Do you want to buy a bottle of eau-de-vie? Then you first need to get informed about the features of each of these spirits. In this way, you will be able to choose the highest quality eau-de-vie according to your preferences. The variety is wide, so we know that everybody will find the ideal eau-de-vie for himself or to give as a gift.
Vodka is a eau-de-vie coming from Russia and Poland, made since the thirteenth century. The term comes from the Russian word “voda”, diminutive of “water”. It is a drink usually distilled through fermentation of rye, wheat or potatoes (or any cheap grain). Its degree of alcohol is 40º approximately. Vodka is called neutral spirit, because it does not have color or flavor.
Rum is an eau-de-vie that began to be made in the Caribbean after the Conquest, obtained through distillation of ferment of sugar or molasses cane (viscous, dark and sweet liquid, resulting from sugar production). Through distillation, a drink having 80º of degree of alcohol is obtained, but it is diluted in distilled water until it reaches 60º. After the distillation process, the drink is aged in wooden casks during different time periods and, as years go by, its color becomes gold and later dark brown.
There are different types of rum, varying in color and aging time. Jamaican rum is dark and preserved in oak casks for at least five years, Rum from Puerto Rico, on the other hand, is light, gold and aged for three years, at least. There is also clear rum, aged in steel casks.
The cachaça is the most well-know rum in Brazil, obtained when distilling the fermented juice from sugar cane. The fermentation of this drink is carried out with a type of cornmeal called fubá. Its degree of alcohol ranges between 38º and 51º. The cachaça is usually used in the most famous Brazilian cocktail, caipirinha, made with this drink, lemon, ice and sugar, although it is also drunk alone.
Whiskey comes from Ireland. The name of this famous eau-de-vie comes from the words in Irish Gaelic “uisce beathadh” and Scottish Gaelic “uisge beatha”, meaning “water of life”. In Ireland and the United States, the term “whiskey” is used, while in Scotland, Canada and Japan, the word “whisky” is used. This spirit is made through distillation of different grain fermentation: barley, corn, wheat, rye, rice, oats and others.
The general and basic production process of whiskey has several stages. First, the grains are ground and water is added to make a pastry. Secondly, this substance is filtered and the fermentation begins when yeast is added. Thirdly, the fermented substance is distilled. Distillation is carried out during two years; after them, an alcohol drink having a degree of alcohol of 40º and 50º is obtained. After distillation, the drink is aged in wooden casks. The regular aging period ranges between two and five years, although the higher quality whiskey is aged longer. When whiskey has been aged for more than five years, its age is shown on the label.
There are different types of whiskey, according to its composition and also its country of origin. On the one hand, single malt whiskey, on the other hand, the so-called “vatted malt” whiskey, obtained when mixing malt whiskeys, grain whiskey, straight whiskey and blended whiskey. As regards origin, the three main producing countries are Scotland, Ireland and United States, each one of them having particular features when making whiskey.
The Scottish single malt whiskey or Scotch is obtained through distillation of fermented barley. First, the barley is moistened during several days so that it can germinate. Then, the barley is dried in peat furnaces, a fuel native to Scotland, and it gets a characteristic smoked flavor. Afterwards, the barley is ground, mixed with hot water and so the starch becomes sugar. This substance or must needs to ferment, so yeast is added, converting water into alcohol. The fermented liquid is similar to beer. Once the fermentation is ready, the distillation in cooper stills is carried out twice. It is aged, according to Scottish Law, during at least three years in oak casks. It is diluted in water to decrease its alcohol content and only caramel can be added to give it color (this does not add flavor). Its degree of alcohol cannot be under 40º.
The Irish single malt whiskey, contrary to the Scottish, is obtained through three distillations, also in stills. Barley is not toasted in peat furnaces. Besides, another difference is that portions of barley without malt (not toasted) are used. As well as in Scotland, the drink aging must be carried out in oak casks.
The so-called “vatted malt”, on the other hand, is a whiskey resulting from joining different single malt whiskeys, coming from different distilleries.
The grain whiskey is made through fermentation and distillation of corn, wheat, rye, oats, etc., but not barley. It is obtained through continuous distillation system (different from the still system).
