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Glossary of Terms

This glossary covers bar equipment, spirits, liquors, ingredients and bar terminology.

Absinthe

A distillate steeped with or rectified with several herbal and botanical ingredients, including wormwood oil, which was responsible for the nearly worldwide ban on the production of absinthe, when it was determined that it contained thujon, a strong drug that causes epileptic type seizures when taken in large quantities. There is scientific agreement today that absinthe's high proof of 130 was more problematic than the chemicals in their herbal ingredients in their tiny amounts.

Agave

A large plant indigenous to South and Central America that looks like a cross between a giant pineapple and a cactus. The plant is actually a member of the Lily Family. There are hundreds of varieties of agave, cultivated and wild. The Weber Blue Agave is used to make tequila (see Blue Agave).

Aguardiente

“Burning water”, the word used in Spanish-speaking countries for brandy.

Akvavit, Akavit, Aquavit

Grain-based spirit made in Scandinavian countries, flavored with different herbs, the most common of which are caraway and fennel.

Alembic or Alambic still

The pot still, thought to have originated in China and brought to the West by the Moors, who introduced it to continental Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. The root of the word is the Arabic word for “still”, al-inbiq.

Ale

A beer made with yeast that work on the top of the mash during fermentation. Ale is the oldest style beer, usually served fresh without aging.

Amaretto

Almond and apricot-flavored liqueur, originally made in Italy, but now made in other countries as well.

Amaro

A category of italian liqueurs made with bitter herbs, usually served after a meal as a digestivo.

Angostura Bitters

First created in 1824 as a stomach tonic for Bolivar's jungle-weary troops. Originally produced in the town of Angostura in Venezuela, but today in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The formula for Angostura is secret, but the top flavor notes are cinnamon, allspice, and clove, 45% alcohol.

Anisette

A liqueur made in many countries (but originally France) that is flavored with aniseed.

Aperitif

Any drink before the main meal to stimulate the palate, and can encompass anything from wine and cocktails to Champagne.

Applejack

An American brandy made from a mash of at least 51% apples that is fermented then distilled, usually bottled at 40% alcohol; since this is aged in the same way as American whiskey, it is also sometimes called ”apple whiskey.”

Aqua vitae

Literally means “water of life”. Latin for spirits.

Arak, Arrack, Raki

A distillation originally made from date palm, now also from rice and sugar cane. Today it is made in the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia.

Aromatized wines

Wines that are flavored with herbs, spices, and fruits; examples include vermouth and other French and Italian apéritif wines.

Armagnac

French brandy from southern France. Either double distilled in pot stills or single distilled in a small continuous still, armagnac is considered a stronger style than cognac. There are three regions in Armagnac as defined by the AOC, Bas Armagnac (the best), Tenareze, and Haut Armagnac.

Blended Scotch Whisky

A blend of single malt whiskies (pot still/100-percent malted barley) and mixed grain whisky (continuous still/corn or wheat) made in Scotland. The whiskies are aged separately then blended and married for several months in casks before it is reduced to bottling strength. With a couple of exceptions, blended Scotch whisky is the best choice for cocktails.

Blended Straight Whiskey

A blend of 100 percent straight whiskeys of the same type, i.e. Rye bourbon, or corn from different distillers or from different seasons within one distillery.

Blended Whiskey

A minimum of 20 percent straight whiskeys at 100 proof that are blended with neutral grain whiskey or light whiskey.

Blue Agave Tequila

100 percent Blue Agave tequila is distilled from the fermented sugars of the Weber Blue Agave plant only, and must be bottled in Mexico. Like all tequila, 100 percent Blue Agave tequila can be aged or unaged. Agave plants are related to the lily family; they take eight to ten years to mature to the point where they can be used for tequila production, so the tequila made from 100 percent Agave is more expensive to produce than mixto or blended tequila.

Bonded Whiskey

Whiskey bottled “in bond” is stored in a government warehouse for anywhere between four and twenty years while it ages. It is not taxed until after it is bottled, a practice started in the 19th century to protect the whiskey maker from paying tax on spirits that evaporated during aging. Bonded whiskey is bottled at 100 proof, under government supervision.

Boston Shaker

A two-piece cocktail shaker comprised of a mixing glass and a slightly larger metal mixing cup that fits over it.

Bourbon

American whiskey made from a mash of between 51 percent to 80 percent corn (a small amount of barley, with either rye or wheat may be used), aged at least two years in new charred oak barrels.

Brandy

Distilled spirit derived from fermented fruit, usually aged in barrels.

