C.W. Abbott and Co. was founded in 1865 in Baltimore, Maryland, which was then one of the great centres of American liquor production. It began selling its bitters in 1872, becoming one of the three biggest-selling bitters during the cocktail era - it was the bitter used in the original Manhattan cocktail. The company continued trading until the 1950s but then disappeared from the market. So what, you may very reasonably ask, happened to Abbott's?
Nicknamed the ‘Green Fairy’, Absinthe is a bitter, aniseed-flavoured green liquor distilled with anise, fennel and wormwood. It has a reputation to challenge that of a Class A drug and for nearly a century was thought by most to be illegal in the UK and it was indeed banned across most of Europe and North America.
The word akvavit, like the word whisky, originates from the alchemical term water of life or aqua vitae in Latin. It is also known as aquavit. This flavoured white spirit is popular in Scandinavian countries, especially Denmark, where production centres on the town of Aalborg, its place of origin some 400 years ago.
Arak, Araq (or less commonly Raki) is an alcoholic anise-flavoured beverage traditionally served in the Middle Eastern countries of Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, but is also produced and consumed in other Eastern Mediterranean and North African countries.
Armagnac is a fine brandy from South West France. It is distinguished from Cognac by its use of single continuous distillation rather than double batch distillation. This, and the use of different grape varieties, soil and climatic conditions, produces more characteristically robust, characterful brandies.
Arrack is often confused with the similarly pronounced and spelt 'Arak', which is a Middle Eastern anise flavoured distillate, similar to pastis or ouzo. 'Arrack', spelt with two 'r's and a 'c', is harder to define as it is a spirit which does not have a uniform category. Indeed, arrack is a Hindi catch-all term for distilled spirits in the same manner as 'liquor' in English.
Baijiu (白酒) / Shaojiu (烧酒)
Baijiu (白酒) or Shaojiu (烧酒) is a Chinese distilled alcoholic beverage between 40-60% alc./vol. Baijiu literally translates as 'white alcohol' and this clear spirit is most commonly distilled from fermented sorghum bicolor (a grass species cultivated for its edible grain) or maize, but also glutinous rice, wheat, barley and other grains.
Beer eau-de-vie (bierbrand)
Beer eau-de-vie is traditionally made in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and France, typically by smaller breweries and beer brewing monasteries working in conjunction with local distillers. Beer is seldom produced especially for this purpose, instead it is usually a brewery's regular beer which is simply sent to the distiller, or distilled in-house.
Bitters & aromatics
Bitters are alcoholic beverages prepared with herbs, spices, roots, fruits and peels infused in alcohol or glycerin. Popular ingredients include gentian, quinine and orange peel. As the name suggests, they typically have a bitter or bittersweet flavor. The original bitters were medieval therapeutic drinks and throughout the ages bitters were marketed as an elixir.
Black (dark) rums
Whether sold as “black rum” or “dark rum” these molasses-based blended rums have one thing in common, they are deep brown, virtually black in colour due to the addition of caramel and/or molasses. The best also draw colour from aging in heavily charred casks.
Blanche has long been consumed in the Armagnac region but you had to know a distiller in order to obtain what was flavoursome hootch. However, in 2007 this unaged Armagnac spirit was officially recognised by the French authorities and brought under Armagnac's Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée.
Boker's / Bogart's Bitters
A historic brand of bitters originally created by Johann Gottlieb Böker in 1828 and produced until the 1920s. However, the historic notoriety of these bitters has led to at least three different modern-day producers using surviving vintage bottles and written information to reimagine and recreate these historic bitters.
All the botanical influences and low cost of entry distillation opportunities which gin offers, but without gin's restrictive requirement to include and make juniper predominant. This combination makes Botanical Spirits my bet as being the next big spirits category – a category that offers a diversity of flavour and versatility beyond that of any other spirits category.
Brandy (eaux-de-vie, cognac & armagnac)
Brandy is distilled from fermented fruit (not grain). The name brandy comes from northern Europe, where ‘brand’ means to burn, and is a reference to the heat used in distillation. Most brandies are distilled from fermented grape juice (i.e. wine). However, they can also be distilled from other fruits - notably plums, apples and cherries. Most wine-making areas also produce brandy.
