Sunday, July 25, 2010

Spirits: Part 1

Spirits are high-strength alcoholic liquids produced by distillation, such as whiskey, and vodka. Spirits are just as complex as wine.  Ever wonder what do XO, VS, VSOP mean? Why is XO highly sought after by Asians? Why makes each spirit unique and delicious?

This highly prized liquid is so poorly understood by its consumer.  This series is aim to give you a small foundation into the world of spirit.

The flavours depends three things:
1. The type of distillation process (high strength neutral of low strength characterful)
2. The bas alcoholic liquid used (the type of fruit, grain or vegetable)
3. The type of maturation they receive after distillation (period in oak, type of oak)

This might sound super easy and much simpler than wine.  In the contrary, the production process of a spirit require a lot more human intervention than wine and each spirit brand go through great length to ensure their spirit taste to ensure their spirits have consistent quality and identical tastes every year.

Distillation Process
For the production of spirit, the aim is to increase the alcohol content of the liquid.  There are two types of distillation process:

Pot Stills: the traditional and simplest kind of distillation.  The base alcoholic juice is placed in a pot, often made from copper, and heated.  Evaporated alcohol is then collected. Because this processes is rather inefficient, several distillations are often needed to achieve the desired alcohol strength and flavour.  However, this is the ideal and, sometimes, legally enforced method for making flavored spirits, such as cognac, armagnac, brandies, Scotch, etc.

Continuous Still: Is the more efficient and more industrial version of distillation.  Unlike pot still, you will never need to distill the pot in batches.  The process is, as the name suggests, continuous, and the end product are very close to pure ethanol.  Then, it is diluted down with water before bottling.   This method filter out whatever flavour the alcohol may have and is perfect for making vodka and other cheaper, mass produced spirits.

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