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Synonyms:   spirits = hard alcohol = booze = hard liquor


Liquor refers to distilled alcoholic beverages like whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, tequila, and brandy.  These are almost always more potent than fermented alcoholic beverages like beer and wine.   It's best to store liquor in a cool, dark place, and to drink it within a year after opening the bottle.  Unlike wine, liquor stops aging once it's bottled.   Don't confuse liquors with liqueurs, which are made with liquor but sweetened and flavored with herbs, fruit, spices, flowers, nuts, or roots. 



akvavit  See aquavit.

amber rum = gold rum = añejo rum = brown rum   Notes:    This is similar to white rum, but has a stronger flavor.  Most of it is made in Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Barbados, and the Virgin Islands.  Bacardi, Ronrico, and DonQ are popular brands.  Substitutes:  white rum (milder flavor) OR dark rum (stronger flavor) OR whiskey OR cognac  See also:  rum.


añejo rum  See amber rum

aquavit = akvavit = akevit = snaps    Pronunciation:  AW-kwuh-veet   Notes:   This is made by Scandinavians, who distill it from potatoes or grains and flavor it with caraway seeds or other spices.  They like to drink it chilled and straight, in small, narrow glasses.  Don't confuse it with aqua vitae, or fruit brandy.  Substitutes:  vodka

Batavia arak = Batavia arrack   Notes:   This is an aromatic rum that's produced in Java. 

blended whiskey   Notes:   Blended whiskies are mixtures of different kinds of straight whiskies and neutral spirits.  After they're blended, they're allowed to age together for awhile so that the flavors can marry.   Whiskey should be served at room temperature.  Substitutes:   Bourbon OR Scotch


Bourbon whiskey = Bourbon whisky = Bourbon = Kentucky whiskey   Notes:    Though milder than Scotch, Bourbon is well regarded by whiskey connoisseurs.  To be called Bourbon, whiskey must be produced in Kentucky and be made mostly with corn.  Jim Beam is a popular brand, but more serious Bourbon lovers seek out Maker's Mark.  Whiskey should be served at room temperature.  Substitutes:  blended whiskey OR sour-mash whiskey (This has a milder flavor.) OR Scotch (especially for sipping) OR cognac (especially for cooking) OR rum OR Substitute one part vanilla extract plus two parts water for each tablespoon of bourbon. OR sherry OR Bourbon extract (use much less) OR Substitute one teaspoon non-alcoholic vanilla extract plus two teaspoons water for each tablespoon of bourbon.  


brown rum  See amber rum.


Canadian whisky  Notes:   These blended whiskies have a lighter body than those made in the United States.  Crown Royal and Canadian Club are popular brands.  Canadians follow the British convention of spelling whisky without an "e."  Whiskey should be served at room temperature.  Substitutes:  Irish whiskey OR Scotch (not as light) OR blended whiskey OR 1 part vanilla extract + 2 parts water OR sherry  

clear rum  See white rum


corn whiskey = moonshine = white lightning = hooch   Notes:   Like Bourbon, corn whiskey is made from corn, but it's not nearly as elegant and smooth as its pricier relative.  It's a bit hard to find, but some brands--like Platte Valley, Virginia Lightning and Turkey Mountain--are still being produced. Whiskey should be served at room temperature.  Substitutes: another cheap whiskey  See also:  whiskey



dark rum = Jamaican rum    Notes:    Dark rum has a strong molasses flavor, and it's much heavier than white or amber rums.  It's used to make Planter's Punch, but many people like to drink the expensive stuff neat.  The best dark rum is made in Jamaica, but Martinique, Cuba, and Haiti are also important producers.  Myers is a popular brand.  Substitutes:  demerara rum (stronger flavor) OR amber rum (milder flavor) OR whiskey  See also:  rum.

demerara rum = demeraran rum   Notes:   This dark, heavy rum comes from Demerara River region in Guyana.  It's often used to make Zombies.   Substitutes: dark rum (lighter color) OR amber rum (even milder) OR whiskey 

ethanol  See grain alcohol

ethyl alcohol  See grain alcohol.  

