The Most Popular Liquors Around The World

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Distilled spirits, more commonly referred to as “Liquor,” can be brewed from fruits, grains, or even vegetables. Several of the most popular spirits around the world are cognac, gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey.

Vodka From Russia

Vodka’s origin remains a mystery. Several nations and many individuals claim to be the birthplace of this spirit. Two of the leading candidates as the originators of vodka are Poland and Russia. Each boasts a great passion for the distilled spirit. In both countries, this eighty proof spirit is consumed with meals. In Russian, the word vodka translates as water. Vodka was first distilled about the beginning of the twelfth century as a crude anesthetic and disinfectant. Vodka was being distilled for the purpose of drinking by the end of the 1300s. Currently vodka may be distilled from rye, wheat, barley, and corn.

Popular drinks containing vodka are: the Amaretto, Sex on the Beach, Long Island Ice Tea, Electric Lemonade, and the Hawaii Five-O.


Whiskey From Ireland & Scotland

Whiskey is distilled from a variety of different grains. Barley, malted barley, rye, wheat, and corn are the most popular for whiskey production. Oak barrels are the preferred aging containers with charred white oak being the most popular choice.

Irish whiskey is distilled three times and aged at least three years. Better Irish whiskeys are aged three or four times that period. Several types of whiskeys common to Ireland are: single malt, single grain, blended whiskey, and pure pot still whiskey.

Scotch whiskeys are usually distilled twice. The better whiskeys are distilled a third time and up to 20 times. Scotch whiskeys must be aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels. Judge Scotch whiskeys by the age statement on the label, in the form of a number, which indicates the age of the youngest whiskey in the blend. Many Scotch whiskies use peat smoke to treat the malt, which leaves a smoky flavor.

Most whiskey connoisseurs will want to drink it neat out of a tulip shaped glass or cognac glass. That way the aroma can be enjoyed, as it is swirled around the glass, and taste the complexity of the whiskey.

If you must mix this spirit, the most popular cocktails containing whiskey are: Irish coffee, Manhattan Cocktail, whiskey Sour, John Collins, and the whiskey Old Fashioned.

Gin From England

Gin is one of the most distinctive distilled spirits. It receives its predominant flavor from the juniper berry. In addition to the juniper berry, gin can be flavored with lemon, and bitter orange peel. Less commonly used flavorings are anise, cinnamon, coriander, orrisroot, angelica root and seed, licorice root, and cassia bark.

Like other spirits, gin began as an herbal medicine in the Middle Ages. It was given, although ineffectively, as a remedy for the Black Death.

Gin falls into two categories: distilled gin and London gin, or dry gin. Gin is usually consumed with tonic water and slice of lime. It is often said; “a person who is a true connoisseur of gin will not drink any other liquor.”

Gin cocktails are widely popular such as: Martini, Gin & Tonic, Negroni, Gimlet, and Vesper. The Vesper cocktail was invented by Ian Fleming as the drink of fictional British spy James Bond in Casino Royale.

Bourbon From United States

Bourbon’s heritage began over 200 years ago in the hollows of Kentucky where cold, clear limestone spring water flowed. It is rumored that this water made the grass blue, the horses frisky, the corn grow like crazy, and the whiskey sweet and smooth as honey. Bourbon whiskey reigns as America's only native spirit and still makes its home in Kentucky, where 80 percent of the world's bourbon is produced.

Bourbon is distilled from a mash of grain containing not less than 51 percent corn, balanced with barley and either wheat or rye. Each distillery has its own unique blend of grain and some of the mash recipes are generations old and jealously guarded. The rich amber color and characteristic sweetness of bourbon is derived from its signature aging process in new white oak barrels, charred to caramelize the natural sugars in the wood and bring them to the surface. Two years is the minimum time for aging bourbons. Most decent bourbons are aged 4 to 12 years.

Bourbon's distinctive and mellow taste makes it both an excellent complement to food and a widely used ingredient in sauces and dessert recipes.

Tennessee whiskey is commonly but incorrectly perceived as a type of bourbon, and is made in a similar way, but with one extra step in the process that influences its final character. Before barreling, Tennessee whiskey is mellowed; filtered very slowly over a period of 10 days through charcoal made from seasoned sugar maple timbers. This gives the whiskey a unique smoky sweetness.

Several of the favorite bourbon cocktails are: Mint Julep, the Rebel Yell, the Manhattan, the Bourbon Peach Smash, of course the Bad Mother F#%*er.

Tequila From Mexico

Tequila is distilled from the blue agave plant in Mexico. It was first produced in the 16th century near the location of the city of Tequila. The Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico during 1521 and running out of their own brandy, they began to distill the agave plant and produce the first distilled spirits in North America.

The blue agave grown in the highlands northwest of Guadalajara are larger in size and sweeter than those grown in other regions. Agaves harvested in the lowlands have a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor.

Popular drinks containing tequila are: the Margarita, Tequila Sunrise, Paloma, Juan Collins, and the Brave Bull.

Cognac From France

Cognac derives its name from the town of Cognacin France. It is in fact a type of distilled brandy. To bear the name Cognac, it must be produced from the grapes Saint-Emilion, or Ugni Blanc, then distilled twice in copper stills, and aged for at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousing or Troncais. Most cognacs are aged considerably longer than the two-year legal requirement. Cognac matures the same way whiskies and wine do when stored in good quality oak barrels.

The various grades of cognac are as follows:

  • V. S. (very special) or three stars describes a blend of cognac where the youngest brandy has been aged for at least two years in an oak barrel.
  • V.S.O.P. (very superior old pale) describes a blend of cognac where the youngest brandy has been aged for at least four years in oak barrels. Usually most V.S.O.P.s are much older.
  • XO (extra old) describes a better blend of cognac where the youngest brandy has been aged from six years to 20 years.

Cognac is traditionally enjoyed as an after dinner drink, warmed in a brandy snifter. Other variations are: Grand Marnier, made from cognac and distilled essence of bitter orange, Pineau des Charentes, a sweet aperitif, and Domaine DeCanton, a cognac based ginger liquer.

Jaegermeister From Germany

The spirit Jagermeister is a relative new spirit introduced in Germany in 1934. It is a 70-proof distillate made from 56 herbs and spices and similar to central European liqueurs such as: Gammel Dansk from Denmark, Unicum from Hungary, Demanovka from Slovakia, and Pelinkovac from Croatia. Jagermeister’s ingredients include: citrus peel, licorice, anise, popy seeds, saffron, ginger, juniper berries, and ginseng.

The name Jagermeister, loosely translated means hunt-master.

Popular mixed drinks with Jagermeister are: Jagerbomb, Silver Bullet, Golden Elk, Surfer on Acid, and the Green Dragon.

Last Updated: August 12, 2012
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About Bill Washburn William "Bill" Washburn has a BA in advertising from the Art Center College of Design and has taught at the University of Southern California and Northrup University. Writing from a well-connected studio in the rural foothills of the west coast, he is a frequent speaker at local art associations and has published numerous articles discussing periods of art history and the fundamentals of drawing and painting. William is a master gardener who grows his own culinary herbs, organic heirloom vegetables and a variety of fruits. He writes frequently about his gardening experiences on his website Pioneer Dad. He is an accomplished advertising writer, fine art painter, and art director with more than 20 years' experience. 

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