Liquors

Liquors

Liquor refers to distilled alcoholic beverages like whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, tequila, and brandy. These are almost always more potent than fermented alcoholic beverages like beer and wine.  


It's best to store liquor in a cool, dark place, and to drink it within a year after opening the bottle. Unlike wine, liquor stops aging once it's bottled.  


Don't confuse liquors with liqueurs, which are made with liquor but sweetened and flavored with herbs, fruit, spices, flowers, nuts, or roots.

amber rum, añejo rum, brown rum, gold rum
amber rum
This is similar to white rum, but has a stronger flavor. Most of it is made in Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Barbados, and the Virgin Islands. Bacardi, Ronrico, and DonQ are popular brands.
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apple brandy, apple jack, applejack, calva, Calvados, cider brandy
apple brandy
This exquisite brandy has a soft apple fragrance. Calvados = calva (cal-VAH-dohs) is the French version, applejack = apple jack is the inferior American version. Calvados is ranked much like cognac. The very best Calvados are labeled Napoleon, Extra Old (XO), Extra, or Hors D'Age. After that comes VSOP, Vieille Reserve, or VO. Next come Vieux or Reserve Calvados, then those with three stars or three apples on their labels.
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apricot brandy
This is distilled from apricot juice. Brands include the French Abricotine, and the Hungarian Barack Pálinka.
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aquavit, akevit, akvavit, snaps
aquavit
This is made by Scandinavians, who distill it from potatoes or grains and flavor it with caraway seeds or other spices. They like to drink it chilled and straight, in small, narrow glasses. Don't confuse it with aqua vitae, or fruit brandy.
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Armagnac
Armagnac
This French brandy is similar to cognac, but with a more pronounced flavor. Since their quality varies, Armagnac brandies don't share cognac's exalted reputation, but a good Armagnac compares favorably with any cognac.
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Batavia arak
This is an aromatic rum that's produced in Java.
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blended whiskey
Blended whiskies are mixtures of different kinds of straight whiskies and neutral spirits. After they're blended, they're allowed to age together for awhile so that the flavors can marry. Whiskey should be served at room temperature.
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Bourbon whiskey
Bourbon whiskey
Though milder than Scotch, Bourbon is well regarded by whiskey connoisseurs. To be called Bourbon, whiskey must be produced in Kentucky and be made mostly with corn. Jim Beam is a popular brand, but more serious Bourbon lovers seek out Maker's Mark. Whiskey should be served at room temperature.
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brandy
brandy
Brandy is often served as an after-dinner drink, or added to coffee. According to legend, it was first produced when an enterprising sea captain distilled wine in order to save space on his ship. He planned to reconstitute it with water when he arrived at his home port, but those who sampled the new concoction liked it just the way it was. Today, most brandy is distilled from white wine, though red wine and other fermented fruit juices are also used. It's then aged in oak barrels for several years. To learn about different varieties of brandy, click here.
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cachaça, burning water, cachaca, pinga
cachaça
This sugarcane brandy is made in Brazil, where the name means "burning water." Velho Barreto is a well-regarded brand.
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Canadian whisky
Canadian whisky
These blended whiskies have a lighter body than those made in the United States. Crown Royal and Canadian Club are popular brands. Canadians follow the British convention of spelling whisky without an "e." Whiskey should be served at room temperature.
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cognac
cognac
The very best cognacs are labeled VVSOP, Napoleon, Vieille Reserve, Grand Reserve, Royal, or Vieux. Next in the rankings are cognacs labeled Extra Old (XO), Extra, or Hors D'Age. After that comes VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), Reserve, or VO. Next come cognacs with VS or *** on their labels. Connoisseurs also check for the cru, or place where the cognac was made. The best crus are Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne.
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corn whiskey, hooch, moonshine, white lightning
corn whiskey
Like Bourbon, corn whiskey is made from corn, but it's not nearly as elegant and smooth as its pricier relative. It's a bit hard to find, but some brands--like Platte Valley, Virginia Lightning and Turkey Mountain--are still being produced. Whiskey should be served at room temperature.
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dark rum, Jamaican rum
dark rum
Dark rum has a strong molasses flavor, and it's much heavier than white or amber rums. It's used to make Planter's Punch, but many people like to drink the expensive stuff neat. The best dark rum is made in Jamaica, but Martinique, Cuba, and Haiti are also important producers. Myers is a popular brand.
