BBar and Grill Bar Guide

Liquor / Distilled Spirits

A distilled beverage, spirit, liquor, hard liquor or hard alcohol is an alcoholic beverage produced by distillation of a mixture produced from alcoholic fermentation. This process purifies it and removes diluting components like water, for the purpose of increasing its proportion of alcohol content (commonly expressed as alcohol by volume, ABV). As distilled beverages contain more alcohol they are considered "harder" – in North America, the term hard liquor is used to distinguish distilled beverages from undistilled ones, which are implicitly weaker.

The Distillation Process

The basic distillation procedure is the same regardless of the spirit. Alcohol is not "created" by distillation, just concentrated. A weak alcoholic beverage such as wine or beer is heated to boiling in a still (see illustrations below). Since the various constituents of the resulting vapor (like water, ethyl, methyl, and isopropyl alcohols) will vaporize and condense at different temperatures, they may be selectively extracted to create a new mixture which may then be further aged and/or flavored by the distiller. The different kinds of stills (e.g., pot still, column still) function in different ways and result in products of vastly different makeup and taste, but the basic process is the same: slowly boil the liquid and keep the vapors you want.


The Primitive Distillates

Origin: 800 BC

Ingredients: various ferments

Around 800 BC distilled alcoholic beverages were being made in Asia. These included:

Distilled Mead

Origin: Britain, 500 AD

Ingredients: mead (honey)

Aqua Vini

Origin: Spain, 1200s

Ingredients: wine

Spanish forerunner of brandy.


Origin: Italy, 1000s

Ingredients: fruit wine (unaged)

The word comes from the Dutch "brandewijn" meaning "burnt wine."

Grape Brandy

Origin: likely the first Western distilled beverage

Ingredients: grape wine


Origin: Cognac, France, 1500s

Ingredients: wine (7.5% ABV, high acidity)

Process: Pot double-distill to 70% ABV, dilute to 50%, age in oak 2 years (minimum) to 5 years or more (Very Superior Old Pale--VSOP). Dilute (if necessary) to 40% ABV, color with caramel, add a small amount of sugar for taste.


Origin: Armagnac region, France, 1411 (first mention)

Ingredients: wine

Process: Pot single-distill to 53% ABV, age in sappy, strong black oak. Outside of France, armagnac is sometimes made in a column still, and with caramel syrup added.
Armagnac is generally drier than Cognac.

Brandy de Jerez

Origin: Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

Ingredients: primarily the Airen grape of La Mancha and Extremadura

Process: Column distill (often elsewhere in Spain, then ship to Jerez) and age in sherry casks for minimums of 6 months, one year for Reserva, three years for Gran Reserva. In practice the best Reservas and Gran Reservas are aged 12-15 years.
Grapes from other regions are usually used as the local sherry grapes are too valuable for brandy production.


Origin: Greece, 1888 (invented by Spyros Metaxa)

Ingredients: wine

Process: Pot distill, flavor with Muscat wine, age at least three years, flavor with anise, rose leaves and other spices.
Grapes from other regions are usually used as the local sherry grapes are too valuable for brandy production.

Fruit Brandy

Ingredients: non-grape fruit wine

Process: Age minimally, and rarely in wood (fine calvados is an exception).
Not to be confused with fruit-flavored grape brandy.


Origin: Alsace region, France, 1553 (first mention)

Ingredients: non-grape fruit wine

Process: Do not age."Water of life" in French, eau-de-vie is colorless. The term is also used in France to refer to brandy in general.


Origin: Lower Normandy region, France

Ingredients: apple cider

Process: Age in oak casks for minimum of two years.
The best-known fruit brandy, calvados is made from the local small, tart apples.


Origin: Germany

Ingredients: black cherry


Origin: United States, colonial period

Ingredients: hard cider (fermented apples)

The word comes from "jacking," a nickname for the freeze distillation procedure originally used.


Origin: Balkans

Ingredients: various fruits

Often spelled "rakia", many varieties are popular on the Balkan peninsula where it may be made from grapes, plums (known as slivovitz, usually from the same sloe plum used to flavor "sloe gin"), apricots, pears, quince, figs, and walnuts.


Ingredients: pomace wine (made from grape pulp, skins, stems and seeds)

The "poor man's brandy," pomace was originally something for wine makers to do with their grapes after pressing.


Origin: Bassano del Grappa, Italy

Ingredients: pomace wine

Process: Don't age, or age 2-4 years.


Origin: France

Ingredients: pomace wine


Origin: Russia, 1400s

Ingredients: rye or wheat, sometimes potato or another grain (traditionally the cheapest starch available)

Probably produced since the 12th century for medicinal purposes, the word comes from the Russian diminutive for "water." In the 1930s Vodka became popular in the United States where it is government-defined as a neutral spirit without distinctive characteristics.

Whiskey / Whisky

Origin: Ireland and Scotland, around 1500; known as aqua vitae, uisge beatha or usquebaugh (all meaning "water of life") until the 1700s (name shortened from "usquebaugh" to "usky" and eventually "whiskey").

Ingredients: barley, corn, rye

Spelled "whisky" in Scotland, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand.

Single-Malt Scotch

Origin: Scotland, 1500

Ingredients: 100% barley malt

Process: Under the Scotch Whiskey Act 1988: pot distill to no more than 94.8% ABV, age in oak for at least three years, dilute with water and add nothing but caramel for color.
Currently there are only about 115 operating distilleries producing single-malt scotch.

Blended Scotch

Origin: Scotland, 1860s

Ingredients: single malt scotch (30-60%), grain alcohol (from corn)

Process: Mix several malt whiskies from different distillers with grain spirits (more neutral in flavor) produced in column stills.
Legal since the 1860s, the motivation for blending was originally economic but it also met the demand outside of Scotland for a milder spirit.

Irish Whiskey

Origin: Ireland

Ingredients: barley (60%), barley malt (40%)

Process: Dry the malt (don't roast), and triple distill.
Milder than single malt and some blended scotch.


Origin: North America

Ingredients: rye (minimum 51%), barley malt

Process: By law: distill at less than 80% ABV and age for at least two years in new charred barrels.
Some rye is bottled and marketed directly, but most is blended into other whiskies for character and structure.


Origin: Bourbon County, Kentucky, United States

Ingredients: corn (minimum 51%), barley malt

Process: By law: distill at less than 80% ABV and age for at least two years in new charred barrels. In practice, aged at least four years.

Tennessee Whiskey

Origin: Tennessee, United States

Ingredients: corn (minimum 51%), barley malt

Process: By law: distill at less than 80% ABV, filtered through bed of sugar maple charcoal, age for at least two years in new charred barrels.

Canadian Whiskey

Origin: Canada

Ingredients: corn or wheat with rye, barley, or barley malt

Process: Usually: blend from different whiskies of different ages; by law: age in used oak barrels for minimum three years (four to six in practice). Export in barrel or bottle in Canada at 43.4% ABV.


Origin: Americas, 1500s

Ingredients: molasses or sugar cane

Process: Distill in continuous still to about 85% ABV, filter, blend, and leach through charcoal for "silver" rum, age for 1 year (light-bodied) to 6 years (heavy), add caramel (if desired) to deepen color and flavor. For Jamaican Rum ferment longer and pot distill to lower purity.
Settlers in the New World began to make rum because barley had not yet been cultivated and molasses was plentiful.


Origin: Brazil, 1500s

Ingredients: molasses or sugar cane

Process: The major difference between cachaça and rum is that rum is usually made from molasses, a by-product from refineries that boil the cane juice to extract as much sugar crystal as possible, while cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice that is fermented and distilled.

*Taken from