Cachaça

A sugarcane spirit made in Brazil, usually distilled from fresh cut cane and usually bottled without oak aging. The Caipirinha is the most famous cocktail made with cachaça.

Calvados

An aged brandy made from up to 48 different apples (and even a few pears) in the Normandy region of France. The finest calvados is double distilled in a pot still in the Pays d'Auge district, then aged for a minimum of 6 years.

Cassis or Créme de Cassis

A liqueur made from black currant that is classic in a drink called a Kir, in which a small amount of cassis is added to a glass of white table wine. The Kir Royale is the same drink made with Champagne instead of white wine.

Cobbler

Wine- or spirit-based drinks made with sugar and water over lots of shaved ice and decorated with a generous garnish of fresh fruit. Some cobblers were shaken with fruit, like the Whiskey Cobbler.

Coffee Liqueurs

Made around the world, usually bottled between 25 percent and 30 percent alcohol, two well-known brands are Kahlua and Tia Maria.

Congeners

Impurities carried along with the molecules of alcohol vapor during distillation. They may derive from the base fruit or grain used in the original mash, or other organic chemicals encountered during the different stages of beverage alcohol production. The congeners are the elements that give a spirit its distinctive taste and aroma.

Continuous or Patent Still

The two-column still that was invented in the 1820s by Robert Stein and Aeneas Coffey.

Cordials

Sweet liqueurs flavored with fruits, herbs, botanicals, and spices. Most cordials are under 35 percent alcohol with some notable exceptions, such as Chartreuse (80-proof).

Crusta

A 19th century New Orleans drink that featured a sugar-rimmed stem glass garnished with a long spiral of lemon zest around the whole inside rim of the glass. The drink could be made with any spirits, the most common of which were gin, brandy, whiskey and rum, mixed with lemon juice, simple syrup, bitters, and a sweet liqueur (such as maraschino), shaken and served over crushed ice.

Curaçao

A liqueur first made from small bitter Curaçao oranges; now made in many countries, it comes in white, orange and blue. The color being the only difference.

Distillation

The process of separating parts of a liquid mixture through evaporation and condensation. Distillation is used to produce concentrated beverage alcohol, called ethanol.

Eau de Vie

French for “water of life”, but more specifically, a type of brandy made from fermented mash of fruit; only rarely aged in oak barrels. Eau de vie has evolved to be defined as a group of unaged digestif brandies made from stone fruits and other fruits like raspberries and strawberries.

Esters

Acid compounds resulting from distillation that give aroma to spirits.

Ethyl Alcohol

Beverage alcohol produced by the fermentation of a sugar solution.

Extra Anejo Tequila

A tequila that has been aged for at least three years in small oak barrels; production standards are tightly controlled by the government.

Fermentation

A process that converts sugar into heat, carbon dioxide gas and ethyl alcohol. This change is accomplished by a microorganism, called yeast.

Fizz

A spin-off of the sour, made possible by the appearance of “charged (or sparkling) water” in the mid-nineteenth century.

Flip

Colonial drinks made either with beer or rum, and some sweetener (though another version adds cream and eggs). Flips became much more sophisticated in the cocktail age, when they were made with sugar, a whole egg, and sherry or some spirit, shaken very well and served in a cocktail glass.

Fortified Wines

Wines with added alcohol such as port, vermouth, Madeira, and sherry.

Frappé

Drink served over snow or crushed ice.

Genever

(also known as junever, genievre, jenever, jeniever, peket or in England as Holland gin)

The juniper-flavored and strongly alcoholic traditional liquor made from malt wine in the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France (Nord département), from which gin evolved. It first appears in the historical record in Germany at the end of the 1400’s.

Gin

Grain spirit flavored with botanicals, specifically genièvre or juniper, and other flavors, including coriander, lemon peel, fennel, cassia, anise, almond, ginger root, orange peel, angelica and others.

Ginger Beer

A spicy soft drink, usually carbonated, made from ginger root; originated in Jamaica.

Grappa

Spirit from the leftover skins, seeds, and stems left over after grapes are pressed for wine. Grappa is usually unaged.

Grenadine

Sweet red syrup used in alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. The original flavor base was pomegranate, but many brands use artificial flavor.

Infusion

A method used in the production of fruit liqueurs, where fruit and other flavors are steeped in brandy for any extended time. After infusion, the mixture is strained, lowered to bottle proof with water, sweetened with sugar syrup, and then bottled.

Irish Whiskey

A triple distilled whiskey from Ireland, and a blend of pot-stilled malt whiskey, pot-stilled unmalted barley whiskey, and column-stilled grain whiskey. The malt used for Irish whiskey is usually not kilned or toasted with peat, so there is no smoky quality in the whiskey.

