Let’s face it, people and even a lot of animals love to get wasted. It’s hard to say when we first started drinking alcohol since, while we’ve learned to control the process, basic fermentation happens all the time in nature. From knowing what kind of fruit would get us tipsy to the invention of the Still, booze has had an undeniable impact on the world.
This is by no means a definitive guide and yet it will help give you a basic understanding of what’s what so you don’t look like a total moron should the subject ever come up. It’s also handy if you want to set up a small home bar and want to make sure you have the basics on hand.
On that note, enjoy yourself and have fun with this but for the love of fuck, if you have any doubt, walk or call a cab. I need all the readers that I can get and I hate drunk drivers more than I hate Juggalos.
This is the natural chemical reaction that’s more or less the foundation of everything from Absinthe to Wine. It’s also used in bread making and preservation methods such as pickling. What happens is that yeast turns sugar into alcohol and this process is controlled depending on the application.
In nature yeast will start to feed off the sugar in various fruits or grains and it didn’t take people long to figure out that the stuff that tasted “off” was also the stuff that made those cave paintings really come to life.
The thing with fermentation is that you can only reach a maximum alcohol content of about 20% before it starts killing off the yeast. For something with a little more kick, you have to distil it.
The other thing to be aware of is that things like Beer and Sake that are made from grains first must have the starches converted to sugar, then the sugar is converted to alcohol. With Wine, the sugars present in the juice are enough to produce alcohol.
This is how you produce hard liquor. Essentially what you’re doing is heating up the fermented liquid that contains alcohol and getting rid of various impurities as well as concentrating it. Now keep in mind, straight out of the still is what most people call Moonshine. Have fun drinking it, I did and I’ll never do that shit again.
The point is that things like Beer and Wine are Fermented and things like Rum and Vodka are first fermented then distilled before being aged and bottled.
The first few that we are going to look at are also some of the oldest and most popular beverages in the world. Since fermentation occurs naturally, it’s no surprise that prehistoric man, watching other animals eat overripe fruit and get wasted, tried it for themselves. When you have to go hunt lions and mammoths, you need all the help you can get and if you’re going to get mauled, you might as well be shitfaced. Over time, methods have evolved into an art and nearly every culture on earth has their own signature drink.
I could and probably will write a whole article on this but for now what you need to know is that other than water and tea it’s the most popular beverage on earth. It’s also one of the oldest drinks we’ve consumed dating back to nearly 10,000 BC There are really too many types of beer to list but they’re all typically made from fermented cereal grains and hops.
Another age-old beverage, this is fermented grape juice at it’s simplest and yet we’ve learned to take this humble fruit and elevate it. Now, I am far from a wine snob but I’ve had enough to know there are good wines and there are a lot of shitty wines. Price rarely reflects the quality and often it’s a matter of finding a vineyard you like when you buy a bottle at home and trusting your server and trying new wines when you’re out. At the end of the day, I rather drink cheap wine with good friends than a good bottle alone. The lighter the meal, the lighter the wine, the heavier the meal the darker the wine but it still really comes down to a matter of taste.
When you say Mead most people either think it’s just honey wine or they don’t know what it really is. The truth is that there are several kinds and they range in alcohol content from as little as 3% to over 20%. Like Wine, we’ve been making this stuff for years and the in Norse mythology it was said to be made from the blood of Kvasir and turned men into poets and scholars.
Mijiu and Sake
Also known as rice wine. Unlike grape wines, these are made similar to beer since the starch from the rice has to be heated and converted into sugar before the yeast can feed and turn the sugars into alcohol. While water is added to control the final alcohol content, Genshu is the exception since they don’t water that stuff down at all.
I’ll spare you the science but when you heat up alcohol, it turns to vapor and the impurities are removed. This vapor is then collected is turned into various kinds of spirits. You don’t want to drink fermented corn but, when a master stiller has his way, he can turn it into a Bourbon that will blow your mind.
