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Alcohol Glossary


This is an in depth look at the glossary, literature on brands and percentages by volume of various spirits and liquors from around the world. This is simply meant to be a memory jogger for professional servers; a quick succinct source of practical authentic information. If power is knowledge then this will help establish a mutual confidence between “him who serves” and “him who sips”.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions VODKA

The origin of the word is “little water”. Vodka is a refined and filtered liquor distilled at 95 proof and bottled for sale at 40% to 50%. Originally made from potatoes in Russia, it is now distilled from a base of grain, corn, and wheat and is highly purified. The best vodkas are filtered through charcoal to produce a flavorless odorless liquor that is absolutely pure. The difference between various vodkas depends on the types of grain, source of water and the filtering processes. Vodka is a colorless unaged spirit and is best served ice cold.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions STOLICHNAYA

A premium brand Russian vodka, In 1960 the USA made the “deal of the century” with the USSR to import Stolichnaya into the United States, the product that enticed the Russians into parting with their Stoly – Coca Cola!

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions GIN

The origin of the word is “genver” which is a Dutch word for the juniper berries used to produce Gin. Gin originated in Holland but is now produced in London, England. Distilled from grain (generally barley, rye or maize). Gin is made by using a continuous still to remove all impurities and produce a neutral base spirit, and then juniper berries and other botanicals are then processed into the spirit giving it a unique flavor. Some Gins appear golden in color because of ageing in barrels; sloe gin is made by steeping sloe berries in the continuous still. Gin is bottled at percentages varying from 37% to 48%.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions RUM

Produced by distilling the fermented juice of sugar cane, cane syrup and molasses (a residue left from the production of sugar from sugar cane) at 95 proof. Fermentation takes place in large vats: light rums take only 24 to 36 hours to ferment; darker rums are fermented more slowly, about 2 days.

·     JAMAICAN RUM is full-bodied rum with a strong aroma and a unique flavor. Molasses is allowed to ferment naturally giving it more flavor. It is aged in oak casks for ay least 5 years. The dark color comes from caramel.

·     PUERTO RICO rums are light bodied, if only matured for a year in uncharred oak casks it is known as white rum. If left for three years, with the addition of caramel it is a golden rum. The most famous Puerto Rico rum is Bacardi. Known through-out the world as the biggest selling white rum, Bacardi now has a vast range from white rum, 151, reserve, 8 year old and many more.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions WHISKY

Made from grains like corn, rye, barley or wheat grains. At this stage it is distilled from a fermented mash then aged in oak barrels. At this stage it is a water color liquid. During the ageing period, it gradually attains its amber color, flavor and aroma. It is bottled and sold at 40% or 80 proof. Whisky of each country is distinct from that of the others because of the local grain characteristics, distillation techniques and formulas; Scotland, Ireland, America and Canada are major producers.

Whisky and scotch are commonly considered to be the same thing. However, Irish and American whiskies are different. The best blended whiskies contain a greater proportion of malt to give flavor to the more neutral grain whisky. Single malt whiskies are unblended. Good single malts take up to 10 years to mature.

Combines straight whiskies with neutral grain spirits. Straight whisky dominates the mix by 20%, sold by 40% volume or 80 proof.

Distilled grain mash containing 51% corn grain and aged for a minimum of 2 – 4 years in new (charred) oak barrels. Amber in color, Bourbon gets its name from Bourbon Country in Kentucky where it originated. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Missouri also produce whiskies.

A blended whisky, distilled from rye, corn and barley. Produced only in Canada under Government control, Canadian whisky sold in this country is at least 4 years old. Lighter than American whisky, it is sold at 40% volume.

Blended whiskies from a native barley and Scottish pot stills. All Scotch blends contain malt whisky and grain whisky. The smoky flavor comes from drying malted barley over peat fires. Produced only in Scotland, export Scotch is usually at least 4 years old and is 40% to 43% volume.

