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Base spirits, or base liquors, are an essential part of any home bar set up. If you’re eager to entertain guests in your own home or garden bar, adding the six main base spirits to your collection will ensure you are fully prepared for any drink request.
Most people are familiar with what alcohol is, but what about what makes up the different types of spirits? In this blog post, we will be discussing what base spirits are and how they differ from others. A base spirit is a type of distilled liquor that derives its flavour mainly from the material used in production such as grains or sugars.
The six main types of base spirits include vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, rum and brandy. Each one has their own unique characteristics which make them stand out among other liquors.
What Is a Base Spirit?
A base liquor is one of the six major sorts of hard liquor. They’re called base spirits or base liquors because they’re commonly used as a basis for cocktails or consumed straight up. Bitters, for example, are simply a flavour accenting agent. Brandy, rum, gin, whiskey, vodka, and tequila are among the many varieties available.
The Dutch word brandewijn, which means “burnt wine,” gave brandy its name. And that’s exactly what this base spirit is: distilled wine.Brandy may be produced from the mash of almost any fruit, and apple and plum are frequent selections. “Apple brandy,” “plum brandy,” and so on appear on that sort of brandy’s label.
- Flavor profile: fruit, primarily grape, but also apple, plum, pear, nuts, oak
- Aging: oak barrels, 3-20 years
- Styles: Cognac, grappa, American brandy, Spanish brandy, Armagnac, fruit brandy
- Famous distillers: Martell, Courvoisier, Remy Martin
- Alcohol content: typically 40%, can go up to 60%
- Glassware: snifter
- In cocktails: sidecar, brandy old fashioned, Brandy Alexander, Corpse Reviver
One of the more adaptable base spirits, Rum has a sweeter taste. It was one of the first liquors to be mixed into cocktails, so there are several great classic rum drinks to try. It’s utilized in many hot beverages because it’s the main ingredient in tropical drinks.
- Flavor profile: sweet, toasty, sometimes spicy
- Aging: oak barrels, up to 10 years (the longer its aged, the darker it is)
- Styles: British rum, Spanish rum, English rum
- Famous distillers: Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Havana Club
- Alcohol content: Typically 40%, can go up to 75%
- Glassware: rocks glass, grappa glass, snifter
- In cocktails: rum and coke, daiquiri, Mai Tai, piña colada
The process of making gin begins with the production of a neutral spirit, which is then redistilled with the help of botanicals. That means seeds, berries, spices, roots, and herbs are used. The English name for gin originates from the French term for juniper tree, genévrier.
The flavor of a flavored gin is largely determined by the botanicals used, however common tastes include juniper, anise, coriander, fennel, and citrus peel.
- Aging: Sometimes oak barrels, up to six months
- Styles: London dry, Genever, New American
- Famous distillers: Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire
- Alcohol content: At least 40%
- Glassware: martini glass, rocks glass, inward-curving stemmed glass
- In cocktails: gin and tonic, Negroni, gimlet, martini, Tom Collins
Whiskey is produced by fermenting (and sometimes malting) grain mash, usually made from barley, corn, rye, or wheat.
The first proof of whiskey dates back to 15th century Scotland, with 1494 as the year. Our term for whiskey derives from Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha, or “water of life.” To this day, Scotland is one of the world’s epicentres of whiskey heritage, alongside Ireland and the United States. The base spirit Whiskey pairs well with autumnal drinks.
- Flavor profile: Roast, malt, grains, oak
- Aging: typically charred white oak, typically 3-20 years, though some Scotches are aged up to 50 years
- Styles: malt, grain, Scotch, rye, bourbon, Irish
- Famous distillers: Jameson, Maker’s Mark, Johnnie Walker, Macallan
- Alcohol content: typically 40%, up to 68%
- Glassware: rocks glass, Glencairn glass, assorted whiskey tumblers
- In cocktails: whiskey sour, Rob Roy, Manhattan, Sazerac, Jack and Coke
Vodka, like gin, is produced from a neutral spirit. However, the similarities end there. Vodka, unlike other spirits, is meant to be flavorless. The greatest vodkas are recognized for their purity, lack of odor and mild note of clean grain. And some of the most delicious spring beverages are made possible thanks to the base spirit vodka.
