Part Three in a Four Part Series called The Glorious Recipe.
The most important part of any cocktail is the delightful elixir that gives a libation spirit.
Crude distillation has been practiced for around 4000 years, with the first cab off the rank being in Iraq, where the technology was later used by the incumbent dictator, Saddam Hussein, to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. The ancient Greeks really pulled things together, as they discovered man love, mass debate and tipsiness really did go hand in hand. An Arab by the name of Jabir ibn Hayyan was the man who really set the path toward the high grade ethanols we use to fuddle our brains today. Earning the mantle polymath, his techniques allow for the production of quality chemicals without ‘heads or tails’ so prominent in cheap liquor to this day.
Pretty much every culture that has managed to pull together a political system has also managed to master the technology of refining spirit. Because the refining part is secondary to fermentation, the breaking down of organic material and sugar in the presence of yeast to create alcohol, each country, region and tribe came up with recipes based on local taste and more often, local ingredients.
I’ll cover off the most common types of spirit in this article, to give you the sparest understanding of this wonderful, variety filled world.
The world’s most popular spirit. Originally from Poland, vodka is prolific in Eastern and Northern Europe and production has spread to countries as far away as New Zealand (42BELOW, 20000), The United States (Skyy) and Scotland (Smirnoff).
Primarly made from grain, vodka is also made with potato, grapes and milk whey. The spirit has become popular as Absolut has flooded the market with made up flavours supplied by the big assed building just off the Jersey turnpike. Other producers flavour their vodkas with perfumery techniques or the addition of Bison Grass.
The spirit of rum can only be made in a country that grows sugarcane. There are two basic types. The first is made from molasses, an extract produced in the refining or sugar for export. The second is Agricole or Cachaca, which is made from the juice of the sugarcane, unrefined. This approach can produce smoother rums, but aging evens the playing field.
Perhaps the spirit that has spread the furtherest around the world, probably on the backs of Irish migrants and Scottish sea captains. The name itself means water of life. Whisk(e)y is made from fermented grain mash; malted barley, barley, rye, wheat and maize are the most common types.
The Irish and the Americans use the (e) to spell the word, the Scots, Japanese & Canucks drop it.
Scotch Whisky is generally made from malted barley that has been treated with peat, giving it the taste it is famous for. Anything labelled Scotch must be distilled in Scotland. The age on the bottle must reflect the youngest whisky in the blend.
Irish Whiskey must be distilled in Ireland and aged in wooden casks for a period not less than three years. Generally made from unpeated malt barley.
American Whiskey must look, smell and taste like Whiskey. Bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn, Rye must be made from at least 51% rye, Corn whiskey must be at least 80% corn, Straight whiskeys are made with less than 51% of any single grain. Tennessee whiskey is made the same way as Bourbon, but is filtered through the charcoal of the Sugar Maple.
Mother’s Ruin is unmistakably English, the addition of quinine to tonic to ward off malaria made it the drink of an Empire.
Two basic types, Distilled Gin, which is made by re-distilling neutral grain spirit and cane sugar that have been flavored with the berries of the juniper bush. The other type, Compound Gin, is essentially a gin flavored vodka.
Gin is my favorite spirit and will get it’s own article later, so I won’t trifle the history too much. The London style of Gin is the most popular around the world, which is identified by the addition of botanicals to the distillate. These botanicals have great names like orris root, cassia bark and angelica. Newer style gins also make use of rose, cucumber and other local botanicals.
Made from the agave cactus. much more to come on this later.
The spirit of China. a distillate of rice or sorghum mash. pineappley and petrol like.