A blend that contains barley malt whiskies and grain whisky. The malt is dried in coat-fired kilns, then stored in sherry casks after distillation for a minimum oak maturation of at least three years. The aroma of the coat fires does not influence the malt. Irish whisky is heavier than scotch although it is generally a lighter bodied whisky. Irish whisky is an average 43% volume and is only produced in Ireland.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions BRANDY

Any spirit distilled from fermented fruit juice is a Brandy. Made from a fermented mash of grapes or fruit. Generally they are aged in oak casks and bottled at 40% or 42% volume. V.S.O.P denotes a brandy of superior quality. Brandies at room temperature will be served at all times in warm snifters. This is accomplished by preheating the snifters using hot water. Brandy is a generic term and so can be made anywhere. Cognac and Armagnac are examples of Brandies.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions ARMAGNAC

A type of Brandy produced only in the Armagnac region of France, located in the south of Bordeaux.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions COGNAC

A type of Brandy produced only in the Cognac region of France. Cognac receives its distinct tanning in flavor from the ageing process, which uses old oak casks. To be considered a cognac, the product must be at least 18 months old.
Types of Cognac:

·     *** The three stars represent the company’s standard blend.
·     VSOP : Very Special Old Pale indicates that this Cognac is over 4 ½ years old and more often than not, the spirit in the blend is a lot older.
·     XO (Extra Old) : Highest quality product available and must be at least 10 years old.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions CALVADOS a.k.a. APPLE BRANDY or APPLE JACK

Distilled from apple Cider, Calvados is produced only in Normandy, France.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions TEQUILA

The principal spirit of Mexico has a clean taste and tart flavor. Produced from the agave plant (similar to cactus) a member of the Maguey plant family. The agave plant matures in 12 to 15 years, producing a plant that looks like a pineapple with cactus leaves attached. When the agave plant is harvested, the leaves are cut off leaving a core (the “pina” or pineapple), which weighs 80 to 175 pounds.


The pinas are shipped to the distillery where they are cooked in large steam ovens for several hours, then the pinas are cooled and shredded, and pressed to release the juices. The juices and some of the pulp are mixed with sugar and fermented for 4 days. Upon completion of the fermentation process, the wash is distilled in pot stills to produce a low-grade alcohol. To make Tequila, the spirit is re-distilled to produce a “white” or “silver” Tequila product.


The Tequila is placed in large white oak vats for 35 to 45 days to mellow out.
Gold Tequila is stored in smaller barrels for 9 months, until the Tequila takes on a light gold color. These gold Tequilas are called Tequila Anejo (anejo is a Spanish word for age), priced according to the number of years (anejos) it has been aged. Unfortunately, some distillers add artificial coloring (molasses and caramel) to Tequila to produce Anejo “look alike” products.


Tequila is proofed at a low 52%, by Mexican law, in an effort to preserve the distinctive natural flavors, then diluted with water and bottled at 40% to 50 %. True Tequila is only produced from Algave plants grown in volcanic soil, around the towns of Tequila and Tepalitan, in central-west Mexico. Tequilas produced outside of this area must be labeled “Mescal”. The only imported Mescals are “con gusano” or with worm.


Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions VERMOUTH
Vermouth is “aromatised” and is essentially a wine that has been flavored and fortified. Upon opening it will start to deteriorate. Dry Vermouths should be drunk within weeks and sweet Vermouths within one month. There are 2 types of Vermouth:

1) Sweet Vermouth : Caramel and sugar is added to make sweet red Vermouth.

2) Dry Vermouth : With the color of white to light gold the clarity should be clear.

Wine is their base and gives them their character. Its strength is brought up to that of Sherry, or a little above. With pure alcohol, it is sweetened with sugar and flavored with any number of herbs and spices.

The classic and probably most universally used flavoring agent is wormwood, whose German name “vermuth” gives the drink its name. The Vermouth Country is the foothills of the Alps on both sides of the French and Italian border. Broadly speaking there are two kinds, which still tend to be known as French and Italian, although both are made in Italy now more than France. French is drier, and Italian the sweeter of the two. Italian comes in two colors, Bianco and Rosso. Each of the major Italian manufacturers therefore has at least 3 main products, dry white, sweet white and sweet red.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions DUBONNET

Mostly made in France, Dubonnet is an aromatized wine with quinine and genian to heighten the bitter flavor. Served as an aperitif, its low alcohol content makes it suitable for drinking at any time although it is best served before a meal.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions SHERRY

Sherry is derived from the word Jerez which is the town that centers the Sherry trade in the province of Cadiz, Spain. Sherry is the English word for the town of Jerez although the original Moorish name was Scheris. Sherry has a slightly nutty flavor and comes in sweet, medium or dry (in dry wines almost all of the sugar has fermented into alcohol) and ranges in color from pale to dark amber. Only the Sherry that is manufactured in Jerez is entitled to be called Sherry. Any other country that makes Sherry has to first state the country of origin on the label. The alcohol content of Sherry is around 20%. It may be served chilled or not, according to taste.

