This guide is to help bartenders and servers better understand the spirits available at the bar of their restaurant. The more knowledgeable one is about the various types of liquor and how they are made, the better they will be able to create cocktails or recommending drinks to guests.
Unlike beer and wine, which only go through the fermentation process, liquor is an alcoholic drink that has been distilled after the fermentation process. It can be enjoyed in many ways: straight or “neat“, over ice or “on the rocks“, or mixed into a cocktail with other ingredients.
Alcohol is created when yeast eats sugar and excretes ethanol.
Fermentation is the process by which yeast converts sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Distillation is the application of intense heat to separate alcohol from water, creating alcohol vapor, which is then cooled to turn the vapors back into higher-alcohol liquid through condensation.
ABV is an abbreviation for “alcohol by volume.”
Proof is a unit of measure of the content of alcohol in an alcoholic drink. In the United States, the “proof” is the ABV multiplied by 2.
Example: A vodka that is 80 proof has an ABV of 40%.
Gin is a spirit that is distilled from grain that is flavored with botanicals. Juniper is where is gets its primary flavor profile from, along with other flavors including coriander, lemon peel, fennel, anise, ginger root, orange peel, and angelica.
Gin-based Classic Cocktails
Vodka is an odorless, colorless type of liquor that is distilled from grain like rice or wheat and even sometimes potatoes or fruit. It is also generally tasteless unless it has been flavored.
Vodka-based Classic Cocktails
Rum is a spirit made from fermenting and then distilling molasses, sugar cane juice or syrup.
Rhum agricole is made from sugar cane juice, not molasses. It is made in the French-speaking Caribbean islands.
Brazilian cachaça is sugarcane spirit distilled from fresh cut cane and bottled without oak aging.
Rum-based Classic Cocktails
Mezcal is a type of liquor made primarily in Oaxaca, Mexico from the agave plant. It has a smoky quality from the slow baking of the agave piña in clay ovens over hot rocks. Tequila is made from the blue agave plant.
The way that it works is: all tequilas are mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.
Tequila-based Classic Cocktails
Whiskey is a liquor that has been distilled from a fermented mash of grains. These grains are generally corn, wheat, malted barely, or rye. The mix of ingredients, aging process, and geographical location determines the type of whiskey, which includes bourbon, rye, and Scotch as well as Canadian, Irish, and Tennessee whiskeys.
When it is from Canada or the United Kingdom, it is spelled “whisky,” but when it is from Ireland or the United States, it is spelled “whiskey.”
Whiskey-based Classic Cocktails
Brandy is a distilled spirit made from fermented fruit or fruit juice, oftentimes aged in barrels.
Brandy is not limited to just one type of fruit juice. Cognac and Armagnac are two well known wine-based brandies from France. Another French brandy is Calvados, which is made from apples. Pisco is a wine-based brandy made in Peru and Chile.
Other brandies can be made from fruits like peaches, berries, apricots, and can include more than one type of fruit.
These categories refer to how long the cognac or armagnac has been aged. They include:
Brandy-based Classic Cocktails
A liqueur or cordial is sweet alcoholic beverage made from an infusion or flavoring ingredients and a spirit. They typically are lighter in alcoholic content than liquor.
Liqueurs and cordials can encompasses a wide range of characteristics from herbs to fruit to creams to spices and more. They are typically used in cocktails to enhance the flavor of the drink or can be enjoyed even on their own! While there are always new liqueurs and cordial flavors being developed as trends change, this section will include the various types that can be used in a classic cocktail or enjoyed as an apéritif (before dinner beverage) or a digestif (after dinner beverage).
Bourbon is a major growth industry in Kentucky, with its own Jim Beam being the top-selling bourbon in the world. Back in 2016 when Jim Beam was building new warehouses to store its barrels to meet this global demand, they were putting the squeeze on production workers to fill them.
Workers were subjected to mandatory overtime with 70-80 hour workweeks and a two-tier pay system that had some workers doing the same job for less money. Just as frustrating, the company did not want to hire more full-time workers, so there were even more workers doing these jobs for even less pay!
Jim Beam workers went on a weeklong strike. As a result, the company agreed to eliminate the two-tier pay scale, cap temps at 25 percent of the workforce, and hire at least 27 full-time workers.
You can learn more about the Jim Beam Strike here.