Because we must continue with etymology, the term vodka comes from the Russian word for water, voda. The added “k” transforms it into a diminutive: “little water” or “cute water.” In 1970, vodka became the most-consumed alcoholic drink in the United States by volume.
- Flavor profile: very subtle clean, bright grains
- Aging: typically none
- Styles: potato, wheat, rye
- Famous distillers: Smirnoff, Grey Goose, Belvedere, Ketel One
- Alcohol content: typically 40%, up to 95% (be careful)
- Glassware: martini glass, shot glass
- In cocktails: vodka martini, Bloody Mary, screw driver, cosmopolitan, kamikaze
Tequila is a type of mezcal, which is a distilled alcoholic beverage produced from the agave plant. Tequila is prepared from the blue agave plant, which is mostly grown in the area surrounding Mexico’s Tequila city.
Typically, tequila drinking is associated with tequila cruda, or a shot of tequila with salt and lime. In the United States, there’s been a recent resurgence in interest for tequila that goes beyond shots. Tequila and mezcal bars are becoming increasingly popular.
Drinkers and bartenders alike are interested in the minor variations in processes and terrains that contribute to tequila’s varied flavor profiles. Tequila is spellbinding when mixed with a Paloma, one of the finest summer cocktails.
Only one word of advice: beware of the “mixto,” which is composed mostly of neutral sugarcane spirit and only 51% agave. If you stick to 100 percent agave tequilas, you should be fine.
- Flavor profile: bright green fruit, earthy tones, oak, spice
- Aging: oak barrels, 2 months to 3+ years
- Styles: blanco, joven, reposado, añejo, extra añejo
- Famous distillers: Patrón, Jose Cuervo, Don Julio, El Jimador
- Alcohol content: typically 40%, up to 55%
- Glassware: shot glass, rocks glass, snifter, Riedel Ouverture tequila glass
- In cocktails: margarita, Tequila Sunrise, paloma
Does Liquor Expire?
Liquor that has not been opened has an infinite shelf life. Opened alcohol will last anywhere from a year to two years before becoming rancid—that is, losing its color and taste. If you won’t be using the entire bottle within two years, don’t use it for well drinks.
It’s not generally dangerous. If you notice anything odd in your old alcohol, as always, throw it out. It is a bartender’s responsibility to ensure that the liquor they serve hasn’t expired.
Why Does Liquor Go Bad?
What causes a beverage to deteriorate? The quality of liquor can be affected by three primary variables: light, temperature, and air.
When alcohol is exposed to direct sunlight for a long period of time, it may lose hues. Color changes in liquor are associated with flavor fluctuations. The flavor of liquor can be impacted by changes in temperature. The chemical responsible for altering the flavor of the beverage is known as a “terpene,” which is influenced by temperature. Finally, oxygen exposure may induce oxidative degradation of liquor, resulting in a change in taste.
That said, if you keep hard liquor in a cool, dark location, it will stay indefinitely. Liquor is not a friendly environment for germs at 30 to 40 percent alcohol by volume. And there will be practically no oxidation if it isn’t opened.
Once you open a liquor bottle, oxidation takes place. That’s why most hard liquors ” deteriorate” after a year or two. However, when we use the term “bad,” we do not imply that they grow mold, become poisonous, or coagulate.
What we’re getting at is that the amount of oxidation destroys the taste and quality to such an extent that you may as well not consume it. However, you can if you want to. We recommend that you finish the bottle (which isn’t always simple with some liquor bottle sizes) as soon as possible after opening it.
It’s challenging to say no to a free drink when you’re presented with one, however the benefits of drinking glass are numerous. Once you open a bottle, time isn’t on your side. It is important to maintain track of your pour count and adhere to proper pouring standards in order to avoid waste.
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