Looking for Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine
During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into the mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” and “Forgotten Vines”. The post I’m offering you today was an opening post in the mini-series called “Liquid Pleasures Beyond Wine”.
Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…
So far in this blog we mostly talked about wine, wine as an experience. We tried to uncover some of the hidden secrets of the wine world, such as Rioja, second labels of the famous wines, or French sparkling wines. We looked at the wines which were famous, then almost disappeared and now slowly coming back, such as Madeira and Jerez. We also searched for wine values, by comparing wines made from the same grape but coming from the different places. Did we explore enough the world of wines? Not really, we didn’t even touch the tip of a tip of an iceberg. Nevertheless, as we are looking for experiences, let’s take a step outside of the wine world, and let’s take a look at the other “liquid pleasures”.
I’m talking about the group which is collectively called “spirits”, otherwise also known as “distilled beverages”, which is a name which is used in Wikipedia. Overall distillation is a process of separating liquids with the different boiling points, and its application goes way beyond the world of alcoholic beverages. Distillation first was uncovered about 2000 years ago, but first use for production of the “spirits” happened less than a thousand years ago. When applied to the wine or any other fermented substance (meaning that some degree of alcohol is present in the liquid to begin with), the end result of distillation is a liquid with increased concentration of alcohol.
Historically, such high-alcohol liquids had various uses – one of the most important ones, which also has nothing to do with drinking the liquid, was medicinal. Strong alcohol is an excellent antiseptic; it is used in order to disinfect the area of the body, to kill any potential bacteria thus preventing any possible contamination. However, while this very important, such applications are completely outside of the scope of this blog, so let’s go back to the stuff we drink.
There are many different kinds of the spirits produced in the world. Some have more universal appeal and can be produced in many countries following the same basic methodology, but some can be also unique for particular place (but if it is any good, it is extremely hard to keep a secret). Let’s take a quick look at the various types of the spirits – we will discuss some of them in detail in the subsequent posts.
Let’s start with Brandy – brandy is a spirit which is produced from wine. This can be an actual grape wine, or it can be a fruit wine – both can be used for the production of brandy. For instance, Cognac and Armagnac are both made from the grapes, and Calvados, another famous French brandy, is made from apples. Brandy is produced in France, Spain, Italy (where it is known as Grappa), Georgia, Armenia, US, Mexico and many other countries.
Next spirit we need to mention is Whisky, which is made out of grains (barley, rye, wheat, corn). This group includes Scotch, which is made in Scotland, and then Whiskey, which can be made in many different countries – for instance, Irish whiskey is made in Ireland, and in US you can find both Whiskey, which is often made from rye, and Bourbon, which is corn-based. Whisky is also produced in Japan, India, Canada and other countries.
Then comes Vodka – made all around the world, from all possible ingredients. It is made in France, Russia, Poland, Italy, US, Canada and many other countries. It can be made from grapes, fruits, grains, potatoes and probably some other ingredients we can’t even think of. Vodka is often called a “neutral spirit” as it is typically produced flavorless (some flavor can be infused before bottling), and thus it is a popular component in many cocktails.
To complete the “big scale” list of spirits, we need to mention a few more. Tequila, which is produced from the Blue Agave plant, is a very popular spirit coming from Mexico. I can’t resist to mention Mezcal, which is also made in Mexico using Agave plants, but it has distinctly different taste (and very hard to find). Then we need to mention Gin, which is also a popular cocktail ingredient and has a very distinct taste as it is produced from Juniper berries. And last but not least comes Rum, which is produced from sugarcane, and yet another popular cocktail staple.
As we are looking for the great experiences, should we even look at all these “hard liquors” as they often called in the United States? Absolutely. Moderation is a key when it comes to alcohol (this universally applies to any kind of alcoholic beverages – beer, wine or spirits) – but once this is understood, one can definitely enjoy immense richness and variety of flavors coming from all these spirits. They definitely create a lot of great experiences and unique memories, and they bring lots of pleasure. In the coming posts, we will take a closer look at some of them – and until that time – cheers!