Did you notice that whisky is sometimes spelled with an e? The term whisky (without e) refers to Scottish, Canadian, or Japanese grain spirits while whiskey (with an e) refers to Irish and American grain spirits. Similarly, there is dubiety between liquor vs. liqueur, scotch vs. bourbon, and most people are not always aware of the fundamental differences between them. So, before you blindly walk into the liquor store next time, you probably want to go through this liquor guide. We will walk you through the basic types of liquors, decode some confusions in terminology and help you understand the distinctive attributes of each different style.
Liquor vs. Liqueur
As the spellings of these two terms are nearly similar, confusion is inevitable. Liquor is an alcoholic beverage distilled from any kind of fermenting base. Alternatively, liqueurs are liquors with added sweetness and flavors with a considerably low ABV.
Types of Liquor
Gin is a Vodka-like clear spirit distilled from grains or malts with a minimum ABV of 37.5%. The signature piney aroma and flavor of gin is wholly extracted from juniper berries.
Experimenting with different botanicals and herbs such as grapefruit and lemon peel brings out diverse flavors of this spirit, unique for every brand. London dry gin, Plymouth gin are some of the prominent gin styles. Gins naturally mix with a long-range of ingredients and ideal for dry cocktails like martini or gin and tonic.
Rum has a classic history of originating from the Caribbean, quite in demand among the pirates and sailors. This spirit is generally distilled from sugarcane and molasses. Unlike Vodka or Gin, rum goes through an extended aging process in wooden barrels.
Lighter styles like white rums (Bacardi Blanca) are colorless and very mild flavored compared to medium or full-bodied rums with a darker caramel note. Spiced rums are infused with spicy flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg. The sweeter undertone of light rum makes it a perfect cocktail base for tropical drinks.
Fine tequilas are distilled by fermenting Mexican blue agave, typically aged in old whisky oak barrels. They have a very earthy and vegetal flavor profile, tastes ranging from naturally sweet to spicy.
Mexican states aren't supposed to be named Tequila. 40-50% alcohol content makes tequilas a perfect shot drink for parties, or you can mix them in spicy or frozen fruit cocktails.
Remember the old Russian saying that vodka is like 'sunshine in the stomach'? This trendy spirit from Russia and Poland is now coveted worldwide for its flexibility. Vodka is a clear, tasteless and unscented spirit distilled from potatoes and grains with an ABV of 40%.
There is a subtle flavor profile in some vodkas varying from peppery to creamy. The neutral quality of vodka makes it super versatile for cocktails like bloody mary and cosmo, shots, or even neat.
Brandy and Cognac
Oak aging is an essential process in producing superior quality brandy. Sometimes it can take up to several decades to import the most refined texture and delicate aroma. Brandy is a fruity flavored beverage distilled from grape fermentation.
A variety in flavor is added by using other fruits like apples, pears, peaches as the base. French label brandies are some of the most highly acclaimed and expensive brandies in the world. Cognac is one of the finest styles of brandy produced in a homonymous French region.
As is evident in its name, scotch is a type of whiskey exclusively produced in Scotland. Unlike wines, whiskey doesn't age in bottles; the longer barrel life it has, the better. Scotch is made of malted grains with a distinct smokey flavor, and it has to mature for a minimum of three years. The price goes higher with the age statement. You can explore premium scotch brands like Johnnie Walker, Ballantine's, preferably taken neat or with water.
One distinguishing factor between American and Scotch or Irish whiskey is that American whiskey is made of a mash of multiple grains like corn, wheat, rye and barley instead of one primary grain. Bourbon is an American whiskey typically distilled from a mash containing at least 51% of corn that adds the excess sweetness and smoothness to the liquid.
It ages in charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Old Forester, Wild Turkey, Maker's Mark are some of the common names you will find in liquor stores; try neat, with water or on the rocks.