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In High Spirits: Your Essential Guide to 8 Different Types of Liquor

Ever since the distilled spirit was discovered, liquor has been part and parcel of our everyday life–but how well do you know your liquor? Today, we let you in on eight different types of liquor and analyze their ingredients, flavor profiles, and alcohol content, among other details.

Types of Liquor

Acquainting yourself with the latest drink trends and flavors makes you a better drinking buddy. Intimate familiarity with your beers, wines, including fortified wine, and different types of liquor also makes it easier to master a bit of mixology.

Because most people use hard base liquors when making cocktails, this article will solely focus on the various types of spirits.

The first step to making exceptional drinks is to know the flavor profiles of different types of liquor. This ensures a straightforward process of creating well-balanced fermented beverages.

We hope to pack you with better-than-average knowledge of types of fermented beverages. So next time you hit your local, it should be a tad easier to differentiate Barcadi from Hennessy and Black Label.

First: What Is Liquor, Exactly? 

What is Liquor

Liquor, also known as spirit, is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugar sourced from grain, fruit, or vegetable. The ingredients used undergo fermentation and distillation to reduce the water content and harvest alcohol with a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) content. 

Generally, all liquor has at least 30% ABV and no added sugar or flavoring. Alcohol brands like American schnapps and Grand Marnier are called liqueurs because they have added flavors and thus a sweeter flavor.

On the other hand, beer and wine are in different categories of types of alcohol because they are not distilled and contain a more limited ABV level. Drinks such as flavored vodkas or fortified wine are also different types of alcoholic beverages.

The distillation process is an integral part of making liquor. It allows the conversion of fermented grain (or other ingredients) into a product with lesser water and a higher concentration of alcohol.

Why Is Liquor Called a Spirit?

Middle Eastern alchemists used the term “spirit” to refer to the vapor produced when transmuting lead into gold. Like the alchemical process, the alcohol distillation process also involves collecting the vapor of the fermented ingredients.

According to Middle Eastern alchemists, the vapor is the spirit of the original material.

Another interesting fact is that all types of liquor are considered ‘hard’ because they contain higher levels of ethanol than other types of alcohol. In North America, for instance, the term hard liquor helps differentiate distilled drinks from the non-distilled varieties.

Best Liquors for Your Liquor Cabinet

Best Liquor for Your Drink Cabinet

There are several ways of classifying spirits. For instance, you can organize the alcoholic beverage based on its ingredients, appearance, or distillation process. In this article, we will simplify our hard liquor list by classifying the beverage based on its appearance.

This means we are working with just two classifications:

  • Dark spirits — Brandy, Whisky, Liqueurs, and Cognacs
  • Clear liquor — Vodka, Tequila, Gin, and Rum

All liquor starts as a clear solution. Distillers can darken the alcohol by adding flavors or aging it in oak. Here is everything you need to know:

1. Vodka

Liquor Types - Vodka

Best Known Brands: Grey Goose Vodka, Van Gogh Vodka, Ketel One Vodka, and Belvedere Vodka.

Vodka is the simplest of all types of liquor, and it’s a perfect blend of water and ethanol. It contains fermented grains, corn, sugar, potatoes, fruits, or roots that are later distilled to create a solution with higher alcoholic content. Sometimes, the spirit undergoes several distillation processes to achieve the purest form of vodka.

Multiple distillation processes ensure distillers achieve a highly concentrated solution. It is then mixed with water to achieve the desired ABV and ensure balance and drinkability.

Vodka from different brands may have a distinct taste based on the flavoring and production method. However, the majority of vodka drinks are odorless and tasteless. Distillers can use a copper pot still or column still, although the latter, which uses fractional distillation, is the most popular method.

Making vodka involves a filtration process that helps to remove impurities from the solution. Again, how this process is handled may differ from one distillery to another.

Some experts filter the solution before distillation, while others do this after distillation. Then again, some distilleries forego the filtration process, especially if they distill the solution several times to harvest vodka in its purest form.

Contrary to popular belief, Vodka is not Russian. History places its origin in Poland before it traveled east.

The clear spirit has a neutral flavor profile, although some brands have a hint of citrus, peppery, or creamy taste. This hard liquor is a top choice for making flavored cocktails because it has an ABV of at least 40% and doesn’t have a heavy impact on the taste of other ingredients.

