Spirits are made using different methods, according to which they are classified. Here, we show a simple explanation of each of the processes used to obtain liqueurs and eau-de-vies. We assure you that after going over this section you will not have any more doubts about the differences among spirits.
The fermentation is an important process when making alcohol drinks. Examples of fermented drinks are wines, beers and hard ciders. As regards spirits, we need to state that although neither liqueurs nor eau-de-vies are fermented drinks, we need to be familiar with the fermentation process, since distillation (production method of eau-de-vies, particularly) is based on it.
Fermentation is converting sugar into alcohol through the action of yeasts (unicellular micro organisms) or converting carbohydrates into alcohol, which comes to the same thing. Through alcohol fermentation, different items, besides wine or beer, may be produced such as bread, for instance. Fermented drinks are obtained trough fermentation of fruits (grapes, apples, plums, etc.) or grains (rye, corn, wheat, oats, etc.) thanks to yeasts, who act on natural or added sugar, converting it into alcohol. On the other hand, the distillation process through which spirits are obtained is based on fermented substances, as we will explain later.
Many liqueurs are obtained through the infusion process. Infusion is pouring hot, not boiling, water (90ºC) over herbs, leaves, petals, almonds or fruit pits. An example of liqueur made through infusion is Amaretto, based on almonds and peach pits, or violet liqueur. In both cases, after making the hot water infusion, sugar and alcohol are added, and it is then packed.
Soaking is the most common method for making liqueurs. Through this process, liquid is extracted from a solid substance by means of an extracting liquid, being water and alcohol for liqueurs. In general, the cold soaking method is used to make liqueur; it consists of putting the solid element (for example, fruits) in a container, covering it with as less alcohol as possible during some days (the soaking time varies according to the element to soak). Once the necessary time is over, the preparation is filtered so as to keep the liquid only and separate the solid substances. Then syrup (water and sugar) is added and mixed and the final product is packed. Some liqueurs made in this way are Limoncello, orange and chocolate liqueur, among others.
May liqueurs are simply made, without infusion, soaking or distillation: the ingredients are just mixed. Bailey’s is a good example of this production method. In a homemade recipe of the famous liqueur, the different ingredients, condensed milk, whiskey, vanilla and coffee, are put in a container, they are stirred and the liquid is placed in a bottle. The homemade recipe of Advocaat is also the mixture of egg yolk, sugar, vanilla, brandy and alcohol.
The characteristic feature of eau-de-vies is that they are obtained through distillation. Alcohol drinks so made have ethylic or grain alcohol, condensed through a fermented drink distillation (based on grains, plants, herbs, fruits and vegetables). Distillation is a process consisting on subjecting a mixture to heat so as to separate the different liquids composing it. This way of preparing substances was created by Arabian and Persian alchemists in the eight and ninth centuries.
In order to obtain a distilled drink, a fermented drink is heated in stills and in this way most of the water it has is removed. Thus, the alcohol becomes concentrated. That is why eau-de-vies (distilled drinks) have high alcohol content. Fermented liquids are distilled at least twice, so as to remove potential toxic waste. Many spirits, such as whiskey, are aged afterwards in wooden casks. Lastly, distilled drinks are diluted so as to decrease its alcohol content and create a softer flavor for the palate. Rum, vodka, whiskey, brandy, etc. are examples of eau-de-vies. Some liqueurs are also obtained through distillation, such as maraschino, based on cherries.
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