About Spirits

Whether you’re just discovering spirits or want to expand your horizons, our experts offer insight and reviews of thousands of distilled spirits, and a few classic cocktail recipes.

How Are Spirits Made?
Spirits can be made from any organic substance that can be fermented to create alcohol. Most alcoholic beverages are made by fermenting fruit or grain-based solutions. A still extracts alcohol from a fermented liquid by boiling it and then condensing the alcohol vapors, which evaporate from the boiling liquid at a lower temperature than water. For example, an 8% alcohol by volume (ABV) wine or beer distills into a 20% ABV distillate when it is run through a typical simple pot still. The alcohol content can be further increased by additional redistillations that further concentrate the alcohol and reduce the total volume of liquid.

The first and most basic type of still is the pot still, which is an enclosed vessel (the kettle or "pot") that narrows into a tube at the top to collect alcohol vapor that evaporates when the fermented contents are boiled. The tube bends downward off the top of the pot and runs through a bath of cold water. This causes the alcohol vapor to condense back into liquid and drain into a container at the end of the tube. Most pot stills are made from copper. They are considered "inefficient" in that they carry over a percentage of water and chemical compound vapors along with the alcohol vapor. This "inefficiency" can be considered an advantage when producing spirits such as brandy and whisky that have distinctive flavors.

The column or continuous still has two enclosed copper or stainless steel columns. The fermented liquid is slowly fed down into the top of the first column while steam is sent up from the bottom. The rising steam strips the alcohol from the descending liquid and carries it over into the second column where it is recirculated and concentrated to the desired percentage of alcohol. Column stills are more "efficient" than pot stills in that they extract a higher concentration of alcohol. They are favored for neutral-flavored spirits such as vodka and white rum and also for industrial alcohol.

How Are Spirits Measured?
Spirits are measured by alcohol content. Different scales are used in different countries. Most countries use alcohol by volume (ABV), also known as the Gay-Lussac system, which expresses alcohol content as a percentage of the total liquid volume of the beverage. A 40% ABV spirit contains 40% alcohol. In the United States, the proof scale of measurement is used, with the proof of a spirit being double the ABV. Thus a 40% ABV spirit is 80 proof. A degree symbol º is customarily used when expressing proof.

How Are Spirits Classified?
Generally speaking, spirits are classified by the fermented material that they are distilled from. Whiskies, Vodka, Gin and most types of Schnapps are made by distilling a kind of beer made from grain. Brandy is made from fermented grape juice, and Fruit Brandy is made from other fruits. Rum and Cane Spirits derive from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses. Tequila and Mezcal come from the fermented pulp of the agave plant. Fortified wines are hybrid beverages in that they are a blend of fermented wine and distilled spirits (usually Brandy).

North American Whiskies

Copperworks Distilling Company American Single Malt Whiskey
96 points
North American whiskies are all-grain spirits that have been produced from a mash bill that usually mixes together corn, rye, wheat, barley and other grains in different proportions and then generally aged for an extended period of time in charred American oak barrels.
Top Rating: Copperworks Distilling Company American Single Malt Whiskey

Scotch Whisky

Old Pulteney Navigator Single Malt Scotch Whisky
96 points
Scotch Whisky is a spirit that is distilled from grain. Sometimes the grain has been malted, sometimes not. It is aged, often for long periods of time, in ex-bourbon or Sherry mostly and occasionally more exotic finishing barrels.
Top Rating: Old Pulteney Navigator Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Irish Whiskey

Midleton Dair Ghaelach Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
97 points
Irish Whiskey is defined as spirits distilled at less than 94.8% alcohol, from cereal grains, and aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks.
Top Rating: Midleton Dair Ghaelach Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Gin & Genever

Martin Millers Westbourne Strength Gin
97 points
Gin and its Lowlands cousin Genever (Jenever in Belgium) are white spirits that are flavored with juniper berries and so-called botanicals (a varied assortment of herbs and spices). The spirit base of Gin is primarily grain (usually wheat or rye), which results in a light-bodied spirit.
Top Rating: Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength Gin

Vodka

elit Vodka
97 points
Vodka is ethyl alcohol in its purest form, distilled at a high proof and generally unaged. It can be, and is, made from virtually any grain or vegetable material. It has become the base spirit for endless cocktails, and for equally endless versions of flavored spirits, due largely to its neutrality.
Top Rating: elit Vodka

French Brandy

Drouet et Fils Paradis de Famille Hors dAge Cognac
97 points
Cognac is the best known type of Brandy in the world, a benchmark by which most other Brandies are judged. Armagnac is the oldest type of brandy in France, with documented references to distillation dating back to the early 15th century.
Top Rating: Drouet et Fils Paradis de Famille Hors d'Age Cognac

