Alcohol for Dummies

What is Single Malt?

Single malt is so-called because the malt comes from a single distillery. It is a whisky refined by a single distillery, using malted barley as the only grain ingredient. Each distillery has its own distinct taste, flavour and style and single malts bear that. Some world-renowned single malts are Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Glenlivet, Glenkinchie and if you move into the rare varieties, Port Ellen. Enjoying a single malt is a connoissseur’ s job and you have to learn to be one.  A single grain, as distinct from a single malt, is a grain whisky made at one distillery, while the single malt is made with barley.

What is Blended Whisky?

Blended whisky is a mixture of single malt whiskys and ethanol derived from grains. Developed for those who could not stommach the strong taste of whisky, it is a combination of malt and grain whiskys. First distilled and bottled by Andrew Usher in Edinburgh in the early 1860s, it turned out to be softer, lighter and more palatable. The character of the whisky is determined not only by the proportions of malt and grain whisky, but also by the ages of the individual whiskies and the manner in which they are combined to bring out the finest qualities in each other. Most whisky drunk across the world is blended whisky. Famous Grouse, Bells, Teacher’s, Whyte & Mackay and Johnnie Walker are a few that are well-known.

What is the difference between Whisky and Whiskey?

Alcohol, malted or not, made from grain which is produced in Scotland is called WHISKY, while it is called WHISKEY if it is produced in USA or Ireland. American whiskey is called Bourbon and is made from grain. Bourbon is at least 51 per cent corn or maize. Scotch whisky is generally double distilled, while Irish whiskey is generally distilled three times. Wheat whisky is the rarest whisky. Rye whiskies are mostly popular within the US. Scotch whisky is whisky that has been distilled and matured in Scotland for at least three hours in oak casks.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is obtained after breaking down natural sugar of grain into C02, ethanol or ethyl alcohol and residual content. Yeast from grains and vegetables changes the sugar into alcohol. From the cheapest beer to the most expensive wine or after dinner liqueur, all alcohol is made with the same fermentation process. The different colours, tastes, potencies and flavours come from the different fruits or vegetables used as well as the additives, by-products and diluting substances employed during the fermentation process.

Why should you never drink on an empty stomach?

Experts say eating food before drinking retains alcohol in the ~ where it is absorbed slowly into the blood stream. This gives the liver more time to break the alcohol down. Otherwise, it is directly absorbed without being broken down into simpler compounds into the blood stream. This can be harmful for the liver and general health. The kick comes when the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream directly and slows down the central nervous system. The absorbed alcohol blocks some of the commands the brain sends to the body; hence the reflexes and reactions are slower.

Does drinking water before or between drinks help you hold your drink better?

Dehydration causes your blood volume to go down and alcohol will cause it to go down further. So make it a habit to drink enough water before you go out for a hard drink. Experts say in case of alcohol consumption, the bigger you are the better it is. Big people have a larger quantity of blood, so alcohol they take in is more diluted as it mixes with the blood. Women are generally smaller than men. They also have proportionately more fat and less water in their bodies and so the entration of alcohol in their blood is higher for the same amount drunk.

What goes better with Whisky – Water or Soda?

Whisky is preferred with water more than soda as soda is carbonated water and it kills the taste of whisky. But real connoisseurs of whisky like to have it neat or with water on side or with two cubes of ice.

What is Cognac?

The wines of Poitou, La Rochelle and Angoumois, produced from high quality vineyards, were shipped to Northern Europe where they were enjoyed by the English, Dutch and Scandinavians as early as the 13th century. In the 16th century, they were transformed into eau-de-vie, then matured in oak casks to become Cognac.. That was the start of the adventure for a town, which was to become the capital of a world famous trade.

Cognac is a living thing. During its time in the oak casks it is in permanent contact with the air. This allows it to extract the substances from the wood that give both its colour and its final bouquet.

Ageing is indispensable if an eau-de-vie is to become Cognac. It takes place in casks or barrels that hold between 270 and 450 litres. The natural humidity of the cellars, in which the casks are stored, with its influence on evaporation, is one of the determining factors in the maturing process. With the balance between humidity and dryness, the spirit becomes mellow and ages harmoniously.

Making Cognac is the work of the Master Blender. Applying strict control, experience and intuition, he subtly blends eaux-de-vie of different ages and crus, producing a Cognac that through the years will not only retain its own personality, but will also keep a place in the heart of the consumer.