First, the grains are ground, without having toasted the cereals, until flour is obtained, used later to form a pastry. Certain percentage of non-toasted barley is usually included. Then, yeast is added and in two days, the “wash” is obtained, the liquid resulting from fermentation (fermented must). This liquid is subjected to continuous distillation system (in columns instead of stills).
The straight whiskey is the one made with only one grain or with a minimum of 51% of one grain. Some examples of this type of whiskey are Bourbon, rye whiskey, Tennessee, straight Irish. The last one is made with 60% barley and 40% malting barley. The special feature of the American whiskeys is that they are composed of a minimum of 51% and a maximum of 79% of one grain. Besides, American whiskeys are aged in new white oak casks, previously burned. One of the most famous ones is the Bourbon, originally coming from Bourbon County, Kentucky. It is composed of 51% corn minimum and the rest is malting barley, rye or wheat. It is aged during at least two years. Neither colorings nor flavorings are added. Only distilled water can be added.
Another American whiskey is the rye whiskey, having 51% rye minimum and then malting barley. It is aged during two years. It is generally used to make blended whiskey. The Tennessee is composed of 51% wheat minimum and malting barley. It is also aged for at least two years in white oak casks.
The blended whiskey is the one obtained when mixing single malt whiskey with grain whiskey or different single grain whiskeys. In some cases, the mixture includes neutral spirits. Drinks to be mixed come from different distilleries. It was created in Scotland. The reasons why blended whiskey was first produced were mostly financial (its components are cheaper) but they are related to the consumer public taste. Many people outside Scotland wanted to savor a softer whiskey.
Gin is an eau-de-vie coming from Holland; its special feature is that is made with juniper berries and ginger. It is obtained after distilling barley and cereal ferment and adding juniper berries and ginger. These herbs are mixed with the first distilled liquid and everything is distilled again together. Aging is not required. The degree of alcohol of gin ranges between 40º y 60º. The color of this drink is gold or transparent. There are sweet, demi-sec and dry gins. The term “gin” comes from the French word “genievre”, meaning “juniper” in French. English people call it “gin”.
It is an aniseed-flavored eau-de-vie, very famous and controversial. It is made with flowers and leaves from the Artemisia absinthium plant and other herbs. It is not liqueur because sugar is not added during its production. This drink is green, so it is called “The Green Fairy” (“La Fée Verte” or “El Hada Verde”) It is native to Switzerland and it was very popular in late nineteenth and early twentieth century, specially among European bohemian, artists and writers (mostly Parisian). The reason for its popularity is that it was supposed to have hallucinogenic effects. So, this drink was prohibited in 1915 in the United States and different European countries, because apparently it was a powerful psychoactive and addictive drug. However, scientific studies have not determined this drink is more harmful than any other alcoholic drink. Since the 90’s, European countries have authorized again the production of Absenta.
This eau-de-vie is specially drunk, using special cups, typical spoons, water and sugar. Those drinking Absenta place a special spoon (characterized by its holes) on the rim of a glass cup and a sugar cube is placed on the spoon. Then, cold water is poured over the sugar, thus the drink color changes, becoming white. This new color is called “louché”, meaning “opaque” in French. According to the ritual, the glass of Absenta so prepared must be downed in one gulp. Thanks to the sugar added, this drink is less bitter.
This name is used for the spirit obtained from sugar cane in Latin-American countries such as Venezuela, Peru and Colombia. After the sugar cane fermentation, the distillation is carried out, to obtain the “aguardiente”. In Colombia, the eau-de-vie is aniseed-flavored.
The mescal is a spirit coming from Mexico, made through distillation of the fermented liquid from different agave species, a kind of cactus (for example, maguey). In order to make this drink, the cactus must be between eight and ten years old. The pulp, which is sweet, is extracted from the stem. The fruits, called pineapples, are cut and cooked in an underground furnace stoked with a fuel native to Mexico, giving the drink a typical smoked flavor. This baked substance is mashed so as to extract a sweet liquid called “maguey juice”. Then, fermentation and distillation are carried out. The high quality mescal has only one extra addition: water. The mescal called "mixed" has added sugar. In both cases, natural flavorings and also caramel acting as coloring can be added.
This drink is famous because its bottle has a worm. It is the larva of the moths living in the agave plant. Although the meaning of placing an insect into a drink is unknown, it is considered a way of trying the high alcohol content, since if the worm stays in good conditions, the alcohol content is high.
