Spirits and Alcohol Types

Spirits have high alcohol content because they are distilled.
Spirits have high alcohol content because they are distilled. (Image: glass of liquor and ice image by Elke Dennis from Fotolia.com)

Spirits, wine and beer are the three major types of alcoholic beverages, each of which come in many varieties. Spirits are distilled alcohol, meaning that the fermented beverage is heated to evaporate the alcohol, which is then condensed into the distilled spirit. Spirits are classified into broad categories depending on the type of liquid from which they are distilled.

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Gin is a clear spirit made from corn, rye, barely, wheat or sugarcane, but its main flavor comes from the juniper berry. Gin was first developed in Holland but has had times of high popularity in England and the United States as well. It is a popular mixer and is included in drinks such as a gin and tonic or martinis.


Vodka is distilled from many types of grain, including barley, wheat, rye or corn. It sometimes even includes fermented potato, grape or beet juice as well. It is clear and has very little of its own flavor, so it is mixed with other flavored beverages in drinks such as a bloody mary, a screwdriver or a cosmopolitan.


Rum is distilled from sugarcane juice or molasses made from sugarcane. Because sugar is a common crop in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, rum is thought of as a tropical spirit and is often used in fruit-flavored drinks. It is mixed with lime juice in a daiquiri or with pineapple and coconut juice to make a piña colada.


Tequila is named after a town in Mexico around which the cactus-like blue agave plant grows. It is made from fermented blue agave sap and is a type of mezcal, which is the more generic spirit made in other regions of Mexico. Margaritas are the most common type of drink to utilize tequila and are common fare at Mexican restaurants.


Whiskey is an aged spirit distilled from grains such as barley, corn, rye or wheat. Different types of whiskey have different flavors because they favor one type of grain over the others. Whiskey can be used in a variety of cocktails, including Manhattans, highballs and mint juleps.

Liqueurs and Cordials

When a distilled spirit is infused with a single flavor, it is called a cordial, and when infused with multiple flavors, it is a liqueur. These alcoholic beverages are much sweeter than straight liquor and are often consumed plain, although they are also included in some types of cocktails.


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