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The Most Asked Spirits Questions
What are Spirits?
With all due respect to the ghosts or apparitions that torment your cats and steal your socks, (just one of a pair, damn pranksters) Spirits are alcohol beverages made from the distillation of any fermented “base” beverage made from nearly any grain, fruit, or sugar. Spirits are typically at least 30-35% alcohol by volume or greater.
What does distilled or distillation mean?
Distillation in simple terms is the process of concentrating alcohol. It is important to understand that in order to make a Spirit you must first make a fermented alcohol “Beverage.” These fermented potions are most often not intended for consumption, but rather to go straight to the alcohol still. Scotch Whisky, for example, starts with a fermented potion that is much like Beer being made with the identical base ingredients (water, malted barley, and yeast). Distillation is performed in a vessel known as a still. A still can take many different shapes and each Spirit type has a preferred structure. A still simply takes advantage of the fact that ethyl alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. Just like boiling water, alcohol steam vapors also rise. Like all steam it turns back to a liquid, or condensation, when it cools. This condensation becomes the Spirit.
What does double, triple, or quadruple distillation mean?
This term is actually straightforward and descriptive as it is telling the consumer how many times the spirit was distilled. Each distillation not only further purifies the spirit but it also strips away aroma and subtle flavor agents that are naturally present. In the case of Vodka where neutrality is desired, numerous distillations are most often positive. Most Spirits are distilled at least two times with true Armagnac, which is distilled just once, being the primary exception.
Why is Whisky dark while Vodka is clear?
The answer is simply wood. Everyone has seen a room filled with barrels (or at least a picture of such a place). Color, as well as a host of flavors and aromatic contributors, is extracted from the barrels. Flavors described as being reminiscent of roasted nuts, vanilla, caramel, treacle, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cola, toffee, and chocolate to name a few, are all attributed to wood barrels. (Of course this does not account for the endless collection of flavors artificial and otherwise, that are added to clear Spirits.)
What does proof mean?
Proof is an all but meaningless expression of alcohol strength. It is no longer legally required on labels of Spirits but is most always found there. The origins of this measurement date to the 18th century. Alcohol was determined to be of proof when a solution of the alcohol with water could be poured on a pinch of gunpowder and the wet powder could still ignite. Further than being irrelevant today, proof is calculated differently in the US and the UK, which of course creates much confusion. The US method of calculating proof is to simply double the Spirit’s alcohol by volume (ABV) while the UK system calculates on a ratio of 7:4. A Spirit with an ABV of 40% would have a US proof of 80, whereas in the UK, it would have a calculated proof of 70.