There are so many ingredients available to both the amateur and professional mixologist, here we aim to briefly cover the bulk of ingredients used to encourage you to try some of the many different types available.
Spirits are made by distilling fermented grains, fruits or vegetables. The distillation allows them to achieve higher alcohol content than fermentation alone. The ABV of a spirit is 20% or higher. Each spirit has a unique flavour which is dependent upon the production process and the ingredients added during this. The colour and flavour of a spirit help determine its suitability for use in different cocktails or whether it is best consumed neat. Each brand of spirit also goes through a different production process and will consequently have its own characteristics, although the law will likely determine some of the production process it needs to follow in order to gain classification as a particular spirit.
Types of spirits:
Highly alcoholic anise flavoured spirit (45% - 90% ABV) derived from the wormwood plant (Artemisia Absinthium) which contributes to its natural green colour. It’s very high proof means that it is often diluted with water before being consumed.
Throughout its existence, Absinthe has been banned in many countries including the US and most European countries, it has however never been banned in the UK and it is thought that its resurgence in the 1990s was partly due to this fact. There are now hundreds of absinthe brands on the market today.
Throughout the ages, many creative people have popularised absinthe such as Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde and people believed that it had hallucinogenic properties, this has however now been disproved.
Brandy (35 – 60% ABV, with most around 40% ABV) is distilled from fruit wine and then either aged in wooden barrels or coloured with caramel to give the appearance of aging. There are three main brandy types:
Armagnac is a type of grape brandy produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, France. It is distilled from wine in column stills and then aged in oak barrels.
Cognac comes from the wine growing region which surrounds the town of Cognac in France. It must be made from at least 90% Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche or Colombard grapes to gain its classification, it must then be distilled twice in copper pot stills and aged in French oak barrels for at least two years.
Many fruits other than grapes can be used with Apples, Apricot, Cherry and Peach being the most popular.
Calvados is a speciality brandy made in the Calvados region of France in Lower Normandy. It is a type of apple brandy made by fermenting apples to make a cider and then distilling this and aging in oak casks.
Pomace is the remains of a fruit after it has been pressed which is then fermented and distilled, helping to reduce wastage.
Grappa is a very popular type of pomace brandy made in Italy.
Gin & Genever
Gin is a distilled grain spirit which is then either redistilled with juniper berries to give it a distinctive flavour (distilled gin) or flavoured without a second distillation (compound gin). Genever is the national drink of the Netherlands where gin evolved from and is made from malt liquor rather than neutral grain spirits, it has a stronger flavour and is usually drunk neat.
Pisco (30 – 50% ABV, with most around 40%) is a South American spirit which is most commonly produced in Peru and Chile, it is produced by distilling wine (fermented grape juice) and then aging (Peruvian pisco is generally aged in glass or similar material meaning that it takes on no additional flavour, while Chilean pisco is generally aged in wood which can alter the flavour).
This is a highly alcoholic Irish whiskey (60-95% ABV) distilled from malted barley or potatoes, banned in Ireland from the 17th Century, it was not legally allowed to be sold again until 1997. It is not aged or diluted which leads to a clear spirit which is one of the strongest in the world.
Rum is most often distilled from sugarcane molasses and then aged in wooden barrels, which determines the colour of the rum. It has an ABV of around 35 – 80%, with most coming in around 40% while overproof rum would come in at the much higher end of the scale (70%+).
Cachaca (38 – 80% ABV) is the national spirit of Brazil and is made by distilling fermented sugarcane juice (as opposed to molasses). Cachaca can be classified as a type of Rum. It can be white (when bottled immediately after distillation) or aged (aged in wooden barrels and more often drunk neat, with more flavour and a golden colour).
Shochu is a clear spirit which is produced in Japan, it has a lower alcohol content than most spirits with most brands coming in at 25% (for classification it can have an ABV of 25 – 35% for multiple distillation and up to 45% for single distillation). Shochu is traditionally drunk with hot water but has recently started to be used in cocktails. It is now outselling Sake in Japan, although still not widely available in other countries some brands are looking to expand into these. Shochu can be made from a variety of different ingredients, depending on the region in which it is produced including fruit, grains, raw sugar and potatoes with each producing a very different flavour.
Tequila & Mezcal
Tequila and Mezcal are both spirits which are made by distilling the drink made from fermenting blue agave leaves (agave tequilana). They differ in the treatment of the leaves before fermentation takes place, for tequila, the agave leaves are slowly baked in steam ovens while for mezcal, they are baked underground with charcoal (giving a smoky flavour). Both have an ABV of around 35 – 55% which most settling at around 40%.