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demerara rum
This dark, heavy rum comes from Demerara River region in Guyana. It's often used to make Zombies.
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framboise, framboise eau de vie, framboise eau-de-vie
framboise
This is a clear French fruit brandy that's made with raspberries. Don't confuse this with framboise liqueur, which is sweeter, or with framboise syrup, which is a non-alcoholic raspberry flavoring.
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fruit brandies, aqua vitae, eaux de vie, eaux-de-vie, white alcohol
fruit brandies
While other brandies are distilled from fruit juice, fruit brandies are distilled from the entire fruit--skins, pits, and all. They're usually colorless, and fairly high in alcohol. Varieties include apricot brandy, plum brandy, kirschwasser (cherries), framboise (raspberries), fraise (strawberries), grappa (grapes), pisco (Muscatel grapes), mure (blackberries), and myrtille (bilberries). Don't confuse fruit brandies with the cheaper and cloyingly sweet fruit-flavored brandies.
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fruit-flavored brandy
fruit-flavored brandy
This is brandy that has fruit flavoring and coloring added. Don't confuse these sweet liqueurs with the more elegant and expensive fruit brandy, which is distilled from whole fruit
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gin, American gin, dry gin, Dutch gin, English gin, Geneva gin, Hollands gin
gin
This is distilled from grains and similar to vodka except that it's flavored with juniper berries, herbs, peels, and spices. London gin = dry gin = English gin = London dry gin is the preferred gin for martinis and other mixed drinks. American gin is similar, but isn't quite as heavy and dry as London gin. Hollands gin = sweet gin = Dutch gin = Geneva gin = Jenever is sweeter and more aromatic than other gins and isn't normally used for mixed drinks. Don't confuse gin with sloe gin, which is sweetened.
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grain alcohol, ethanol, ethyl alcohol, grain neutral spirits, pure grain alcohol
grain alcohol
This is pure alcohol--odorless, tasteless, and very potent at 190 proof. Cooks use it to make liqueurs, but since it can also be used to purify crack cocaine, eyebrows may be raised if you buy a large bottle. Well-known brands include Everclear and Sunset. Grain alcohol should always be diluted before consumption, since it's so harsh and potent. Don't substitute methyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol for grain alcohol--both of these are toxic.
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grappa, aguardiente, bagaceira, eau de vie de marc, eau-de-vie de marc, grapa
grappa
This potent and somewhat harsh drink is made from the grape residue, called pomace, that's left over from making brandy. It's traditionally been thought of as a second-rate eau de vie, but some producers have developed premium grappas that are quite smooth and very pricey. Grappa is the Italian version, marc the French, aguardiente the Spanish, testerbranntwein the German, and bagaceira the Portuguese.
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Irish whiskey
Irish whiskey
Irish whiskey resembles Scotch, only without the smoky flavor. Jameson 1780 and Black Bush are highly regarded brands. Whiskey should be served at room temperature.
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kirsch, cherry brandy, kirschwasser, Schwarzwalder
kirsch
This colorless cherry brandy is made primarily in Germany. French kirsch isn't quite as dry.
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liquor, booze, hard alcohol, hard liquor, spirits
liquor
Liquor refers to distilled alcoholic beverages like whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, tequila, and brandy. These are almost always more potent than fermented alcoholic beverages like beer and wine. It's best to store liquor in a cool, dark place, and to drink it within a year after opening the bottle. Unlike wine, liquor stops aging once it's bottled. Don't confuse liquors with liqueurs, which are made with liquor but sweetened and flavored with herbs, fruit, spices, flowers, nuts, or roots.
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marc
marc
Marc is a French brandy made from the leftovers of wine making.
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Metaxa
Metaxa
This is a sweet Greek brandy with a strong resin flavor.
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mezcal, mescal
mezcal
This somewhat harsh Mexican liquor is similar to tequila, except that the agave plant is fire-roasted before the sap is extracted, fermented, and distilled. This gives mezcal a distinctive smoky flavor. Some brands have an agave worm (actually a caterpillar) in the bottle, which you're supposed to eat.
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pear brandy, eau-de-vie de poire
pear brandy
Brandy made from Williams pears (like Poire Williams and Williamine) are especially good. Some bottles have an entire pear in the bottle.
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pisco, pisco brandy
pisco
This Peruvian brandy is based on Muscat wine.
