color is recommended for drinking in cocktails.
Reposado (rested) tequila is aged in wooden barrels for at least two months, some going longer for three to nine months. The barrels add a mellow, oak flavor and give the liquor a darker color. Many distilleries are now using bourbon barrels during the aging process, adding another level of flavor to the liquor.
Margaritas, Tequila Sunrises, Palomas, Bloody Marias, Passion Cocktails, Mayan Mules and Texas Two-Steps are a few favorite tequila cocktails that will have you longing for summertime.
Brandy is a fermented juice of fruit that is distilled and aged in wood. Most brandies are made from grapes but can also be distilled from various other fruits and even from the oils of flowers. It’s a popular drink for keeping warm in the winter and is made worldwide in three distinct types: Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados.
Cognac is from southeastern France and is the most famous of the three types of brandy. It’s made almost entirely from the Ugni Blanc grape, but occasionally is produced from peaches and apricots (mainly in Europe) and is distilled twice for added flavor. It is a sophisticated drink for sophisticated drinkers, due to it being an acquired taste.
Armagnac is much like cognac but has a few distinct differences: it’s made in a different region, distilled only once and made from four grapes instead of just one type.
Calvados is a unique brandy hailing from Normandy. Due to the colder climate limiting the growth of grapes, this brandy is made from apples, which gives it a mellow flavor.
Neat, Stinger, Brandy Alexander, Brandy & Cola, Brandy & Soda, Grasshopper, and Sidecar are cocktails featuring the bold and beautiful brandy.
Ready to give one of these cocktails a try? Stop by BLEND Bar.
BLEND Bar • Cigar with Davidoff Cigars® is Indianapolis and Nashville’s premier cocktail lounge and cigar bar. BLEND’s selection of premium cigars is second to none, and our walk-in humidor is one of the largest in the US. BLEND is the only appointed merchant for Davidoff cigars in Indiana, so cigar aficionados are sure to find what they are looking for.