2. Gin

Gin and Tonic is a Classic Drink

Best Known Brands: London Dry Gin, Old Tom Gin, Gordons Gin, Plymouth Gin, The Botanist Gin, and Hendricks Gin.

Gin is the UK’s favorite distilled spirit. Its base comes from grain, and falls into the clear liquor category, although it can gain a dark hue by aging.

Another aspect that makes it distinct is its distillation with a careful mix of botanicals that give the drink its outstanding flavor. Gin contains juniper berries as part of the ingredients, a component that gives it a piney and floral flavor

The process of making Gin is not so different from that of brewing vodka, at least during the initial stages. Distillers begin by fermenting the neutral grains and water, followed by the distillation process. The main difference is that when making gin, distillers use a unique array of botanicals to give the final product a distinct flavor profile.

Again, the spirit goes through multiple distillation processes to remove impurities. Even though gin is not as neutral-flavored as vodka, its herbal flavors come in handy when making cocktails.

Gin is one of the healthiest types of alcohol because of its low-calorie content, botanical properties, and juniper berries. These berries are a super fruit with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Moreover, they are known for their antibacterial and antifungal properties, not to mention that they promote heart health and lower the risk of diabetes.

It’s typical for gin to fall in and out of favor, especially with more trendy types of liquor topping the drink charts from time to time. However, many manufacturers are pretty experimental and often come back with new gin brands with exciting flavor profiles.

One of the best varieties of gin that never goes out of fashion is the London Dry gin.

3. Tequila

Gold Tequila

Best Known Brands: Jose Cuervo, Patron Tequila, Hornitos, Don Julio, and El Jimador

If you’re looking to have a wild night or one packed with bad decisions, all you need is a few tequila shots. The drink can have an alcohol content of 40%, compared to wine with about 12%, and a bottle of beer roughly 5%.

So, what makes tequila so popular?

First, tequila is made from at least 51% blue agave plant juice. The popular alcoholic drink is only produced in Jalisco, a state in Mexico. They say it isn’t tequila if it’s not from Mexico!

The production process involves extracting juice from the Blue Weber Agave plant and fermenting it using yeast. Distillers then distill the solution in column and pot stills twice to create raw tequila.  

Some tequila brands don’t require maturation, and others go through a time of aging. For instance, Blanco doesn’t require aging while Joven goes through an aging period of only a few weeks. On the other hand, popular tequila brands like Anejo undergo a maturation period of up to 3 years. Even though tequila is a clear spirit, maturation gives the liquor a dark hue.

Related Reading: The Most Unbelievably Expensive Tequila Bottles in the World

4. Rum

Rum is the Quintessential Caribbean Drink

Best Known Brands: Mount Gay Barbados Rum, Cruzan Estate Diamon Light Rum, Bacardi Rum, and Worthy Part Estate Rum-Bar White Overproof Rums

If you are familiar with the history of rum, perhaps the image that comes to mind when someone mentions the drink is that of ships, pirates, and sailors. Most of the stories surrounding the alcoholic beverage are myths, although a good chunk of the dark and romantic tales are genuine.

Rum types of hard liquor are produced by distilling sugar cane or molasses. Distillers then age the solution in used oak barrels to give it its distinct splash of flavors. The maturation process is fast compared to other types of spirits because the drink is brewed in parts of the world that enjoy warm and tropical climates.

Rum is a clear spirit, although it can be darkened by adding tropical fruit, vanilla flavor, caramel, or spice. Clear varieties of the drink have a cleaner flavor profile and a softer feel, while the dark spirits have loads of aromas and flavors. 

Some distillers use the charcoal filtration process to harvest clear rum even after it’s aged. Filtration also gives the drink a smoother profile free of harsh flavors.

Here are some of the popular types of rum that have a unique look and flavor profile:

Full-Bodied Dark Rum

You should choose this variety if you want to drink rum in its darkest form. The darker hue is caused by a more extended maturation period in barrels.

Best Full-Bodied Rum: Plantation Original Dark Rum

Medium-Bodied Dark Rum

This variant has a golden hue caused by maturation. The color is also caused by caramel and molasses during the fermentation step.

Best Medium-Bodied Rum: Atlantico Reserva

White Rum

White rum is a clear spirit with a mild flavor. It’s perfect for making some of the best cocktails, such as mojitos.

