A spirit is an alcoholic beverage that is distinguished by the
distillation process, which was first developed as early as 1 A.D.
Unlike the fermentation process that characterises wine and beer,
distillation produces ethanol from the base ingredient, such
grains, fruits or vegetables, without added sugar. Spirits are
generally grouped into either light or dark categories.
Whiskey was first documented in Ireland in 1405, but its exact
origins remain unknown. Irish and Scotch whiskey are perhaps best
well-known, but today, whiskey is produced in many parts of the
world, including Japan, and the US. Australia's own history of
whiskey production is perhaps less well-known, but is rapidly
drawing the attention of some of the world's whiskey connoisseurs,
particularly single malt varieties from Tasmania.
Whiskey is made from fermented grain mash,
which is then distilled and aged in wooden casks. The type of wood
and the length of maturation have an important role in the quality
of the whiskey produced. Grains used for producing whiskey include
malted barley, wheat, rye and corn. Bourbon is another form of
whiskey which is based on corn.
Rum is based on sugar or sugar
by-products, such as molasses. Light rums, such as Bacardi, are
often used in cocktails, while dark rums are consumed on their own
or with mixers. While its origins are thought to be in ancient
India or China, it is most associated with the Caribbean region,
where, along with Latin America, much of the world's rum is
produced. Australia also produces rum, the most well-known being
Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling
wine. With an alcohol content ranging from 35-60%, brandy is either
aged in wooden casks, coloured to give the appearance of aging, or
a combination of both. Brandies are classed according to age, from
"A.C" (2 years) to "X.O" (Extra Old). Hors d'age brandies age are
unknown, but thought to be at least 10
Not all brandies are grape-based. Fruit brandies are produced
through the distillation of fruit wines, commonly based on apples,
plums, elderberries, raspberries, blackberries, apricots and
peaches. As these brandies are not aged they remain colourless.
Pomace brandy, a third type, is produced using the skins, seeds and
stems of the grapes after crushing, and is also not aged. It is
produced in many countries across Europe.
Gin is a clear spirit that is a product
of agricultural grains, such as wheat or rye, and then flavoured
with a combination of spices, most notably juniper. There are four
main catagories of gin: London Dry Gin, Plymouth Gin, Old Tom Gin
and Genever (or Hallands). London Dry Gin, as the name suggests, is
dryer than the more full-bodied Plymouth Gin. Old Tom Gin is a not
as common today, but is a sweeter variety that was popular in
18th Century England. Genever is distilled from malted
mash, much like whiskey, and aged in oak casks.
Vodka originated in Russia in the late
9th Century, and has become a pivotal ingredient in many
of the world's most popular cocktails, such as the Bloody Mary,
Vodka Martini and White and Black Russians. It's safe to say that
vodka is a must in every good bar stock.
Vodka is distilled from a combination of products, predominantly
agricultural grains and potatoes, but also sometimes fruits and
Tequila, a distilled beverage made from the
Blue Agave plant, is possibly Mexico's most famous export product.
In fact, Mexico has the exclusive rights to the use of the word
"Tequila", even limiting that to the states of Guanajuato,
Michocán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. It was first produced in the
16th Century, although it is believed the Aztec people
made a fermented drink from the agave plant long before the Spanish
Today, there are two main types of tequila: 100% agave, made
from only agave plants, and mixtos, which contains no less than 51%
agave and either glucose or fructose sugars. Traditionally, tequila
is sipped slowly to allow an appreciation of its flavour. It is
widely used as an ingredient for cocktails and, of course, the