Hospitality & Consultancy Solutions PORT


From Oporto and only so, this famous wine is shipped all over the world, but Oporto gives only its name to the wine, for in the town of Villa Nova De Gaia it is aged for many years.

Four different types of Port are generally sold:

1) Vintage Port
In a good year of the wines and harvest, the shipper will make a vintage port. This has to be with the wines of the same year even though it might be a blend. To preserve the fruit the wine is bottled before all of the impurities have had time to settle out, therefore sediment will form in a bottle of Vintage Port. It is law that Vintage Port is bottled and sealed in Portugal to carry the government approval.

2) LBV (Late Bottle Vintage)

Port of a single year bottle has been in the wood from 4 to 6 years before bottling. The label must bear the Vintage date and bottling year.

3) Ruby Port
A blend of both young and old wine. A fruity Port with some character to lengthen the shelf life. It is chilled before bottling causing it to precipitate any sediment.

4) Tawny Port
A Port that through long ageing – up to about 10 years in barrels changes to a Port that is Tawny in color and has a very smooth taste and consistency.


A very strong Aniseed flavored spirit. Banned until recently in most countries. Should be drunk with water and caramelized sugar, and is believed to cause hallucinations.

Dutch liquor made from egg yolk, sugar and Brandy, low in alcohol proof and generally served with lime and sprite as a snowball. Usually drunk around Christmas time.

Caraway is the main flavoring of this Danish spirit. Should be served ice cold. Akavit is very strong in alcohol content and should always be served with food.

Established in Saranno, Italy in the 16th century this is a liquor with an almond and apricot base. Made from neutral alcohol, apricot pulp and kernels. The apricot is a close relative of the almond and the seed imparts a strong almond taste to the liquor.

A liquor made by mashing small French apricots in brandy. Not a true Brandy due to the fact that the base spirit is not made with apricots. It is a very sweet and rich liquor.

A very famous Irish liquor, made from cream and blended with Irish whisky. Baileys can only be made in Ireland.

B & B
Distilled and marketed at Fe Camp in Normandy this mixture of the liqueur Benedictine with equal amounts of Brandy.

Made from a secret recipe including herbs and cognac from the order of the Benedictine monks dating back to 1510. Benedictine is probably the oldest and most widely renowned liquor in the world. Distilled in Fe Camp Normandy. Highly aromatic sweet and golden in color.

D.O.M. – Deo Optimo Maximo = To God most good most great.

A Brazilian spirit made from Sugar Cane, similar to White Rum.

Extracted from plants bark, roots and stems then mashed with alcohol to form bitters. This originates from Italy and is red in color and is usually served as an aperitif.

A premium French raspberry liqueur, very high in quality. Very rich in both color and taste.

A liqueur made from herb liqueurs (either yellow or green). Made in Tarragona, Spain, but originated in France over 300 years ago.
A secret recipe of the Carthusian Fathers, the yellow contains 120 ingredients and is 43%; the green is made from 250 ingredients and is 55%.

Mostly labeled cherry Brandies with a strong aroma and sweet taste of cherries – used as flavoring for cocktails.

Colorless and orange flavor – made in Angers, Anjou France, it is the highest quality and most renowned triple sec. Made from fine Brandy, with orange peel as the principal base.

A distinctive flavored liqueur made by mashing bananas in a spirit – used as flavoring for many cocktails. It is very sweet and yellow in color.

Made from coco and vanilla beans it is very sweet, there are 2 types: Brown and White but both have identical flavors, added to different drinks for coloring and flavoring purposes.

