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Spirits Lexicon

Absinthe
Absinthe
Photo © Tina Rupp.

Absinthe

An anise-flavored spirit formerly banned in the United States. It’s flavored with such botanicals as wormwood, green anise and fennel seeds.

Agave nectar

A rich, sweet syrup made from the sap of the cactus-like agave plant.

Allspice dram

Also known as pimento dram; a rum-based liqueur infused with Jamaican allspice berries. St. Elizabeth and The Bitter Truth are good brands.

Amaro

A bittersweet Italian herbal liqueur often served as an after-dinner drink.

Angostura bitters

A brand of concentrated aromatic bitters created in Angostura, Venezuela, in 1824 from a secret combination of herbs and spices.

Aperol

A low-proof Italian aperitif flavored with bitter orange, rhubarb and gentian.

Apfelkorn

A low-proof apple schnapps made by blending a wheat-based spirit with sugar and fresh apples.

Apple brandy

A distilled fermented apple cider that is aged in oak barrels. Most of the brandy is bottled at 80 proof, but bonded apple brandy, which is preferable in cocktails because of its concentrated green-apple flavor, is 100 proof.

Applejack

An American apple brandy that’s blended with neutral spirits.

Apricot brandy

A sweet brandy-based amber liqueur flavored with apricots.

Aquavit

A clear, grain- or potato-based Scandinavian spirit flavored with caraway seeds and other botanicals, such as fennel, anise and citrus peel.

Averna

A bitter Italian liqueur flavored with herbs and citrus peel.

Barolo Chinato

An Italian digestif made from Nebbiolo-based wine (produced in Piedmont’s Barolo zone) and various herbs and spices, including cardamom, rhubarb and quinine (china).

Bärenjäger

An intensely honey-flavored proprietary German liqueur.

Batavia Arrack

A clear spirit from Java that is made from fermented sugarcane and red rice.

Becherovka

A bittersweet liqueur produced in the Czech Republic from the recipe that pharmacist Josef Becher used to formulate his apothecary bitters in 1807.

Belle de Brillet

A French liqueur made by infusing Cognac with macerated ripe Alsatian pears.

Bénédictine

A brandy-based herbal liqueur derived from a recipe developed by a French monk in 1510.

Bianco vermouth

An aromatic, sweet Italian white vermouth traditionally served on the rocks as an aperitif.

Bitters

A concentrated tincture of bitter and aromatic herbs, roots and spices that adds complexity to drinks. Varieties include orange, grapefruit, rhubarb and aromatic bitters, the best known of which is Angostura, created in Angostura, Venezuela, in 1824. Germany’s Bitter Truth makes bitters in traditional flavors as well as unusual ones like celery and chocolate. Fee Brothers bitters, which come in 12 flavors, have been made in Rochester, New York, for more than 60 years. Peychaud’s bitters have bright anise and cranberry flavors; the recipe dates to 19th-century New Orleans.

Bonal Gentiane-Quina

A slightly bitter French aperitif wine infused with gentian root and cinchona bark, which contains quinine.

Bonded Whiskey

A whiskey that’s been produced by a single distillery, distilled during a single season, aged a minimum of four years, bottled at 100 proof and stored in a "bonded" warehouse under U.S. government supervision.

Cachaça

A potent Brazilian spirit distilled from sugarcane juice.

Calvados

A cask-aged brandy made in the Normandy region of France from apples and sometimes pears.

Campari

A potent, bright red Italian aperitif made from fruit, herbs and spices.

Cane Syrup

A very sweet, thick syrup made by evaporating the water from sugarcane juice.

Carpano Antica Formula

A rich and complex crimson-colored sweet Italian vermouth.

Chartreuse

A spicy French herbal liqueur made from more than 100 botanicals; green Chartreuse is more potent than the honey-sweetened yellow one.

Cherry Heering

A Danish brandy-based cherry liqueur.

Cherry Kijafa

A sweet Danish cherry wine that’s fortified with brandy.

Cocchi Aperitivo Americano

A low-alcohol, wine-based aperitif infused with citrus, herbs such as gentian and quinine-rich cinchona bark.