What is the difference between Scotch, Irish, Rye and Bourbon Whiskies?

Scotch Whisky is whisky, which has been distilled and matured in Scotland. Irish Whiskey means whiskey distilled and matured in Ireland. Whisky is distilled in Scotland from malted barley in Pot Stills and from malted and unmalted barley or other cereals in Patent Stills. The well-known brands of Scotch Whisky are blends of a number of Pot Still and Patent Still whiskies. Irish Whiskey distillers tend to favour three distillations rather than two, as is general in Scotland in the case of Pot Still whiskies and the range of cereals used is wider.

As regards Bourbon Whiskey, the United States Regulations provide:

(i)    that Bourbon Whiskey must be produced from a mash of not less than 51% corn grain;

(ii)    that the word ‘Bourbon’ shall not be used to describe any whiskey or whiskey-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States.

Rye Whiskey is produced both in the United States and Canada but the name has no geographical significance. In the United States, Rye Whiskey by definition must be produced from a grain mash of which not less than 51% is rye grain. In Canada, there is no similar restriction. The relevant Canadian Regulation states: ‘Canadian Whisky (Canadian Rye Whisky, Rye Whisky) shall be whisky distilled in Canada and shall possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian Whisky.’

Canadian Whisky is in fact often referred to simply as Rye Whisky or Rye.

What is the Origin of VODKA?

Vodka is a drink, which originated in Eastern Europe, the name stemming from the Russian word ‘voda’ meaning water or as the Poles would say ‘woda’. The first documented production of vodka in Russia was at the end of the 9th century, but the first known distillery at, Khylnovsk, was about two hundred years later as reported in the Vyatka Chronicle of 1174. Poland lays claim to having distilled vodka even earlier in the 8th century, but as this was a distillation of wine it might be more appropriate to consider it a crude brandy. The first identifiable Polish vodkas appeared in the 11th century when they were called ‘gorzalka’, originally used as medicines.

Medicine and Gunpowder

During the Middle Ages, distilled liquor was used mainly for medicinal purposes, as well as being an ingredient in the production of gunpowder. In the 14th century a British Ambassador to Moscow first described vodka as the Russian national drink and in the mid-16th century it was established as the national drink in Poland and Finland. We learn from the Novgorod Chronicles of 1533 that in Russia also, vodka was used frequently as a medicine (zhiznennia voda meaning ‘water of life’). In these ancient times Russia produced several kinds of ‘vodka’ or ‘hot wine’ as it was then called. There was ‘plain wine’ (standard), ‘good wine’ (improved) and ‘boyar wine’ (high quality). In addition stronger types existed, distilled two (‘double wine’) or more times.  Since early production methods were crude, vodka often contained impurities, so to mask these the distillers flavoured their spirits with fruit, herbs or spices. 
The mid – 15th century saw the first appearance of pot distillation in Russia. Prior to that, seasoning, ageing and freezing were all used to remove impurities, as was precipitiation using it in glass (‘karluk’) from the air bladders of sturgeons. Distillation became the first step in producing vodka, with the product being improved by precipitation using isinglass, milk or egg white. Around this time (1450) vodka started to be produced in large quantities and the first recorded exports of Russian vodka were to Sweden in 1505. Polish ‘woda’ exports started a century later, from major production centres in Posnan and Krakow.

From acorns to melon

In 1716, owning distilleries became the exclusive right of the nobility, who were granted further special rights in 1751. In the following 50 or so years there was a proliferation of types of aromatised vodka, but no attempt was made to standardise the basic product. Types produced included: absinthe, acorn, anisette, birch, calamus root, calendula, cherry, chicory, dill, ginger hazelnut, horseradish, juniper, lemon, mastic, mint, mountain ash, oak, pepper, peppermint, raspberry, sage, sorrel, wort and water melon! A typical production process was to distil alcohol twice, dilute it with milk and distil it again, adding water to bring it to the required strength and then flavouring it, prior to a fourth and final distillation. It was not a cheap product and it still had not attained really large-scale production. It did not seek to compete commercially with the major producers in Lithuania, Poland and Prussia. In the 18th century a professor in St. Petersburg discovered a method of purifying alcohol using charcoal filtration. Felt and river sand had already been used for some time in Russia for filtration.

