Before we introduce the different liquors, first a little about alcohol proof. In the US proof is exactly double the alcohol content. Therefore if the bottle is 80 proof, it contains 40% alcohol. The term originated during the 18th century in Britain when sailors would "proof" their rum rations by dousing gunpowder in them to see if it would ignite. They did this to make sure their rations had not been watered down.
Brandy is a spirit distilled from mashed fruit, often grapes. Known as "fire wine" it has been popular for hundreds of years. Brandy is aged in oak casks from which it derives its rich color. Normally 80 proof, brandy is a traditional after dinner drink and is used frequently in cooking.
Fine Brandy can cost a pretty penny. Cognac, one of the most popular forms of brandy gets its name from a region in France of the same name. Cognac is double distilled using pot stills, also used in the production of Whiskey.
Brandy is normally imbibed at room temperature or very slightly warmed. It is served in a snifter. Brandy is graded based on its age.
X.O. Extra Old, Napoleon or Vieille Reserve. X.O. is aged at least six years and Napoleon at least four. This is some of the best brandy you can purchase.
V.S.O.P Very Special Old Pale or 5-Star brandy is aged at least five years in wood.
V.S. Very Special or 3-Star brandy is aged at least three years in wood.
A.C. Brandy aged two years in wood.
Gin is a very dry spirit made from grain and flavored with juniper berries. The classic gin and tonic is a drink you'll come across daily when working as a bartender. Gin is also the base ingredient for the ever popular martini.
Gin is usually sold with a proof around 80 and is clear in color, although some varieties can have a yellowish color due to being aged in barrels. Gin is often very reasonably priced and is known as the "drinker's drink."
Rum, the favorite drink of Blackbeard himself! Both pirates and navy men used to drink grog, a potent mixture of rum, lime juice, and sugar water. The worst hangover I ever experienced was thanks to a bottle of rum. Merely writing about rum brings to my stomach a twinge of nausea.
Produced prominently in the Caribbean, rum is distilled from sugar and aged in oak barrels. Light rums are the most popular and are used in cocktails such as daiquiris. Dark rums are distilled through a slower process which allows them to develop a stronger, bolder character. Dark rum is normally sipped neat (straight up).
Tequila is made from the agave plant in Mexico and is normally around 80 proof. Being the main ingredient in Margaritas, Tequila is one of the most popular liquors in the world. As a bartender you'll soon become very familiar with the many types of tequila available.
Anejo is a form of tequila that is aged and sipped neat. Cheaper tequilas are fine for mixed drinks, but Anejo is preferred for shots as the aging takes some of the bite out of the liquor.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no worm at the bottom of a real tequila bottle. Worms are only found in some bottles of mescal, which started as a marketing ploy.
Vodka is a clear, tasteless and odorless liquor distilled from anything from grain, to potatoes, to molasses. Vodka is traditionally drunk neat in Europe, while in the US mixers are usually added to create various cocktails. Originally produced in Poland, Vodka is the most popular liquor in Russia.
Vodka is famous for its lack of flavor. It's neutral flavor allows it to be successfully mixed with a wide variety of mixers and typically does not leave a detectable smell of liquor upon one's breath. Vodka is must be at least 80 proof but not over 110 proof.
Whiskey is distilled from grain mash and aged in oak barrels. First distilled by monks in Ireland in 1405, nowadays whiskey has the image of belonging to the cowboys of the wild west. There are many different types of whiskey. I'll briefly review the most popular types.
Scotch whiskey is from Scotland and is normally distilled at least twice. It is aged in oak barrels for at least three years and is usually a blend of both malt and grain whiskies. Single malt whiskies are the most sought after of the Scotch whiskies.
Irish whiskey is distilled at least three times and is always aged in wooden barrels for at least three years, often much longer. Irish whiskey is distilled in single malt, single grain, and blended varieties.
American whiskey is comprised of three main categories. Bourbon whiskey which is at least 51% corn, Rye whiskey which must be at least 51% rye, and corn whiskey which must be at least 80% corn. American whiskey is aged in oak barrels which can be as brief as six months for corn whiskey.
Jack Daniels, one of America's most famous whiskies is distilled similar to bourbon, but is filtered through sugar maple charcoal which gives it the brilliant flavors and aromas that it's known for.