Cognac

An oak-aged brandy made from grapes grown in France’s Charente region. VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) Cognac must be aged a minimum of four years in French oak barrels.

Cointreau

A French triple sec that is made by macerating and distilling sun-dried sweet and bitter orange peels.

Crème de cassis

A sweet, black currant-flavored liqueur.

Crème de violette

A sweet, violet-flavored and -colored liqueur.

Créole Shrubb

A potent liqueur made by infusing a blend of Martinican rums with bitter orange peel and pulp and Caribbean spices.

Curaçao

A rum-based orange liqueur flavored with Creole spices and bitter orange peels.

Cynar

A pleasantly bitter Italian liqueur made from 13 herbs and plants, including artichokes.

Dimmi

A fruity and floral liqueur infused with licorice, vanilla, bitter orange and peach.

Drambuie

A whisky-based Scottish liqueur flavored with honey, herbs and spices.

Dubonnet

A wine-based, quinine-enhanced aperitif that comes in two varieties. The rouge is full-bodied. The drier blanc is a good substitute for dry vermouth.

Eau-de-vie

A clear, unaged fruit brandy. Classic varieties include framboise (raspberry), poire (pear), abricot (apricot), kirsch (cherry) and mirabelle (plum).

Fernet-Branca

A potent, bitter Italian digestif made from 27 herbs.

Fee Brothers bitters

A brand of bitters made in Rochester, New York, for more than 60 years. Classic flavors include orange and peach; grapefruit is a newer flavor.

Galliano

A yellow Italian liqueur made with up to 30 herbs, berries and flowers, including licorice, anise and vanilla.

Genever
Genever
Photo © Tina Rupp.

Genever

A clear, botanically rich, malted grain-based spirit from Holland. Oude refers to the maltier old-style; lighter, less malty versions are called jonge.

Grenadine

A sweet red syrup made from pomegranate juice and sugar (see the Homemade Grenadine recipe).

Gum Syrup

A simple syrup that’s been thickened with gum arabic, a natural gum made from the sap of acacia trees.

Herbsaint

An anise-flavored absinthe substitute produced in New Orleans.

Kirsch

Short for kirschwasser; an unaged brandy or eau-de-vie produced by pot-distilling crushed cherries and their pits.

Kümmel

A grain-based liqueur first distilled in Holland in the late 1500s. It’s flavored with cumin, caraway and fennel.

Licor 43

A citrus-and-vanilla-flavored Spanish liqueur made from a combination of 43 herbs and spices.

Lillet

A wine-based French aperitif flavored with orange peel and quinine. The lesser-known rouge variety is sweeter than the more widely available blanc.

Limoncello

An intensely flavored Italian liqueur made from lemon peels soaked in neutral spirits, then sweetened with sugar.

Madeira

A fortified wine from the island of Madeira, usually named for one of four grape varieties: sercial (the driest), verdelho, bual or malmsey, which are progressively sweeter.

Maraschino liqueur
Maraschino liqueur
Photo © Tina Rupp.

Maraschino liqueur

A clear Italian liqueur, the best of which is distilled from sour marasca cherries and their pits, aged in ash barrels, then sweetened with sugar.

Marsala

A Sicilian fortified wine; styles include secco (dry), which is often served as an aperitif, and semisecco (semisweet) and dolce (sweet), which are commonly served as dessert wines.

Mead

A fermented honey-based beverage that is often flavored with herbs, spices or flowers.

Metaxa

A greek brandy sweetened with Muscat wine; aged up to 30 years.

Mezcal

An agave-based spirit with a smoky flavor that comes from roasting the agave hearts in pits before fermentation. The best mezcal is made in Mexico’s Oaxaca region.

Navan

A Cognac infused with black Madagascar vanilla.

Nocino

An Italian or Swiss liqueur traditionally made from brandy or grappa, unripe walnuts, sugar and spices.

Noilly Prat rouge

A bittersweet red vermouth from the south of France made from a secret mixture of herbs and spices, including saffron, quinine and cloves.