Vodka marches across Europe

The spread of awareness of vodka continued throughout the 19th century, helped by the presence in many parts of Europe of Russian soldiers involved in the Napoleonic Wars. Increasing popularity led to escalating demand and to meet this demand, lower grade products were produced based largely on distilled potato mash. Earlier attempts to control production by reducing the number of distilleries from 5,000 to 2,050 between the years 1860 and 1890 having failed, a law was enacted in 1894 to make the production and distribution of vodka in Russia a state monopoly. This was both for fiscal reasons and to control the epidemic of drunkenness which the availability of the cheap, mass-produced ‘vodkas’ imported and home-produced, had brought about. 
It is only at the end of the 19th century, with all state distilleries adopting a standard production technique and hence a guarantee of quality, that the name vodka was officially and formally recognized. After the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks confiscated all private distilleries in Moscow. As a result, a number of Russian vodka-makers emigrated, taking their skills and recipes with them. One such exile revived his brand in Paris, using the French version of his family name – Smirnoff. Thence, having met a Russian émigré from the USA, they set up the first vodka distillery there in 1934. This was subsequently sold to a US drinks company. From this small start, vodka began in the 1940s to achieve its wide popularity in the Western World.

What is the origin of GIN?

The first confirmed date for the production of gin is the early 17th century in Holland, although claims have been made that it was produced prior to this in Italy. In Holland it was produced as a medicine and sold in chemist shops to treat stomach complaints, gout and gallstones. To make it more palatable, the Dutch started to flavor it with juniper, which had medicinal properties of its own.

From Dutch courage to William of Orange

British troops fighting in the Low Countries during the Thirty Years’ War were given ‘Dutch Courage’ during the long campaigns in the damp weather through the warming properties of gin. Eventually they started bringing it back home with them, where already it was often sold in chemists’ shops. Distillation was taking place in a small way in England, but it now began on a greater scale, though the quality was often very dubious. Nevertheless, the new drink became a firm favourite with the poor. The formation by King Charles I of the Worshipful Company of Distillers, where members had the sole right to distil spirits in London and Westminster and up to twenty-one miles beyond improved both the quality of gin and its image; it also helped English agriculture by using surplus corn and barley. When King William III – better known as William of Orange – came to the English throne in 1689, he made a series of statutes actively encouraging the distillation of English spirits. Anyone could now distil by simply posting a notice in public and just waiting ten days. Sometimes gin was distributed to workers as part of their wages and soon the volume sold daily exceeded that of beer and ale, which was more expensive anyway.

The Gin Riots

The problem was tackled by introducing The Gin Act at midnight on 29 September 1736, which made gin prohibitively expensive. A license to retail gin cost £50 and duty was raised fivefold to £1 per gallon with the smallest quantity you could buy retail being two gallons. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole and Dr. Samuel Johnson were among those who opposed the Act since they considered it could not be enforced against the will of the common people.. They were right. Riots broke out and the law was widely and openly broken.. About this time, 11 million gallons of gin were distilled in London, which was over 20 times the 1690 figure and has been estimated to be the equivalent of 14 gallons for each adult male. But within six years of the Gin Act being introduced, only two distillers took out licenses, yet, over the same period of time, production rose by almost fifty per cent.

Respectability, High quality and Patronage

The Gin Act, finally recognized as unenforceable, was repealed in 1742 and a new policy, which distillers helped to draft, was introduced: reasonably high prices, reasonable excise duties and licensed retailers under the supervision of magistrates. In essence this is the situation, which exists today. These changes led to more respectable firms embarking on the business of distilling and retailing gin and it became the drink of high quality, which it has since remained. Many companies established themselves as well-to-do manufacturers, often becoming patrons for major enterprises; one such was the sponsorship of the attempt to discover the North West Passage 1829-33: the attempt failed, but the expedition did establish the true position of the North Magnetic Pole.

Gin had been known as ‘Mother’s Milk’ from the 1820s but later in the century it became known as ‘Mother’s Ruin’, a description perhaps originating from the earlier ‘Blue Ruin’ of the prohibition era in the previous century.

What is Tequila?

First the history: Tequila was first distilled in the 1500-1600′s in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Guadalajara is the capital of Jalisco and the city of Tequila was established in about 1656. This is where the agave plant grows best.