In Brazil, Cachaça is also marketed under the name caninha (‘little cane’) or as ‘aguardente de cana’, which means ‘distillate of cane’ but could be uncharitably translated as ‘cane firewater’. However, it has many other nicknames: garapa doida, pinga, parati, cana, imaculada, maria-branca, purinha and zuninga. The four million or so litres exported annually have to be called cachaça on the label.
Calvados is a French brandy made from apples (though it can also contain pears). The name is an appellation controlee, meaning that calvados can only be produced in defined areas of North-Western France. (Calva, the French shortening of calvados, is used to denote an apple brandy other than Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée Calvados.)
Canadian whisky (spelt without an 'e') has for decades been the best-selling whiskey in the USA and tends to be light bodied in style.
Cognac is a fine French brandy (eau-de-vie) from the region that surrounds the little town of Cognac in southwest France. Like champagne, its mere name suggests luxury and indeed it is the undisputed king of all brandies.
European Wheat Vodka
The Russian Revolution of 1917 caused many Russians to flee their homeland and these exiles spread their knowledge and enthusiasm for vodka to the new countries in which they settled. One such émigré, Vladimir Smirnov, ended up in France where he established a small distillery close to Paris and, giving his last name a French twist, created the brand we know today as 'Smirnoff'.
While the greater proportion of vodkas sold are unflavoured, flavoured vodka has been around for as long as vodka has been distilled - originally to make poor quality spirit more palatable or for perceived medicinal purposes.
Gin & Juniper spirits
Gin is usually sold at between 35 and 43% alc./vol., with the lower end of this spectrum mainly affected by the prevailing laws in particular markets. Many gin brands also have a higher strength bottling aimed at the duty free market and these are typically the high forties to 50% alc./vol..
Grappa is an Italian marc brandy made from the fermented skins, pips and stalks (known as pomace, marc or vinaccia in Italian) left after grapes have been pressed to extract juice for wine making. It may be bottled after distillation or matured in oak or other woods. Grappa originated in Italy and, in the E.U. to be termed a grappa, a brandy must be distilled in Italy from Italian grape pomace.
Irish Pot still Whiskey
Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey is unique to Ireland. It is made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley which is then triple distilled in copper pot stills within a single distillery. The inclusion of unmalted barley to the mashbill along with triple distillation defines the character of this style of Irish whiskey.
As the name suggest, Irish whiskey (‘fuisce’ or ‘uisce beatha’ in Irish) must be made and aged on the island of Ireland. Although within the category there are some notable exceptions, Irish whiskey tends to be triple distilled, unpeated and easy drinking.
Genever, also known as jenever, jeneva, geneva and hollands, is a juniper-flavoured spirit from Holland and Belgium. Like gin, juniper is an obligatory ingredient for genever but in general, genevers contain less juniper than gin.
Light White Rums
Rum is termed 'light' or 'heavy' depending the level of flavour components or 'congeners' - products of fermentation that are not ethyl alcohol. The level of these (esters, aldyhydes and lower alcohols) is dependent on the length of the fermentation and the purity to which the rum is distilled. The fewer congeners, the lighter the rum; the more congeners, the heavier it will be.
N. American wheat vodka
Vodka was practically unknown in America until well into the 20th century. Even by 1939, when Charles H. Baker Jr.'s excellent book, The Gentleman's Companion, was published, the author noted that vodka was "unnecessary to medium or small bars." How things have changed.
The long connection between the Royal Navy and rum can be traced back to 1655 and Vice-Admiral William Penn's expedition to the West Indies. In addition to his own flagship, Penn's fleet consisted of 37 men-of-war carrying 3,000 soldiers. His mission was to pursue Cromwell's aggressive policy of colonial expansion in the Caribbean against the Spanish who were also pursuing a similar policy.
Old tom gins
Often described as a sweet or 'cordial' style of gin, ‘old tom’ gins were overwhelmingly popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries, when gin was more pungent due to the limited rectification (purification) of the base spirit possible in the copper pot stills at that time.
Pisco is the Peruvian National spirit. It is made by distilling wine fermented from the fresh must of eight specific varieties of vines to produce a clear, transparent brandy. Peruvian pisco stands out due to its traditional artisanal production methods and consequently tends to be more expensive than Chilean pisco and is considered by many the premium style of pisco.
