Distillation increases the alcohol content of a drink by boiling an alcoholic mixture and collecting the alcohol as it evaporates. Distilled beverages, also called liquor or spirits, come from a wide range of sources. They can be enjoyed neat, mixed in cocktails or even used as ingredients in cooking.
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Many spirits, such as whisky, vodka and gin, are made from distilling fermented grain. Vodka and gin are very versatile cocktail ingredients, while single-malt Scotch whisky is best enjoyed straight at room temperature. Although they're not as common in cooking as beer, wine or brandy, grain spirits do play a role in some recipes. A sauce based on cream, mustard and whisky goes well with haggis. Serve with turnips, potatoes and even more whisky.
The name "brandy" comes from a phrase meaning "burnt wine," referring to the fact that this drink is made from distilled wine. Serve fine brandy by itself in a snifter, or mix less expensive brandy with soda for a cooling drink. Brandy is also an important ingredient in many sauces. In Britain, brandy and cream sauce is traditionally served with Christmas pudding, while brandy and peppercorn sauce is a tasty accompaniment for steaks.
Distilled spirits based on fruit include a range of drinks often called "fruit brandy," even though they aren't strictly brandy. Examples include slivovitz, a plum liquor from eastern Europe, and calvados, an apple liquor from Normandy. Calvados is a traditional digestif in Normandy. Mixed with apple juice and spices and served hot, it's a warming winter treat. Calvados sauces and glazes go well with pork.
Other Distilled Alcohol
Distilled liquor can come from many different sources. For example, rum and cachaca are distilled from sugar cane, while tequila is distilled from the agave cactus. Although tequila is commonly drunk neat, it's also a key ingredient in mixed drinks such as the ginger crush -- lemon juice, ginger beer, tequila and mint -- or the margarita. Tequila, particularly sharp-flavored tequila blanco, works well as a marinade for meat or a medium for sauteing seafood.