This eau-de-vie is native to Jalisco, a famous Mexican state. It is made based on blue agave juice, called “tequilian agave”. The name of the plant comes from the tribes producing this drink in the past, whose name was “Tuiquillas”. In order to make tequila, the agave must be between six and ten years old. The pulp inside the stems is mashed and its juice is extracted. Later, this liquid is distilled in clay pots. Tequila has a degree of alcohol of 60º. This drink is aged in oak casks during different time periods. According to the aging time, tequila is classified in four ways:
Silver (or white)
It is tequila aged for a maximum of 60 days or less, or without aging.
Gold (usually mixed tequila)
This is white tequila without aging, adding caramel as a coloring.
The rested tequila is aged in wooden casks during a legal minimum period of two months. The higher quality tequilas are preserved in casks between three and nine months. This is the most sold tequila.
The aged tequila is preserved in wooden casks during one year, at least. The tequila aged between one year and a half and three is considered to have better quality. The best tequilas are the ones aged during more than four years, although some producers argue that tequila should not be aged for so long because the agave may lose its vegetal flavor. On the other hand, mixed tequila is the one made with agave, sugar and water.
Brandy is a spirit obtained through wine distillation. Its degree of alcohol ranges between 40º and 60º. Since the drinks coming from fruit juice are also called brandy, three brandies can be mentioned and there are variants among them.
1) Grape Brandy
The grape brandy is the drink obtained when distilling grape wine. The main variants within this type are:
The degree of alcohol of this brandy is 40º. Cognac is a drink coming from the French region of the same name and only the one made there can be legally named “cognac” (it is the guarantee of origin and quality of the drink) It is obtained after four distillations. It is aged in oak casks.
The armanac is an alcohol drink made from grapes from the French region having the same name. It is the most ancient eau-de-vie in France: dates from the fifteenth century. At first, it was not drunk for pleasure but as medicinal drink. Grape juice is distilled through continuous distillation system. Afterwards, the liquid is aged in oak casks, during twelve-twenty years or more. The higher quality armanac is the one aged longer.
The Chilean pisco is an eau-de-vie obtained from grape must distillation. The grapes come from III Atacama Region and IV Coquimbo Region in Chile. In order to make pisco, the wine obtained from those grapes is distilled and then packing is carried out.
2) Pulp Brandy
This type of brandy is obtained from grape pulp, skin, seeds and shoots, after extracting the juice made through fermentation. At first, this brandy was made by wine producers, so as to take advantage of the substance remaining after extracting liquid for regular wine. Within this type of brandy, we can find:
This pulp brandy comes from Italy and is obtained through distillation of “pomace” wine, that is to say, wine made with grape pulp, skin, seeds and shoots. It may be aged for two to four years or packed without aging.
It is also a pulp brandy, made in the same way but in France.
This is the name given to pulp brandy in North Spain (Galicia, Cantabria, Castilla and Leon), where many people drink it.
3) Fruit Brandy
In this case, the brandy is obtained from fruits other than the grape: plums, apples, peaches, apricots, cherries, raspberries and blackberries. Its production is based on fruit wine distillation. It is not usually aged for long. This type of brandy is clear-colored. It is traditionally drunk cold and with ice. Some of these drinks are:
This brandy is a famous drink from Low Normandy, in France. It is made with traditional apples from this region. Firstly, a hard cider is made, through the yeast effect on apples. Then, the fermented juice is distilled twice. The liquid obtained is aged during two years at least in oak casks.
This fruit brandy comes from Germany. Its production is based on cherries.
This brandy comes from the United States, in the colonial period. It is obtained through hard cider distillation, from fermented apples. The term “applejack” is a combination of “apple” and “jacking”, the way cold distillation was called, initially used to make this drink.
This brandy is typical of the French region called Alsace. The word means “water of life” and it is many times used to call brandy in general. It is made through fruit wine distillation and it is not aged. Its special feature is that it does not have color.
“Rakija” or “rakia” is the name of some fruit brandies in the Balkan Mountains (West Europe). This brandy can be made with different fruits: plums (called “slivovitz” in this case), grapes, pears, figs, apricots, walnuts and quince. Besides, they can be aromatizad with herbs and honey.
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