Everclear   See grain alcohol. 


gin   Pronunciation:  JIN   Notes:   This is distilled from grains and similar to vodka except that it's flavored with juniper berries, herbs, peels, and spices.  London gin = dry gin = English gin = London dry gin is the preferred gin for martinis and other mixed drinks.  American gin is similar, but isn't quite as heavy and dry as London gin.  Hollands gin = sweet gin = Dutch gin = Geneva gin = Jenever is sweeter and more aromatic than other gins and isn't normally used for mixed drinks.  Tanqueray and Beefeater are well-respected brands.  Don't confuse gin with sloe gin, which is sweetened.   Substitutes:  vodka (This turns a martini into a vodka martini, a gimlet into a vodka gimlet, a gin and tonic into a vodka and tonic, a Tom Collins into a vodka Collins, and so forth.) OR white rum OR whiskey OR tequila OR brandy (This turns an Alexander into a Brandy Alexander.)

gold rum  See amber rum


grain alcohol = ethanol = ethyl alcohol =  grain neutral spirits =  pure grain alcohol   Notes: This is pure alcohol--odorless, tasteless, and very potent at 190 proof.  Cooks use it to make liqueurs, but since it can also be used to purify crack cocaine, eyebrows may be raised if you buy a large bottle.  Well-known brands include Everclear and Sunset.   Grain alcohol should always be diluted before consumption, since it's so harsh and potent. Don't substitute methyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol for grain alcohol--both of these are toxic.   Substitutes:  vodka  (This is also used to make liqueurs. Since it's half as potent as grain alcohol, use twice as much, then reduce another liquid in the recipe accordingly.)

grain neutral spirits  See grain alcohol.  

Irish whiskey  Notes:   Irish whiskey resembles Scotch, only without the smoky flavor.  Jameson 1780 and Black Bush are highly regarded brands.  Whiskey should be served at room temperature.  Substitutes:   Canadian whiskey OR Scotch OR 1 part vanilla extract + 2 parts water OR sherry  See also: whiskey


Kentucky whiskey  See Bourbon whiskey.

light rum  See white rum.

mezcal = mescal   Notes:   This somewhat harsh Mexican liquor is similar to tequila, except that the agave plant is fire-roasted before the sap is extracted, fermented, and distilled.  This gives mezcal a distinctive smoky flavor.  Some brands have an agave worm (actually a caterpillar) in the bottle, which you're supposed to eat.   Substitutes:  tequila (similar, but milder) OR pulque

moonshine  See corn whiskey

poteen  Substitutes:  whiskey

pulque   Notes:   Like tequila, this is made from the sap of the agave plant.  It's popular in Mexico, though it's a bit harsher and heavier than tequila.  Substitutes:  mezcal OR tequila (milder) 

pure grain alcohol  See grain alcohol.

rum  Notes:    Rum is a key ingredient in many chilled drinks, like daiquiris, piņa coladas, and Planter's punch.  It's used in the kitchen, too, especially in cakes or fruit-based desserts.  Rum is distilled from sugar cane, and most of it comes from cane-producing Caribbean countries.  Its character varies according to its color. White rums are relatively dry and light, and commonly used in mixed drinks. The amber rums from Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and the Virgin Islands are heavier and more flavorful.  The dark rums from Jamaica and Haiti are heavier still, and have a pronounced molasses flavor. Demerara rums are the darkest and heaviest of all. There also are aromatic rums that are flavored with fruits and spices.   Substitutes:  brandy OR 1 tablespoon rum extract + 1/2 cup apple juice OR 1 tablespoon rum extract + 1/2 cup water OR Bourbon OR sherry OR gin OR orange liqueur OR orange juice OR pineapple juice OR vodka (flavorless)



rye whiskey  Notes:   This American whiskey is made mostly with rye.  It's similar to Bourbon, but not quite as elegant.   Wild Turkey and Jim Beam are well-regarded brands.  Whiskey should be served at room temperature.  Substitutes: Bourbon (milder flavor) OR blended whiskey OR brandy (good in Manhattans) OR Scotch OR other whiskey OR 1 part vanilla extract + 2 parts water OR sherry See also:  whiskey