Best White Rum: Havana Club Añejo Blanco

Spiced Rum

As the name suggests, this rum has a distinctly spicy flavor profile created by using additives such as cinnamon, anise, and pepper.

Best Spiced Rum: The Kraken

5. Whiskey

Whiskey is One of the Most Popular Forms of Liquor

Best Known Brands: Johnny Walker, Jack Daniels, Jameson, Ballentine’s, and Suntory Kakubin

Among all types of liquor, whiskey is perhaps the most luxurious. It’s a dark spirit because of the maturation process in wooden barrels.

Whiskey or whisky depending on origin, is made by fermenting grains, distilling the solution, and filtering it multiple times to purify the end product. 

Depending on the whisky brand you choose, the product can be aged for up to 50 years. The maturation period, range of ingredients used, and where the product is produced may play a leading role in dictating its appearance and character in taste.

Here are some of the common types of whiskey:

Scotch Whiskey

Scotch is whiskey made in Scotland. It can be made from wheat, barley, or rye and must be matured for about 3 years in oak barrels. Depending on the region in Scotland where a bottle is produced, it could have a smoky or sweet and light flavor profile.

Best Scotch Whisky: Glenmorangie Signet

Tennessee Whiskey

There are clear distinctions between the production styles of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. The latter undergoes the Lincoln County filtering process to make it purer.

You’ll also notice that Tennessee whiskey has a sweeter and mellower flavor tone, and it’s also a tad smokier because of the charcoal filtration.

Best Tennessee Whiskey: George Dickel Barrel Select

Irish Whiskey

As the name implies, Irish whiskey is made in Ireland. It is made using a malt mash, and distillers use caramel to achieve a darker hue. After distillation, the solution is aged for 3 years, allowing it to develop a unique flavor profile. 

Irish whiskey is easy to sip neat because of its smoother flavor. It’s also a top choice for making some of the most popular cocktails worldwide.

Best Irish Whiskey: Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

Bourbon 

If you fancy American-style whiskey, you should order a bottle of bourbon. The drink can be made from rye or corn and has no minimum maturation period. However, distillers must age the distilled solution for at least 2 years before bottling it when making straight bourbon. Bourbon is often called a sour mash whiskey which is because it is distilled using fermented grain mash.

In terms of flavor, bourbon has caramel sweetness and vanilla tones. It may also have a smoky flavor if it’s matured in charred oak barrels. Bourbon has a sweeter flavor than any other whiskey.

Best Bourbon: Four Roses Small Batch

Canadian Whiskey

Canadian whisky is made from rye or corn. It has a sweet, light, and spicy flavor that most people claim is easy to drink. This makes one of the best types of hard liquor for making cocktails. Like scotch, distillers must age the distilled solution for at least 3 years to make Canadian whisky.

Best Canadian Whiskey: Forty Creek Confederation Oak

Japanese Whisky

The taste profiles of Japanese whisky and scotch are nearly similar. Some even argue that the former is the better option because it has a bold, sophisticated, and well-balanced taste character. Japanese whiskey is made from malted barley and is aged for at least 3 years in wooden barrels.

Best Japanese Whiskey: Yamazaki 12 Year

Rye Whiskey

Traditional Rye whiskey is made by distilling a mash that has at least 51% rye grain. It’s actually a legal requirement in order to use the word rye on the label in the United States.

The distilled spirits are then aged in charred, new oak barrels for at least two years. As an extra step in the distilling process, the whiskey needs to be at a maximum of 62.5% abv (125 proof).

The flavor of rye whiskey is spicy and fruity.

Best Rye Whiskey: Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye

6. Brandy

Enjoy Spanish French and even American Brandy

Best Known Brands: Bertoux, Camus XO Borderies, Old Kenigsberg, McDowell’s No.1, and Old Admiral Brandy

Brandy may not fall on the list of the best types of liquor for mixing cocktails, but the drink has its unique edge.

You can think of this alcoholic beverage as distilled wine because it is made from fermented grapes. Of course, French brandy is called Calvados and is made from apples. You can also find brandy brands made from apricots or cherries.

After distillation, the fermented solution matures in wooden casks to create a distinct aroma, texture, and flavor. The length of the aging process and the ingredients used makes different brands differ in their quality and taste profile. 

Brandies that undergo a lengthier maturation period tend to have a mellower and more oaky flavor.

