There are so many types of alcoholic beverages and it begs the question: how should we classify alcoholic beverages?
We can classify them by origin or by alcohol content. But the most general classification of alcoholic beverages is the one that refers to the production method.
Thus, there are 4 types of alcoholic beverages: Fermented beverages, distilled beverages or spirits, fortified beverages or liquor wines, and liqueurs and creams.
As indicated by its name, we can obtain fermented drinks through a fermentation process. The sugar of the fruit or grain used in the process (grapes, apples, wheat, barley etc.) is turned into alcohol. This chemical reaction is possible when there is a necessary presence of yeasts. The most common yeasts in wine and beer are of the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Furthermore, the adequate conditions must be present, meaning, the lack of oxygen.
The fermentation process also varies depending on the drink. During the production of wine, the yeasts that are responsible for the fermentation are microscopic fungi. The fungi are naturally found in the skins of the grapes. The fungi will trigger a reaction that lasts about ten days. Nowadays it is produced in stainless steel tanks. This process is called spontaneous or tumultuous fermentation.
Distilled beverages or spirits
Distilled beverages or spirits, also called Eau de vie, are obtained from the distillation of a previously fermented beverage (whether it be fruit, grains, herbs, roots or sugary plants.) But how is the distillation process carried out for these alcoholic beverages? You bring the liquid you want to distil to the boiling point to separate the alcohol from the rest of the liquid. Once cold, the alcohol condenses again, and you obtain a drink with greater alcohol content.
You can obtain a very extensive range of beverages from this thousand-year-old technique. The secret lies in knowing how to add the right ingredients, and in the right measures, to get a drink with an alcohol concentration that is also pleasant on the palate. Starches and other seasonings of vegetable origin can be used for this purpose.
Among the main varieties of distilled beverages are whisky (obtained from the fermentation of grain must), vodka (grain), tequila (agave), rum (sugar cane), gin (grain), pisco, marc (wine), brandy and cognac (wine), among others.
Fortified beverages or liquor wines
The fortified beverages or liquor wines have been fermented and are fortified by the addition of wine alcohol. This is done in order to increase its alcohol content and achieve a balance in its flavour. Thus, the alcohol present in this type of drink has a double origin: the one that arises from the natural process of fermentation, and the one that comes from a distillation process with the objective of going from the initial 15% to the desired 17%-25%.
In this group of alcoholic beverages, we find fortified wines such as Porto, Sherry, Madeira, Marsala, Manzanilla, and French banyuls. Most of the time they are fortified with brandy.
Liqueurs and creams
Liqueurs and creams are beverages that are made by mixing fruits, aromatic spices and sugars with spirits or cream of milk. The process can vary a lot, but the results are similar. In fact, this classification is the broadest as the diversity of liqueurs and creams is almost as wide as geography: every region or area of the world has some distinct, local liqueur or cream! The most popular beverages are usually those made with fruit and herbs. Some beverages have medicinal purposes. The degree of alcohol is usually varied, as well as the drink itself. With this type of drink, there are no restrictions or rules.
Some liqueurs are obtained through the infusion process. This involves pouring very hot water (at about 90º) over the desired mixture of herbs, fruits, spices, nuts or other ingredients.
Other liqueurs are obtained through maceration. This means that the flavour is extracted from solid substances through an extraction liquid that – in the case of liqueurs – consists of water and alcohol. This process is carried out cold and particularly consists of covering the solid part of the recipe (fruits, herbs, etc.) with the mixture of water and alcohol. After a few days (depending on the ingredients) this mixture is filtered, a syrup is added, and the drink is bottled.
Finally, you can also make liqueurs by mixing the ingredients. The famous Baileys Irish cream is made from the optimal combination of dairy cream and Irish whiskey. This is a formula that other makers of liquor creams also follow.
If you want to know more
Now that you know about the types of alcoholic beverages, we encourage you to learn more about alcoholic beverages, winemaking, myths about beer and the best-known brands of wines and spirits through the following related articles.
- Elaboration of rosé wines
- Vodka distillation process
- Whiskey or whisky? The origin of the words
- 10 myths about beer
- How to make homemade whiskey cream
- How to make homemade coffee liquor
Finally, we suggest two liqueurs with a lot of history that will surely be to your liking!