Scotch whisky = Scotch   Notes:   The king of whiskies, Scotch has a very distinctive, smoky flavor.   Single-malt Scotch whisky is considered the best--it has a stronger, more complex flavor than blended Scotch, which is a mixture of malt whiskies and grain whiskies.  Connoisseurs of single-malt Scotch consider Macallan to be one of the finest brands. Of the blended Scotch whiskies, the more highly-esteemed brands include Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker Black Label.  Use the cheaper blended Scotch for mixed drinks.  Whiskey should be served at room temperature.  Substitutes:   Bourbon OR Irish whiskey (This is heavier than Scotch, and lacks its smoky flavor.) OR 1 part vanilla extract + 2 parts water OR gin OR sherry 


silver rum  See white rum


sour-mash whiskey = Tennessee sour-mash whiskey  Notes:   This resembles Bourbon, but the mash is soured during the fermenting process, giving the whiskey a distinctive flavor.  It's produced in Tennessee by George Dickel and Jack Daniels.  Whiskey should be served at room temperature.  Substitutes:  Bourbon (not as dry) OR Scotch OR other whiskey OR 1 part vanilla extract + 2 parts water OR sherry  

straight whiskey  Notes:  

Tennessee sour-mash whiskey  See sour-mash whiskey.


tequila   Pronunciation:  teh-KEE-luh  Notes:   This fiery liquor is produced in Mexico from the fermented sap of the blue agave cactus.  Mexicans like to drink it straight after licking salt from the back of their hands (which they squirt first with lime juice to help the salt adhere). Tequila is also used in several cocktails, including the Tequila Sunrise.  Gold tequilas and white tequilas are very similar.  Tequilas añejas are aged--and more expensive. The very finest tequilas are labeled "100 percent blue agave."  José Cuervo is a well-regarded brand.  Tequila should always be served ice cold.   Substitutes: mezcal (similar, but stronger-tasting) OR gin OR white rum OR vodka 


vodka   Notes:   This flavorless, colorless liquor is a great mixer, since it blends unobtrusively with other ingredients.   Some prefer to drink it straight, poured from bottles they store in the freezer.  Since vodka is virtually flavorless, the differences between the brands are all but imperceptible to the mortal tongue. Buy the cheapest brand if you're using the vodka in mixed drinks. Flavored vodkas also are available; here the differences in quality may be more noticeable.   Substitutes: gin (this is the preferred liquor for martinis) OR white rum OR aquavit (works fine in a Bloody Mary) OR dry white wine OR tequila  


whiskey = whisky  Notes:   Whiskey is distilled from various grains that have been pounded and cooked into a mash and allowed to ferment.  The whiskey is then aged in oak barrels until the flavor is mellow and smooth.  The most highly esteemed whiskies are single-malt Scotch and straight Bourbon.   Lower in the pecking order are rye whiskey, blended Scotch, sour-mash whiskey and the lighter and drier Irish whiskey and Canadian whisky. At the bottom is corn whiskey, also known as moonshine.  Straight whiskeys tend to have a more robust flavor than blended whiskeys, which include several whiskeys and, sometimes, neutral spirits.  Whiskey should be served at room temperature.  Substitutes:   cognac OR sherry OR small amount of vanilla extract 

white lightning  See corn whiskey.

white rum = clear rum = silver rum = light rum = Puerto Rican rum   Notes:    This is used to make daiquiris, piņa coladas, mai tais, and many other cocktails.   The best white rum comes from Puerto Rico, but Trinidad, Barbados, and the Virgin Islands also produce it.  Bacardi, Ronrico, and DonQ are popular brands.  Substitutes:  gin OR vodka OR amber rum OR 1 tablespoon rum extract + ¼ C water (for light rum)  See also:  rum.


Copyright © 1996-2005  Lori Alden