Types of Spirits

Glasses of different types of spirits.

Bourbon Whiskey

The American Whiskey, this whiskey is made from a combination of spring water, corn, rye and barley malt.  Bourbon must be made from a minimum of 51% corn, but no more than 80%.  Bourbon derives its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky where this particular type of whiskey was developed.

Tennessee Whiskey

This whiskey is technically similar to bourbon.  Tennessee whiskey is charcoal filtered prior to aging.  This eliminates impurities and adds flavor to aging in charred oak barrels.  The most famous whiskey in this category is Jack Daniel’s.  Another distinctive whiskey in this category is Gentleman Jack, which is charcoal filtered again after again to give it a smoother finish.

Canadian Whiskey

This is a distinct product of Canada and is made only from grains [corn, rye and barely malt].  It may be bottled after three years of age.  In the United States, it is usually 4 to 6 years old.  Brands include Canadian Mist, Canadian Club, Black Velvet, Seagram’s VO and Crown Royal.

Irish Whiskey

This is a distinct product of Ireland.  Irish whiskey is a blended whisky.  It is made from a mash of cereal grains, mostly barley [malted and unmalted], wheat, oats, corn and rye.  Most Irish whiskeys are made in pot stills, imparting a unique taste, and triple distilled to produce a lighter, smoother spirit.

Rye Whiskey

This whiskey is made from a mixture of grains with at least 51% being rye.  It has a strong and distinctive flavor of caraway seeds.

Blended Scotch Whiskey

Scotch is made from as many as fifty different malt and grain whiskeys.  When an age of the scotch is stated on the bottle, it identifies the youngest whiskey in the blend.  The distinctive flavor of scotch comes from malted barley that is dried over peat-fueled fires and later distilled into a liquid.

Single Malt Scotch Whiskey

This whisky is produced by the pot still method of distillation from a mash consisting of only malted barley.  These scotches are usually darker in color than blended scotch due to the extra time spent aging in casks.  Popular brand names include Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Laphroaig.


Rum is a result of distillation process of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, molasses, sugar beets, maple sap or other sugar cane by –products.  White rums must be aged a minimun of one year.  Gold rums are aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of three years.


Vodka is an alcohol made from a mash of grain, distilled at a high proof.  The final product must be “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.”


This clear spirit must have a juniper berry flavor and cannot have an age claim.  It can have corn, wheat, rye barely or sugar cane as a base.  The essence of flavor of gin is derived by steeping the ingredients with the case spirit to produce the gin.


Tequila is distilled from the fermented juice of the blue agave plant, which resembles a cactus.  Tequila can come only from a specific geographic region of Mexico, in the state of Jalisco in or around the town of Tequila.  If produced outside this area, it is called mescal.  Mexcal can be made from different varieties of agave.


Cognac is a brandy made from grapes that are very acidic.  After fermenting into wine, it is distilled twice within strict parameters.  Cognac is a blend of many vintages.  Its age is determined only by the amount of time spend in the oak cask. Cognac designations and their meanings are:

V = Very

E = Extra

X = Extremely 

P = Pale

O = Old

S = Superior 

VS means that the average age of the blend is 5 to 9 years.  VO, VSOP means the average age of the blend is from 12 to 20 years.  XO, Napoleon, VVSOP, Cordon bleu, Vielle reserve and others designate that a large portion of the blend of cognac contained has been aged for 20, 30, 40 years or even longer.


Armagnac is technically a brandy but often confused with cognac.  While cognac comes from the Cognac region of Western France, Armagnac hails from the Armagnac region of France.  Grapes are fermented into wine and then distilled once and aged for a minimum of three years.  Armagnac is fuller and richer than Cognac and is described as mellow.


Brandy is made by distilling wines or the fermented mash of fruit.  It is then aged in barrels for varying lengths of time.  It takes ten gallons of wine to produce one gallon of brandy.


Grappa is a distillate made from the stems, pulp, skins and pits of grapes.  Other fruits can also be used to produce Grappa.  Water is added to the residue and double distilled.  It is then store and bottled at a young age.

Cordials and Liqueurs

These describe the same beverage. Cordial is the American version.  These alcohol beverages have aromas, flavors or scents added to alcohol through one of  four different methods: maceration, infusion, percolation or distillation.


Vermouth is a wine that has been altered by infusion of any number of herbs, spices or aromatic plants.


Sake is made from rice and is legally defined as rice beer.