Have you ever heard someone talking about liqueurs and spirits and wondered how they were different? Here’s a little explanation so that you can impress your friends next time that you’re out ordering booze.
Beer is the most common type of booze. It is made from grains fermented by brewer’s yeast and is most commonly flavored with hops, although herbs or fruits may also be used. Beer generally has 5% alcohol by volume, but can have up to 14% alcohol as the brewer’s yeast cannot stand alcohol concentrations higher than that. A few beers use champagne yeast instead of brewer’s yeast, which can push alcohol content over 30%.
Wine is the second-most popular type of alcohol. It is simply juice which has been fermented by yeast. Most commonly, wine is made from grape juice, but it can be made from just about any juice imaginable. The alcohol content can vary greatly depending on the type of wine, but is generally much stronger than beer. White wines consist of roughly 10-12% alcohol whereas red wines contain 13-15% alcohol. Some types of dessert wines, like sherry and port, have alcohol contents closer to 20%.
Now it’s time to hit the hard stuff. What separates liquor from beer and wine? One word: distillation. Distillation is the process of separating the alcohol by boiling the mixture then condensing the resulting vapors. Like beer and wine, liquor starts by fermenting some plant matter to create alcohol. However, the mixture is then distilled to separate the boozy goodness from the rest of the fermented product.
Liquor is a blanket term that is used to refer to all types of distilled alcohols. Spirits are types of liquors that have at least 20% alcohol and have no added sugars. Some common spirits include vodka, rum, gin, whiskey, absinthe, brandy and tequila. Liqueurs (not to be confused with liquor), on the other hand, are spirits that have been flavored and sweetened with sugar. There are many popular types of liqueurs, such as American schnapps, amaretto, Sambuca, Kahlúa, Baileys, and Cointreau. In some parts of the world, the word cordial is used to describe liqueurs that are made with fruit juice. Liqueurs tend to have a lower alcohol content than spirits, although this is not always the case.
We’ll get into more fun booze words, like “sour mash” and “malt” at a later date. Until then, feel free to correct anyone who incorrectly refers to a spirit as a liqueur, since you have it on good authority that they’re wrong because you read The Boozing Baker. Maybe you can even get them to buy you a drink