Originally people used it to create medicines but we soon figured out other uses and the technology quickly spread all over. While you can only get about 20% alcohol by volume with fermentation, you can get a much higher percentage by using a still. Most spirits start off as a fermented product such as sugar, corn, rye, etc, and then distilled, barreled and aged before being bottled.
Brandy is a highly popular spirit made from wine that has been distilled and as a result, packs a bigger punch and has a much stronger flavor. Originally, Brandy was a way to preserve the wine and avoid taxes since it was based on weight. First coming to prominence in the 15th century, it was quickly discovered that Distilling also created various aromatic compounds that were not present and this, plus being stored in wooden casks, gave the final product a much different taste from the original wine. Spanish Brandies are often aged using the Solera method where the Brandy is moved to various barrels during the aging process, similar to the production of Balsamic Vinegar.
The history of Whiskey is closely connected with that of modern distillation and it’s one of the oldest spirits, having been produced in Scotland since at least the 15 century. The first variations where neither aged nor diluted and were quite a bit harsher than what we drink today but my people are crazy so we loved it. When the English tried to force a “Malt Tax” most distilleries were forced to shut down while other independent makers worked at night to hide the smoke from their fires and this is how we get the term Moonshine. While there are several variations of Whiskey, the most prized is the Single Malt which is made with only one kind of grain at one distillery unlike many of the blended Whiskey’s on the Market. Something else to remember is that Whiskey only ages in the cask and not the bottle so that bottle of 5-year-old Whiskey that you’ve had for 10 years, is still only a 5-year-old Whiskey. Blended Whiskey is a mix of several kinds to achieve the desired flavor and are often less expensive choice if you’re going to mix it. While some people drink it straight, it is recommended that you drink it over a large whiskey cube or with a splash of water. Not only does this help cut some of the harshness, it also allows for some the more subtle flavors and smells to come through. If you’re paying top dollar for good Single Malt, sip and enjoy it.
This spirit is a result of the ingenuity of the Scottish immigrants in the Appalachia region of Virginia and Kentucky who used their knowledge of how to make Scotch and Whiskey and used corn to make a spirit that is distinctly American and. In fact, it can’t legally be made outside of the US and while it used to be viewed as a low-level selection, several distilleries have crafted products that can easily hold their own against some of the best Scotch in the world. While it may contain other grains, it must be 51% corn or more and like Rum, it’s got to be at least 40% alcohol by volume. Oddly enough, Bourbon is the reason we now have Nascar since when Alcohol was outlawed during prohibition, people would modify their cars to transport cases of booze and outrun Law enforcement.
A personal favorite of mine, the story of this beverage starts off with people drinking fermented sugarcane juice and then later we figured out that we could run it through a still and have something with a lot more kick. Unlike a lot of other spirits, this can be made anywhere in the world but it still needs to be at least 40% alcohol by volume to be called rum. Due to the heat and humidity, most aged rums are only in the cask for about two years to mature. Light and clear rums typically aren’t aged but dark rums often use Bourbon barrels to add not only color but flavor as well.
Made primarily from Juniper, this spirit has been highly prized in England since the Dutch ruler, William of Orange occupied the throne from 1650-1702. With the earliest recipe coming from Belgium it was originally used to treat a variety of medical issues ranging from kidney and stomach problems to gout. One of the primary reasons that Gin became so popular was due to high taxes on imports such as French Brandy while the government allowed Gin production to go unregulated. By 1726 there were several thousand Gin houses in London alone as well as close to 1,500 Gin stills in people’s homes. When the government tried to impose high taxes 1736, it led to riots in the streets though the laws were relaxed several times following with various stipulations for the Distillers. Now Gin is considered a vital part of any well-stocked bar and is an ingredient in various mixed drinks.
Ouzo is a highly popular spirit in the Mediterranean, especially in Greece and Cyprus. With a flavor similar to Anise, this aperitif goes from clear to milky white when served over ice, much like Absinthe. It’s not very common to use this in mixed drinks, instead, it’s typically consumed “Dry Hammer”, meaning without food. It’s also considered to be disrespectful to decline a drink when offered and the Greeks are known for their tempers.