Julep

A historically popular American drink that has evolved into a bourbon drink mixed with fresh mint and sugar, served in a frosted silver cup over shaved ice.

Layering

Maintaining separate visible layers in a drink by slowly pouring over the back a spoon held inside the glass. The most famous layered drink is the Pousse Café.

Maceration

Maceration is the steeping of herbs, botanicals, or fruits in spirits of some kind for a period of time, after which the whole mixture may be distilled again. This process is used to flavor different types of spirits, such as liqueurs.

Madeira

Fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira, these are reputed to be among the longest-lived wines in the world, lasting well over a hundred years in some cases. Madeira seemed to improve in the steaming holds of sailing ships over long voyages. Today many Madeira makers recreate this cooking of the wine in a process, called estufagem, where aging warehouses are heated to over a hundred degrees to simulate the heat in the hold of a sailing vessel.

Maraschino Liqueur

A sweet, clear liqueur made from marasca cherries and cherry pits. Maraschino was a popular ingredient in early punches (especially champagne punches) and cocktails; it is almost never drunk straight.

Marc

The skins and seeds left over from the pressing in winemaking in France. Marc is fermented and distilled into a brandy of the same name similar to grappa, usually unaged or lightly aged.

Marsala

A fortified wine from Marsala, Sicily, in which a base wine is made and concentrates of boiled-down wine and grape juice mixed with spirits are blended into the wine. Most are aged in solera style systems.

Mash

A sweet and soupy blend of water and grains, prior to its fermentation by yeasts, into something like beer.

Mezcal

The general category of which tequila is a subcategory. To be clearer, all tequila is mezcal but all mezcal is not tequila. Mezcal is made primarily in Oaxaca, Mexico from the espadin species of agave, and it has a smoky quality from the slow baking of the agave piña in clay ovens over hot rocks.

Mistelle

A blend of raw grape juice and spirits sometimes used as a base for apéritif fortified wines, such as vermouth, and sometimes bottled as a standalone product, as in Pineau des Charentes.

Mixto

A tequila variety that consists of at least 51 percent blue agave, but also contains sugars from cane or other sources.

Muddler

A wooden tool shaped like the grinding tool of a mortar and pestle used to mash fruit and herbs with sugar or liqueur in the bottom of a bar mixing glass. This technique is essential for making Old-Fashioneds and Caipirinhas.

Old-Fashioned Glass

Holds 8 to 10 ounces of liquid and is often referred to as the “rocks” glass.

Orange Bitters

Alcohol-based bitters flavored with orange peel and other botanicals, it was a popular cocktail additive prior to Prohibition and was an ingredient in the first Dry Martini at the Knickerbocker Hotel, but was dropped in later recipes.

Orgeat Syrup

A milky, sweet almond syrup used extensively in baking. Orgeat is the often forgotten ingredient in Victor Bergeron's classic Mai Tai cocktail.

Ouzo

Greek anise-flavored liqueur.

Perry

Cider made from pears; or a combination of pears and apple.

Peychaud's Bitters

Antoine Peychaud of New Orleans created an all purpose flavoring and health tonic in 1793 from herbs and Caribbean spices that is believed to be the first commercial bitters in the Americas.

Port

Fortified wine from the Douro Valley of Portugal; comes in several styles, including vintage, vintage character, ruby, tawny and white. The grape varieties are numerous including Touriga Nacional, Bastardo, Tinta Francesa, Tinta Cao and Souzao. Two basic styles are Ruby and Tawny.

Proof

The alcoholic strength of a liquor, expressed by a number that is twice the percentage by volume of alcohol present. So, for example, if a product is 80 proof, it is 40% alcohol.

Pulque

The milky, low alcohol (5 to 7 percent), fermented drink made from syrupy agave juice, used centuries ago in Aztec rituals in Mexico. Mistakenly perceived by many ill-informed people to be the base for present-day tequila and mezcal, which it is not since pulque cannot be successfully distilled.

Punch

A five-ingredient drink made with sweet, sour, strong (spirits), spicy and weak (water) ingredients. Originated in India and popular in Colonial America and all over 18th century Europe.

Rectifying

Used to describe many different operations. Basically, it means to change a spirit in some way after it has been distilled. Those changes can include redistilling, adding flavor or color, and adding water to lower to bottle proof strength.