Made from steeping blackcurrants into brandy and then adding syrup, the most famous is from Dijon, France. Owing to the high Vitamin C content it is still regarded as health giving – used primarily as a flavoring agent.

Made from Cognac and fresh mint leaves, it comes as white or green, the green having been artificially colored. It is sweet and cool giving it a very distinctive flavor.

A liqueur made from dried bitter green orange peel, mace cloves and cinnamon, sweetened with a grape spirit (wine brandy). After infusion the spirit is distilled and becomes a triple sec white in color. All the Curacao’s are this base with coloring added.

·     Orange Curacao – color only added
·     Blue Curacao – color only added
·     Apricot Curacao – color and flavor added

Made from Scotch whisky, herbs and wild honey. The oldest and most famous Whisky liqueur, produced from Highland Malt Whisky and Heather Honey. Drambuie is a Gaelic word that means “the drink that satisfies”.

A strong flavored spirit literally meaning “water of life” usually fruit flavored.

Italian medicinal drinking bitters, claimed to be good for hangovers. (one for curing them, more for giving them).

A sweet liqueur flavored with strawberries

A sweet liqueur flavored with raspberries.

A Hazelnut liqueur created and distilled by the Frangelican Monks and bottled in a Monk shaped bottle.

An Italian liqueur that is yellow in color with a distinct herb aniseed flavor. Produced in Italy, it is set apart by the tall fluted bottle in which it is packaged. Named after an Italian soldier by the name Guiseppe Galliano.

A Cinnamon flavored Schnapps with Gold Leaf suspended in it. Bottled at 40%.

Sugar syrup made from rock sugar.

A French fine liqueur established in the 1880’s with a base of Cognac. It has a distinct orange flavor.

A syrup for flavoring and coloring drinks that is red in color. It is made from Pomegranates.

A heavy, rich Mexican liqueur with the taste of Mexican coffee beans.

A white Brandy distilled with Black Cherries and their Pits.

A liqueur made from Caraway and Cumin seeds with Herb flavors added. Supposed to have originated in Russia but popular in Germany. Kummel means Caraway seeds in German.

A Belgian liqueur distilled from Tangerine, which is then blended with Cognac.

An Italian liqueur distilled from Maraschino Cherries in Toregglia, Padova.

A Japanese liqueur made from Musk Melons, which gives the liqueur an exciting mint green color and powerful aroma. Now made in Mexico.

An Aniseed flavored spirit which is regarded as one of the national drinks of Greece and Cyprus, generally served with water.

An Eau De Vie flavored with Peaches. It is a very sweet liquor best served ice cold.

A spirit base liqueur that has been flavored and sweetened with Peaches.

A pure spirit, clear in color that resembles a lighter Crème De Menthe, some brands are high in proof. This is normally served ice cold and often drunk as a chaser with beer.

An Anise flavored liqueur infused with Herbs, used as an Absinthe substitute. The fruit of the Anise plant is one of the oldest flavorings used by man. Aniseed drinks will turn cloudy when mixed with water.

Spirit base flavored with Herbs, Aromatics and Spices to a secret recipe. The most common bases are Gin No. 1 and Vodka No. 6. Pimms was originally served in an oyster bar in London and was invented by a gentleman named James Pimm, the owner of that very bar.

Made from several liqueurs poured in series so that one floats on top of the other. Each has a different color and specific weight that permits floating. These drinks are not served as shooters as they are classic digestifs and aperitifs.

An Italian liqueur made from Anise, coffee bean flavoring and the Sambucca plant. Traditionally served alight with 3 coffee beans floating on top.

Originally made from Bourbon this American whisky liqueur is now made from a neutral base spirit. With approximately 150 ingredients including Herbs, Spices, Orange and Apricot, this is one of the most famous liqueurs on the market today.

A French liqueur that is flavored with strawberries and is red in color – used as a flavoring agent for many cocktails.

A Jamaican Rum based liqueur flavored with Blue Mountain coffee extracts, a hint of chocolate and spices. Named after a servant ‘Aunt Maria’. Serves well with coffee and cream.

A clear Curacao, used as a sweetener for many drinks. It is also a less refined and cheaper version of Cointreau.

An Italian Walnut liqueur.


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