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plum brandy, mirabelle, pflümli, prunelle, quetsch, slivovic, Slivovitz
plum brandy
Distilled from plums, plum brandy is usually colorless and quite potent. Slivovitz = slivovic = slivowitz ( SHLIV-uh-vits) is made in Serbia and Bosnia from blue plums, and is very highly regarded. Other varieties include mirabelle (made with yellow plums), quetsch (Alsatian plums), pflümli, and light green prunelle.
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poteen, uisce beatha, water of life, potcheen
poteen
Irish moonshine or vodka. Made from potatoes like vodka.
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pulque
pulque
Like tequila, this is made from the sap of the agave plant. It's popular in Mexico, though it's a bit harsher and heavier than tequila.
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rum
rum
Rum is a key ingredient in many chilled drinks, like daiquiris, piña coladas, and Planter's punch. It's used in the kitchen, too, especially in cakes or fruit-based desserts. Rum is distilled from sugar cane, and most of it comes from cane-producing Caribbean countries. Its character varies according to its color. White rums are relatively dry and light, and commonly used in mixed drinks. The amber rums from Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and the Virgin Islands are heavier and more flavorful. The dark rums from Jamaica and Haiti are heavier still, and have a pronounced molasses flavor. Demerara rums are the darkest and heaviest of all. There also are aromatic rums that are flavored with fruits and spices.
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rye whiskey
rye whiskey
This American whiskey is made mostly with rye. It's similar to Bourbon, but not quite as elegant. Wild Turkey and Jim Beam are well-regarded brands. Whiskey should be served at room temperature.
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Scotch whisky, Scotch
Scotch whisky
The king of whiskies, Scotch has a very distinctive, smoky flavor. Single-malt Scotch whisky is considered the best--it has a stronger, more complex flavor than blended Scotch, which is a mixture of malt whiskies and grain whiskies. Connoisseurs of single-malt Scotch consider Macallan to be one of the finest brands. Of the blended Scotch whiskies, the more highly-esteemed brands include Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker Black Label. Use the cheaper blended Scotch for mixed drinks. Whiskey should be served at room temperature.
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sour-mash whiskey, Tennessee sour-mash whiskey
sour-mash whiskey
This resembles Bourbon, but the mash is soured during the fermenting process, giving the whiskey a distinctive flavor. It's produced in Tennessee by George Dickel and Jack Daniels. Whiskey should be served at room temperature.
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Spanish brandy
Spanish brandy
This sweet and heavy brandy is based on sherry.
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tequila, Gold tequilas, Tequilas añejas, white tequilas
tequila
This fiery liquor is produced in Mexico from the fermented sap of the blue agave cactus. Mexicans like to drink it straight after licking salt from the back of their hands (which they squirt first with lime juice to help the salt adhere). Tequila is also used in several cocktails, including the Tequila Sunrise. Gold tequilas and white tequilas are very similar. Tequilas añejas are aged--and more expensive. The very finest tequilas are labeled "100 percent blue agave." José Cuervo is a well-regarded brand. Tequila should always be served ice cold.
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vodka
vodka
This flavorless, colorless liquor is a great mixer, since it blends unobtrusively with other ingredients. Some prefer to drink it straight, poured from bottles they store in the freezer. Since vodka is virtually flavorless, the differences between the brands are all but imperceptible to the mortal tongue. Buy the cheapest brand if you're using the vodka in mixed drinks. Flavored vodkas also are available; here the differences in quality may be more noticeable.
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whiskey, whisky
whiskey
Whiskey is distilled from various grains that have been pounded and cooked into a mash and allowed to ferment. The whiskey is then aged in oak barrels until the flavor is mellow and smooth. The most highly esteemed whiskies are single-malt Scotch and straight Bourbon. Lower in the pecking order are rye whiskey, blended Scotch, sour-mash whiskey and the lighter and drier Irish whiskey and Canadian whisky. At the bottom is corn whiskey, also known as moonshine. Straight whiskeys tend to have a more robust flavor than blended whiskeys, which include several whiskeys and, sometimes, neutral spirits. Whiskey should be served at room temperature.
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white rum, clear rum, light rum, Puerto Rican rum, silver rum
white rum
This is used to make daiquiris, piña coladas, mai tais, and many other cocktails. The best white rum comes from Puerto Rico, but Trinidad, Barbados, and the Virgin Islands also produce it. Bacardi, Ronrico, and DonQ are popular brands.
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