The agave is not a cactus as rumoured, but belongs to the lily family and has long spiny leaves (pincas). The specific plant that is used to make tequila is the Weber blue agave. It takes 8-12 years for the agave to reach maturity. During harvest, the leaves are cut off leaving the heart of the plant or pina which looks like a large pineapple when the jimadors are done. The harvested pina may weigh 200 pounds or more and is chopped into smaller pieces for cooking at the distillery. Tequila was first imported into the United States in 1873 when the first load was transported to El Paso, Texas. In 1973 tequila sales in the US topped one million cases.

There are two basic types of tequila, 100% blue agave (cien por ciento de agave) tequila and mixto. The 100% blue agave tequilas are distilled entirely from the fermented juice of the agave. All 100% agave tequilas have to be distilled and bottled in Mexico. If the bottle does not say 100% blue agave, the tequila is mixto and may have been distilled from as little as 60% agave juice with other sugars.

Grades of Tequila:

Blanco: 100% agave tequila that is un-aged and untreated with additives.

Reposado: 100% agave, “rested” tequila that has been stored in oak between two months and one year.

Anejo: 100% agave, aged tequila that has been stored in oak at least one year.

Mixto blanco: mixto tequila that is unaged.

Mixto reposado: mixto tequila that has been stored in oak between two months and one year.

Mixto anejo: aged mixto tequila that has been stored in oak at least one year.

Joven abocado: mixto tequila that has been treated with additives to achieve an effect similar to aging.

How many types of Beer are available to Drink?

Here are the different styles you may come across at our stores or your favourite local brew pub.

Ale - originally liquor made from an infusion of malt by fermentation, as opposed to beer, which was made by the same process but flavoured with hops. Today ale is used for all beers other than stout.

Alt - means “old”. A top fermented ale, rich, copper-coloured and full-bodied, with a very firm, tannic palate, and usually well-hopped and dry.

Amber Beer - an ale with a depth of hue halfway between pale and dark.

Barley Wine – dark, rich, usually bittersweet, heavy ales with high alcohol content, made for sipping, not quaffing.

Bitter - the driest and one of the most heavily hopped beers served on draft. The nose is generally aromatic, the hue amber and the alcoholic content moderate.

Bock - a strong dark German lager, ranging from pale to dark brown in colour, with a minimum alcoholic content of about 6 percent.

Brown Ale - malty beers, dark in colour and they may be quite sweet.

Burton - a strong ale, dark in colour, made with a proportion of highly dried or roasted malts.

Christmas/Holiday Beer - these special season beers are amber to dark brown, richly flavoured with a sweetish palate. Some are flavoured with special spices and/or herbs.

Dopplebock - “double bock.” A stronger version of bock beer, decidedly malty, with an alcoholic content ranging from 8 percent to 13 percent by volume.

Hefe-Weizen - a wheat beer, lighter in body, flavour and alcohol strength.

Ice Beer - a high-alcohol beer made by cooling the beer during the process to below the freezing point of water (32 degrees Fahrenheit) but above that of alcohol (-173 degrees Fahrenheit). . When the formed ice is removed and discarded, the beer ends up with a higher alcohol-to-water ratio.

India Pale Ale (IPA) - a generously hopped pale ale.

Kolsch - West German ale, very pale (brassy gold) in hue, with a mild malt flavour and some lactic tartness.

Malt Liquor - most malt liquors are lagers that are too alcoholic to be labelled lagers or beers.

Muncheners – a malty, pale lager distinguished from the darker, heavier Munich Dark beers by the term “dunkel”.

Octoberfest/ Maerzen/Vienna - a copper-coloured, malty beer brewed at the end of the winter brewing season in March.

Pale Ale - made of the highest quality malts, the driest and most highly hopped beer. Sold as light ale or pale ale in bottle or on draft as bitter.

Pilsner - delicately dry and aromatic beers.

Porter - a darker (medium to dark reddish brown) ale style beer, full-bodied, a bit on the bitter side. The barley (or barley-malt) is well roasted, giving the brew a characteristic chocolaty, bittersweet flavour.

Stout – beer brewed from roasted, full-flavoured malts, often with an addition of caramel sugar and a slightly higher proportion of hops. Stouts have a richer, slightly burnt flavour and are dark in colour.

Sweet Stout - also known as milk stout because some brewers use lactose (milk sugar) as an ingredient.

Wheat Beer - a beer in which wheat malt is substituted for barley malt. Usually medium-bodied, with a bit of tartness on the palate. 

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