Orange Bitters

A concentrated infusion of neutral alcohol, orange peel, herbs and spices such as cardamom

Orgeat

A sweet, nonalcoholic syrup made from almonds or almond extract, sugar and rose or orange flower water.

Overproof Rum

Also known as 151-proof rum, a high-octane spirit that’s often used for flaming drinks.

Parfait Amour

A purple French liqueur flavored with orange, violets and vanilla.

Pastis

A licorice-flavored French spirit that turns cloudy when mixed with water. It’s similar to absinthe but sweeter and lower in alcohol.

Pernod

A French producer of a liqueur made from the essential oils of star anise and fennel combined with herbs, spices, sugar and a neutral spirit. Pernod recently rereleased their absinthe, which, like all absinthes, had been banned in the United States since 1912.

Peychaud’s bitters
Peychaud’s bitters
Photo © Tina Rupp.

Peychaud’s bitters

A brand of bitters with bright anise and cranberry flavors; the recipe dates to 19th-century New Orleans.

Pimm’s No. 1

A gin-based English aperitif often served with ginger beer or lemonade.

Pineau des Charentes

A low-proof French spirit made by combining unfermented grape juice and young Cognac, then briefly aging in oak.

Pisco

A clear brandy distilled from grapes in the wine-producing regions of Peru and Chile

Poire Williams

A pear eau-de-vie, usually made in Switzerland or the Alsace region of France.

Pommeau de Normandie

A French aperitif spirit made by adding fresh-pressed apple juice to young Calvados, then aging it in oak.

Port

A fortified wine from the Douro region of Portugal. Styles include fruity, young ruby port; richer, nuttier tawny; thick-textured, oak-aged late bottled vintage (LBV); and decadent vintage port, made from the best grapes in the best vintages. Dry white port is often served chilled, as an aperitif.

Punt e Mes

A spicy, orange-accented sweet Italian vermouth fortified with bitters.

Rhum agricole

An aromatic rum made in the French West Indies from sugarcane juice. When aged from one to six months, it is bottled as white rhum agricole, or rhum blanc; aged for a minimum of three years, it can be sold as aged rhum agricole, or rhum vieux.

Root Liqueur

A sugarcane-distilled liqueur flavored with birch bark, smoked black tea, citrus peels, cloves and other spices. Art in the Age, in Philadelphia, is the main producer.

Rye whiskey

A primarily rye-based distilled spirit, often blended with corn mash and barley. American straight rye whiskey is produced from a mash of at least 51 percent rye, aged in new charred oak barrels for at least two years and diluted with nothing but water.

Sherry

A fortified wine from Spain’s Jerez region. Varieties include dry styles like fino and manzanilla; nuttier, richer amontillado and oloroso; and viscous sweet Pedro Ximénez (PX) and cream sherry. East India sherry falls between an oloroso and a PX in style.

Shochu

An unaged or lightly aged, clear East Asian spirit distilled most commonly from rice, barley, buckwheat and/or a variety of sweet potato.

Sloe gin

A bittersweet liqueur produced by infusing gin or a neutral spirit with sloe berries and sugar.

St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

An Austrian rum-based liqueur infused with Jamaican allspice berries.

St-Germain elderflower liqueur

A French liqueur made by blending macerated elderflower blossoms with eau-de-vie. It has hints of pear, peach and grapefruit zest.

Strega

An Italian liqueur infused with about 70 herbs and spices, including saffron, which gives it a golden yellow color.

Triple sec

An orange-flavored liqueur that is similar to curaçao but not as sweet. Cointreau, created in France in 1875, is the most famous.

Tuaca

A brandy-based Italian liqueur flavored with vanilla and citrus.

Velvet Falernum

A low-alcohol, sugarcane-based liqueur from Barbados flavored with clove, almond and lime.

Vermouth

An aromatic fortified wine. The dry variety is used in martinis. sweet vermouth, which is usually red, is often used for Manhattans. Bianco, or blanc, vermouth is an aromatic, sweet white vermouth traditionally served on the rocks.

Zwack

An intense Hungarian herbal liqueur produced since 1790 from a secret blend of more than 40 herbs and spices.

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