Moreover, distillers blend brandy from different barrels to create a well-balanced taste. They then add water to the liquor to control the ABV percentage and achieve drinkability. The majority of brandies will have at least 40% ABV.

Spanish brandy is another popular liquor and boasts a more powerful flavor than its French counterparts. It is also distilled using a different method called the Solera system. It sees the initial mash transferred in different amounts from barrel to barrel until it reaches its final form. These include sherry casks and wine barrels.

7. Cognacs

Enjoy a Good Glass of Cognac

Best Known Brands: Martell, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, Hennessy, and Louis XIII

All Cognacs are brandies, although not all brandies are cognacs.

Sounds confusing, right? It doesn’t have to be.

Cognacs are brandies produced using white grapes specifically harvested from Cognac, France. Colombard, Ugni Blanc, and Folle Blanche are the three main grape varieties used in brewing Cognac.

Moreover, the fermented solution is double distilled in a copper pot still and taken through a maturation period of at least 2 years in oak barrels. Because of the strict regulations, distillers must adhere to when producing Cognac, authentic brands will always have authenticity and quality guaranteed stamps.

One of the most famous Cognac liquors is Hennessey. 

8. Liqueurs

Liqueurs are Spirits Too

Best Known Brands: Stroma, Saint Brendan’s, Fexdenton Gin Liqueurs, Drambuie, and Pimms

Liqueurs are also classified as a variety of liquor. They are dark distilled spirits made using neutral grain liquors.

The distilled spirit is sweetened by adding sugar and could also create an interesting flavor using fruits or herbs. Liqueurs have higher sugar content and a lower ABV compared to other hard distilled spirits.

The main methods employed to add sweetness or flavor to liqueurs include:

  • Extraction
  • Distillation
  • Infusion, or
  • Smoking

Generally, liqueurs are just neutral base types of distilled spirits paired with different flavors. Most brands have a sweet and creamy taste and can be served with or as dessert. While they are superb when consumed neat, they are also perfect for mixing cocktails. 

Some of the most popular liqueurs include Amarula, Romana Sambuca, Luxardo Maraschino, and Baileys.

Mixed Drink Suggestions

Mixed Tropical Drinks With Liqor and Liqueurs

If you are looking to dive into the world of mixed drinks and cocktail recipes, then you need to be prepared, because there is a lot more to it than just combining drinks and hoping for the best. There is an art to the creation of the perfect mixed drinks.

Below you will find some popular drinks that use base liquors and combine them with fruit flavors and liqueurs to create everything from classic to modern cocktails.

Alternatively, check out our complete guide to the Easiest Mixed Drinks for Home Bartenders.

Brandy Alexander

Brandy Alexander

Take equal measures Brandy, crème de cacao, and cream. Combine in a glass, add some ice and serve with a little bit of nutmeg for flavor.

Vodka Martini

Vodka Martini

The ultimate liquor cocktail, drunk by spies the world over. Take 2 parts vodka, add half an ounce of dry vermouth, and add some bitters, garnish with a slice of lemon or some olives. Shake or stir based on your own preference.

Tequila Sunrise

Tequila Sunrise

Combine a double shot of tequila with a dash of grenadine some triple sec, a juiced orange, and half a juiced lemon. Pour over some ice and enjoy whenever the mood takes you.

Whiskey Sour

Whiskey Sour

Whiskey and sour mix is a classic combination and creates many great-tasting cocktails. T

he traditional whiskey sour involves a generous helping of bourbon, a slightly less generous dose of lemon juice, some Angostura bitters, some sugarcane juice – sugar syrup – and half an egg white for the finishing touch.

Vodka Tonic

Vodka Tonic

Vodka, add tonic, and there you have it. A classic cocktail. The best thing is that these days, you get vodka flavored with every fruit imaginable, giving you so much more freedom to explore different tastes. You can also add a desk of different fruit juices yourself to experiment even further.

Final Thoughts on the Different Types of Liquor

People yearn to learn about different liquors for all sorts of reasons. It could be that you want to master the reserves at your favorite local joint and order like a pro when you’re out with your buddies. 

It may also be that you’re setting up yourhome bar with the aim of earning your seat at the table of gracious guests. Either way, there’s nothing sexier than knowing your sweet whiskies from your cognacs. So, will you be stocking up with rum, or will you be sticking to your usualbourbon and scotch?

We’ll be happy to hear all about your liquor taste buds in the comment section below!