Sometimes described as a squabble, a dispute, a deep-seated grievance or even a war, the disagreement between Peru and Chile over who owns pisco has been going for generations. The South-American grape brandy is produced in both countries, adored and excessively consumed in both, and they are each adamant it is their national drink.
Polish Rye Vodka
Polish vodka is traditionally made from rye and while rye is still the most popular base ingredient, Poland is also noted for its potato vodka. Stobrawa potatoes are favoured as this variety has a high starch content and is therefore easier to ferment. Contrary to popular belief, it is more expensive to produce vodka from potatoes than from grain.
Poteen / Poitin
Pronounced 'puh-cheen', this spirit has been produced in Ireland since the 1600s, when potatoes were first harvested. Sometimes known as 'Irish Moonshine' or 'Mountain Dew', the original Gaelic name Poitín is a diminutive of the Irish word 'pota', meaning 'little pot', highlighting the small-scale production in pot stills. Poitín has been anglicised to also be spelt poteen.
Rum & Cachaça
The spectrum of rum ranges from light, vodka-like extra-light white rums through to characterful cognac-like aged rums with Navy, Dunder and such like in between. If that were not enough, in addition flavoured rums include spiced, vanilla and orange. Rules? Anything goes – well almost...
Russian Wheat Vodka
The Russians are believed to have been producing a kind of spirit since the end of the 9th century. Like early spirits made in Poland, it was probably made by freezing wine or mead. The first recorded Russian distillery, at Khylnovsk, over 500 miles to the east of Moscow, appears in the Vyatka Chronicle of 1174.
Scotch - blended Scotch whisky
In accordance with the Scotch Whisky Act of 1988, for a whisky to be termed a ‘Scotch whisky’ it must be distilled in Scotland from fermented cereal grains, yeast and water. Maturation must also be in Scotland for minimum of three years in oak casks no larger than 700 litres.
Scotch Grain Whisky
Until the 1830s almost all Scottish whisky was made exclusively from malted barley and produced in pot stills – i.e., it was what we would today call ‘malt whisky’. However, two developments brought about ‘Scottish grain whisky’ and ‘Scotch blended whisky’. The first was the development of a new type of still, the Coffey still, the second was the repeal of the British Corn Laws.
Scotch Malt Whisky
The term ‘Single Malt Scotch’ refers to a whisky that fulfils all three elements of the term: SINGLE – the whisky must be from only one distillery. MALT – the raw material used must be malted barley and no other grain or fermentable material may be used. SCOTCH – the whisky must be distilled and matured in Scotland.
Speyside single malt whisky
Single Malt Scotch whiskies are grouped by region, each embracing certain characteristics. These are: Highlands (inc. & Speyside), Lowlands, Islands, Islay and Campbeltown.
Spiced / Flavoured Rums
The spectrum of rum ranges from light, vodka-like extra-light white rums through to characterful cognac-like aged rums with Navy, Dunder and such like in between. This already huge diversity of style and flavours is further bolstered by flavoured rums, including: spiced, vanilla and orange. The following defines the key categories:
A spirit or liquor is a strong alcoholic beverage produced by distilling an already alcoholic liquid ('wash') produced by fermentation, most commonly wine or beer.
Straight Bourbon whiskey
Bourbon is as American as the Stars and Stripes, the Grand Canyon and pumpkin pie, but there are some common misconceptions as to what exactly bourbon is and how it is made. Bourbon is a specific category of America whiskey and to be labelled a 'bourbon', it must be produced according to a strict set of rules. The following 'ABC' is a handy reminder of these specific criteria.
Easily misunderstood as a pretty wilderness south of the mainland and famous for the Beaconsville mine collapse that left two men trapped a kilometre underground for two weeks, Tasmania is commonly referred to by the rest of Australia as a hippie backwater. But the world's 26th largest island is home to a well-respected and growing craft whisky industry.
Vodka (& Korn & Poteen)
Vodka is a clear spirit which can be produced from anything containing starch or sugar - including potatoes, sugar beet molasses and, most commonly, grain. Over the past forty years vodka has grown from relative obscurity in the west to become the biggest selling spirits category.
The word ‘whiskey’ derives from the Gaelic ‘uisque beatha’, meaning ‘water of life’ and whiskies are distilled in countries around the world including Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia and Japan. The spelling varies between countries with the ‘e’ either included or omitted (though ‘whiskey’ is the spelling for whiskies in general).