Rhum/Rum

Made from molasses, sugar cane juice or syrup, it was first produced in Barbados and Jamaica, traditionally double distilled. Rhum Agricole, made in the French-speaking Caribbean islands, is made from sugar cane juice, not molasses.

Rye

Whiskey aged for two years, with 51 percent or more rye in the mashbill.

Sake

Japanese beer (the Japanese call it wine, but it's made from grain, not grapes) made from fermented rice and usually sold at 18 percent alcohol or slightly higher.

Sambuca

Anise-based, licorice flavored Italian after-dinner liqueur often taken with coffee.

Sangria

A beverage originating in Spain made with red wine, sugar and fruits; garnished with fresh fruits and berries. There are lots of recipes to make sangria, but there should always be red wine and fruits.

Schnapps

A Scandinavian and German term for strong, colorless spirits, it is also used a slang for any strong spirit. Today schnapps is a popular category of low-end fruit and spice spirits made by many different companies.

Sherry

Spanish fortified wine from the province of Cadiz. Sherry is made in two basic types: Fino (always dry) and Oloroso (usually sweet and aged). Fino sherry has a long second fermentation during which a yeast scum, known as flor grows on top of the wine, adding flavor and protecting the wine from oxygen. All sherry is fermented dry; most oloroso sherry is sweetened with Pedro Ximenez, a very sweet (mostly) unfermented grape juice. Sherry is also often blended and aged by the solera system, a process of blending young wine with older wine to achieve complexity in a shorter period of time.

Shochu/Soju

A spirit distilled in Japan (as Shochu) and Korea (as Soju) from a great variety of base materials, including sweet potatoes, rice, buckwheat, carrots, molasses and many other raw products. Korean Soju is perhaps the world's most popular spirit.

Shooters

One-ounce shots of cocktails or straight spirits like Jagermeister that are downed in one gulp. Shooters are illegal in some states where the law prohibits serving more than one beverage at a time to a guest.

Simple Syrup

Syrup made from mixing equal parts sugar and water.

Single Malt Whisky

A 100 percent malted barley-based spirit produced in copper pot stills by a single distillery in Scotland. Bottled straight or used as a blending agent in Blended Scotch.

Sloe Gin

A misnomer for a liqueur made from wild plums called sloe berries. It is not a style of gin. Plymouth Sloe Gin is the quintessential example of the liqueur genre.

Sours

Cocktails made with a strong, sweet, and a sour ingredient. Those ingredients can vary widely from one sour to the next, but the proportions should remain the same. The proportions that appeal to the widest audience are one part sour to one part sweet to two parts strong.

Straight Whiskey

Any whiskey comprised of at least 51 percent any single grain in the mashbill, and distilled to not more than 160 proof.

Tequila

Produced in Mexico, derived from the Agave plant. There are four categories of aging of tequila: Blanco or silver is bottled after resting in stainless tanks for up to sixty days. Reposado is rested but in any sized wood container for sixty days to a year, and añejo is aged a minimum of one year in oak barrels. Extra Añejo is aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Gold tequila is typically colored with caramel, but not aged.

Tonic Water

A carbonated water that contains quinine and sugar. Contemporary examples usually have no quinine but contain other similarly bitter flavors.

Triple Sec

A liqueur made from the Curaçao oranges, produced in many countries. Triple sec is mostly a mixer and, unlike Cointreau, is almost never taken straight.

Uisge beatha or Usquebaugh

Literally translated to “water of life”, the old word for whisky in the British Isles. The first two syllables are nearly pronounced “oosky” and the word “whisky” is a direct lineage.

Vermouth

Fortified and flavored wines made in sweet or dry styles, used in cocktails and as an apéritif. The word originated from the German word for the wormwood plant, wermuth.

Vodka

From voda, the Russian word for water, vodka is distilled from grain and sometimes potatoes, and is mostly tasteless and odorless.

VS, VSOP, XO brandies

Very Special, and Very Superior Old Pale, and Extra Old are designations used in Cognac and Armagnac (and other brandy regions) to indicate minimum aging for their brandies. The actual ages for the three designations vary from region to region.

Wort

Cereal grain that has been malted (or sprouted) has converted many of its starches into sugars. Beer makers will typically roast the grain to stop the malting, and then cook the grain with water so that a sugar-rich grain soup is ready to be fermented into beer. This soup is called wort.

Whiskey/Whisky

From the Gaelic word, uisge beatha, meaning “water of life”, whiskey is made from grain that is ground into grist, then cooked with water to release starches. Malt is added to convert the starch into sugar, and then yeast to begin the fermentation process. The low proof liquid after fermentation is called beer, which after distillation becomes whiskey.

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