Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Stock Your Bar: Everything You Need To Know About Liquor
The first thing to know is that you don't need to have every kind of liquor to have a decently stocked bar. Probably the four most popular liquors are vodka, gin, light rum and tequila. Others you can get will include brandy and whiskey. Most common drinks can be made with these.
Vodka. My introduction to vodka was while I was a student in Russia, where it is arguably the most popular liquor available. It is believed to have Polish or Russian origins and typically has no color, taste or smell - which makes it great for combining with almost any mixer. There are dozens of vodka martini recipes available. Commonly imbibed 'neat' (without ice, water or mixers) in Europe, it is usually bottled at between 80 and 110 proof (multiply the 'alcohol by volume' on the label). I used vodka in my 'Hypnotini Cocktail'.
Gin. This is a clear liquor made from grain and flavored with juniper berries. The London dry gin, in addition to the juniper berries, is flavored with citrus extracts. Some common drinks such as the classic martini and the ubiquitous gin and tonic are made with gin. Now a quick aside on making martinis: shaking the ingredients in ice mixes and chills the ingredients, but if you shake vigorously, you'll dilute the drink. If you want a drink with concentrated, well-rounded flavor, give it a smooth shake instead. It is bottled at about 80 proof.
Tequila. Oh, for a Margarita! Its main ingredient is tequila - a liquor made from the agave plant, originally from Mexico. It is sometimes called the 'cactus whiskey'. Tequila comes in different ways. The 'white' (blanco) or 'silver' (plata) tequila is young, not aged and is generally harsher to the taste. Next is the 'gold' (oro) tequila, which is silver tequila with caramel coloring, sugar-based syrups and other extracts, meant to give an aged look, but these additives also make the liquor kinder on the palate. This is the kind typically used in margaritas and other mixed drinks. The 'rested' (reposado) tequila is aged 2-12 months and, of course, tastes much better. At the other end of the spectrum are the 'vintage' (añejo) - aged for at least a year and the ultra aged 'extra añejo' - aged for at least 3 years. These are best enjoyed in a brandy snifter.
Rum. Closely connected with the Caribbean islands of the 'West Indes', rum became the fabled drink of the pirates of the high seas. It is made from sugarcane juice or sugarcane molasses. Light rums are generally colorless with a light flavor and are typically used in cocktails like daiquiris. Gold rums are aged and amber in color. They have a richer flavor than other rum types. Other variations of rum include dark rum, which is darker than gold rum, has a distinct flavor and aroma, and is great for cooking as well. Flavored rum has added flavors such as citrus, banana, mango, chocolate, vanilla and many others. Then, of course we have the overproof rum which is bottled at a proof of 151-160 (ahem!) and the premium rums, usually consumed neat.
Whiskey and Brandy. These two categories deserve a post on their own to do justice to the varieties available. It wouldn't do to upset the brandy and whiskey snobs out there! If you're interested in knowing more, let me know and I'll move that post to the front of the queue!
The Extras. Apart from these main ingredients listed above, you need to have some mixers, so you can make different cocktails. Coke, ginger ale, club soda, orange juice and cranberry juice are a good place to start. Also available in your liquor store or grocery aisles will be lots of mixers for making a host of different cocktails and drinks. When you're expecting guests, make sure you have some garnishes on hand - olives, maraschino cherries, lemons and limes always come in handy.
So, make sure you click on the links for more information and for some great cocktail recipes. If you have any questions you want answered, or if you have a great cocktail recipe you'd like to share, let me know.
Until then, it's "proost", "santé", "cheers", and "для здоровья" from me!