Rum & Cane Spirits

Malecon Seleccion Esplendida 1979
97 points
Rum, and its fraternal twin, cane spirit, are made by distilling fermented sugar and water. This sugar comes from the sugar cane and is fermented from cane juice, concentrated cane juice, or molasses.
Top Rating: Malecon Seleccion Esplendida 1979

Tequila, Mezcal & Agave Spirits

Tequila Tapatío Excelencia Extra Añejo
98 points
Tequila and Mezcal are made by distilling the fermented juice of agave plants in Mexico. Tequila can be made only from blue agave and can be produced only in specifically designated geographic areas, primarily the state of Jalisco. Mezcal is made from the fermented juice of other species of agave and is produced throughout most of Mexico.
Top Rating: Tequila Tapatío Excelencia Extra Añejo

Liqueurs

Grand Marnier Quintessence Liqueur
98 points
Liqueurs, Schnapps, Anise, and Bitters are terms that cover a wide variety of types of spirits. What they all share in common is that they are flavored spirits. Liqueurs (also known as Cordials) are sweet, flavor-infused spirits that are categorized according to the flavoring agent (i.e., fruits, nuts, herbal and spice blends, creams).
Top Rating: Grand Marnier Quintessence Liqueur

World Whiskies

Kavalan Solist Oloroso Sherry Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky
97 points
World whiskies are whiskies produced outside the traditional regions of Scotland, Ireland, and North America. They generally follow the Scottish tradition, with malt whiskies being double distilled in pot stills and grain whiskies in column stills. Most are single malt bottlings, however more blends and single grain expressions are appearing on the market. Asian whiskies are particularly noteworthy in the world of world whiskies.
Top Rating: Kavalan Solist Oloroso Sherry Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky

World Brandy

Monteru Chardonnay Single Grape Brandy
94 points
The word Brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, ("burnt wine"), which is how the straightforward Dutch traders who introduced it to Northern Europe from Southern France and Spain in the 16th century described wine that had been "burnt," or boiled, in order to distill it.
Top Rating: Monteru Chardonnay Single Grape Brandy

South American Spirits

Sagatiba Preciosa Cachaça
98 points
The South American spirits category includes cachaça, pisco, aguardiente and other spirits indigenous to South America.
Top Rating: Sagatiba Preciosa Cachaça

Specialty Spirits

B 100 Real Beet Distilled Spirit
93 points
The specialty spirits category includes some of the more unique and individualized spirits that don't fit into traditional spirits categories. Pomace brandies such as grappa and marc are included as part of this category as are aquavit, dry schnapps, and other European specialties.
Top Rating: B 100% Real Beet Distilled Spirit

Eau de Vie & Fruit Brandies

Perea Apricot Brandy
93 points
Normandy is one of the few regions in France that does not have a substantial grape wine industry. Instead it is apple country, with a substantial tradition of producing hard and sweet cider that in turn can be distilled into an Apple Brandy known as Calvados.
Top Rating: Perea Apricot Brandy

Asian Spirits

Sơn Tinh Nếp Cẩm Sticky Red Rice Port Liqueur
94 points
The Asian Spirits category includes baijiu, shochu, soju and other spirits indigenous to the Asia Pacific region. Wildly popular in their home countries, these spirits have not gained much market share outside of these regions.
Top Rating: Sơn Tinh Nếp Cẩm Sticky Red Rice "Port" Liqueur

Mixers

Fat  Juicy Cayenne Bloody Mary Mix
95 points
Mixers are the nonalcoholic components of various cocktails that have been conveniently packaged so that one just needs to add the alcohol base, and perhaps ice, to make a complete cocktail. We include sodas and bar syrups in this category as well.
Top Rating: Fat & Juicy Cayenne Bloody Mary Mix

Cocktail Bitters & Elixirs

Old Forester Salt and Pepper Tincture
94 points
Cocktail bitters are combinations of bitter herbs, barks, and other botanicals in a neutral alcohol base designed to be added in minute quantities to give final layers of aromatic and flavor complexity to cocktails.
Top Rating: Old Forester Salt and Pepper Tincture

Ready-to-Drink Cocktails

Handy  Schiller Barreled Old Fashioned
96 points
Ready to Drink cocktails, or RTDs, are just that conveniently packaged, alcohol-included cocktails that are ready to drink on their own, chilled, or with ice.
Top Rating: Handy & Schiller Barreled Old Fashioned