A long-standing favorite of Poets, Artists and Misfits for centuries ranging from Pablo Picasso to Marilyn Manson, the “Green Fairy” is one of the most misunderstood spirits on the market and the lore surrounding it has only increased its popularity with each new generation. While wormwood, one of the primary ingredients in Absinthe, has been used for centuries for various medicinal purposes, it was in Sweden in the 18th century that it was combined with Anise and Sweet Fennel and distilled into the highly potent spirit we know today. It was once thought that the wormwood gave the drinker hallucinations and this lead to it being banned in several countries in the mid 19th century. In the past two decades, Absinthe has seen a major revival with several distillers now producing authentic high-quality brands that aim to pay respect to the traditional methods. While it can be consumed straight, it’s often presented with a slotted spoon, a sugar cube, and water to dissolve the sugar into the Absinthe which results in the. Well worth trying at least once in life.
The root word for Vodka is Slavic and roughly translates into “Little Water” and this shows its importance to the people of North, Central, and Eastern Europe. While various cultures had been drinking fermented grains for centuries, these products only had about 14% alcohol by volume and were mainly used for medicinal purposes. It was in the 8th century when Distillation methods spread to the region that what we know of today as Vodka, really started to take shape. Though most people think that all Vodka is made with potatoes, it is often made from other grains such as rye as well. While traditionally served straight up and cold, it is also a critical ingredient in such drinks as the Vodka Martini.
Tequila and Mezcal
Long before the Spanish first made contact, the locals of what is now known as the city of Tequila, the indigenous people had been drinks a beverage made from fermenting the agave cactus called Pulque. It was when the Spanish started running out of their own Brandy that they starting to Distil what we know today as Tequila and Mezcal. The primary difference between Tequila and Mezcal is the fact that Tequila is a protected label and must meet certain guidelines such as being made with 100% Blue Agave and being produced within a designated region in order to be labeled as such. Starting out a simple cactus, care must be taken by skilled workers in order to harvest the plants at the right time so that there is the proper balance between carbohydrates and sugars to allow for fermentation to occur. There is an often noticeable difference between Tequila made in the highlands, being sweeter and more fruity and the those produced in the lower elevations with more earthy flavors. The Agave from higher elevations also tends to be significantly larger. After fermentation, Tequila by law must be distilled twice. Silver Tequila is bottled straight from the still and is not aged whereas Tequila that is aged in wooden barrels takes on a golden amber color and well as having a richer, more rounded flavor. One big misconception about Tequila is the idea of a worm being in the bottle. This is only a novelty used in certain brands of Mezcal and the worm is actually a moth larva and one of these being present during processing would mean an infestation and thus an inferior product. While it’s normally served neat in Mexico, in other countries such as the US, it’s consumed with a slice of lime and salt to soften the bitterness. It’s also used in mixed drinks such as Margaritas and Tequila Sunrises.
While most people on the mainland still haven’t heard about this, the Hawaiians have been enjoying it for hundreds of years. The original formula has changed over time but it’s origins start when the Hawaiians first noticed that when you bake Ti root, a sweet sugary liquid formed which was then fermented into a beverage with an alcohol content similar to beer. This changed when English sailors made contact with the Islands and introduced distillation and drastically increased the potency. Later on, sugarcane, pineapple, and even rice was added to certain formulas.
As a major part of Korean culture since the 13th century, this spirit made from either rice or other grains such as barley or wheat continues to grow in popularity outside of its homeland. Soju can vary in alcohol content, from as low as 17% to over 50% by volume and modern distilleries have begun to use other starches such as potatoes for the fermentation stage of the process. While Soju has only started to gain in popularity in the United States, South Koreans alone drank 3 BILLION bottles in 2014 which averages to about 13 shots per week for everyone of legal drinking age. The average in the US is a mere three. Normally served neat, it’s now become a popular ingredient in drinks such as the Soju Martini.