This is a type of fortified white wine which is aromatised with herbs and spices which varies by brand. Its ABV is limited to 18% for classification purposes. Vermouth is generally bitter after the initial production (as in the dry varieties) but can also be sweetened such as in the White (sweetened) variety and Red vermouth (whose colour is from the plants used in production and sweetening with dark caramel).
Vodka is distilled from a fermented substance of various grasses (such as grain, rye and wheat) and potatoes or sugar beet molasses. It usually has an alcohol percentage of 35 – 50% which most brand name vodkas coming in at around 40%. Flavoured vodkas are becoming very popular in the marketplace today, with varieties including vanilla, chocolate, fruits and pepper which can be very useful when creating cocktails to take away the sharpness of the alcohol and produce a better depth of flavour.
Whisky is distilled from fermented grain mash, this is then aged in wooden barrels which makes a large contribution to the final flavour due to such a long period of aging (a minimum of 3 years in many whisky producing countries). There are many different varieties in the marketplace depending predominantly on the grain and type of wood used in the aging process. Whisky traditionally has an ABV of around 40%.
A liqueur is an alcoholic drink that has been bottled with added sugar, producing a sweet flavour and traditionally with a lower alcohol by volume than many spirits (around 15 – 40% but most are between 15 – 25%). They are most often flavoured with fruits, herbs, spices, cream and nuts. They are great for making cocktails since they have distinctive sweet flavours which complement many different mixers without adding too much sharpness and they are also easy to layer which along with their variety of colours makes them great for shooters.
The high water content of fruits and vegetables means that many contain a lot of juice which can be extracted via squeezing or macerating. Juice bought in shops can take many forms although we recommend using fresh juice when feasible or even better, juicing the fruits and vegetables at home yourself. Juices are used in a variety of cocktails to add flavour and dilute the alcohol content of the drink to make it more palatable.
Sodas are drinks that have been carbonated to make them fizzy. They come in a variety of different flavours, with many being fruit based, although brands really dominate the soft drink marketplace. Coca cola, known throughout the globe and one of the most successful brands of the past hundred years, although I think it is likely that most people would struggle to describe it’s taste, it has now developed to simply Coke and similar varieties now sell products under this name. Other popular brands include Fanta, 7Up, Sprite, Dr Pepper and Pepsi which are all part of larger drink companies.
Sodas make excellent mixers for cocktails, although it is important to remember not to shake them otherwise they lose their carbonation. They dilute the drink, lowering the ABV and making it more palatable. They also help alter or enhance the flavour of spirits and drink combinations and add a fizzy bubbled texture to the drink.
Other carbonated mixers, which are not strictly soda, but also have similar benefits for making cocktails include soda water, tonic water and ginger ale.
Syrups are a liquid with high sugar content and are often flavoured. Some people consider them to be superior to sugar as sugar is harder to mix with alcoholic drinks or mixers, whereas syrup adds sweetness and can be easily mixed. Others find their combination of flavour and sweetness incredibly useful when making cocktails, especially when trying to emulate the flavour of another food item or trying to enhance particular flavours within a drink. Two of the most commonly used syrups in bartending are sugar syrup or simple syrup (similar to gomme syrup) which is simply sugar dissolved in water, this can be done be adding equal quantities of water and sugar in a pan and dissolving the sugar by applying heat and stirring, changing the quantities will alter the flavour and texture of the resulting syrup. The other is sweet and sour mix, this is most popular in the US and is usually a combination of lemon/lime juices and sugar.
Fresh fruit has a variety of uses in making cocktails, both to enhance the flavour of the drink and to garnish it. The fruit can be muddled with sugar to release essential oils from the peel (citrus fruits), or to release the juice from fruits without a peel (berries). Releasing essential oils gives drinks an extra depth and intensity of flavour which cannot be achieved with juicing alone. Fruits can also be juiced by hand to dilute the drink, lowering its ABV, and providing a more pleasant flavour than alcohol alone. Fruit zest can also be added to drinks to enhance the intensity of flavour in the drink.
Fruits are also incredibly useful in garnishing drinks whether it is as a simple as floating zest or a wheel or something more complicated such as flags, boats or twists. Fresh fruit is such a versatile tool when making cocktails and really one that you can’t go without. With hundreds of different fruits available there are limitless possibilities for incredible drink creation.