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Spirits buying guide

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 Spirits Guide and Introduction

The term spirits refers to any distilled beverage that does not contain added sugar and that has at least 20 per cent ABV alcohol by volume. Some popular choices include brandy, Schnapps or fruit brandy, gin, rum, whisky, vodka, and tequila. Although distilled beverages such as butterscotch schnapps that have added sugar are technically a liqueur and not a spirit, the distinction is usually ignored, with most alcoholic beverages being considered spirits, with the exception of beer and wine.

Depending on the liquor and your preferences, there are a number of different ways to serve alcohol. Neat or straight is when the drink is served without any additional ingredients, including water, ice, or mixers. “Straight up” is when the drink is stirred or shaken with ice, then strained before service. On the rocks is serving the spirit over ice. You can also mix the spirit with water or a mixer such as club soda, juice, or cola. Finally, spirits are ingredients in any number of cocktails, ranging from light, sweet drinks to high proof concoctions.

Spirits have been distilled around the world for centuries, dating back to 2000 BC. Distilled beverages appeared in Europe in the 12th century, produced by alchemists trying to brew medicines. The process of distillation hasn’t changed much since those days, although there have been changes in the way materials are prepared for distillation, as well as how the beverage is finished and marketed, such as sanitary improvements. Chemists have also learned the scientific principles behind aging, devising ways to accelerate aging, while modern filters provide smoother end-results.

With all the types and brands of spirits available, you may not know where to start your shopping. Price Inspector has done the research for you, letting you buy cheap spirits easily and conveniently. We comparison shop the UK stores for you, and our buying guide gives you all the information you need to make an informed choice.


Whisky, also spelled whiskey, is an alcoholic beverage that is distilled using fermented grain mash. With very few exceptions, whisky (plural: whiskies) is Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese, while whiskey (plural: whiskeys) is Irish or American.

Different varieties use different grains, which include barley or malted barley, rye or malted rye, wheat, and corn. Whiskies are aged in wooden barrels or casks, usually oak, with the exception of a few corn whiskeys. The main characteristic shared by the different types of whisky is they use fermented grain, and they usually have a maximum of 80 per cent alcohol for corn whiskey and 90 per cent for other grains. As much as 60 per cent of the whisky flavour comes from the cask used in the aging process. For example, bourbon whiskey is aged in charred new oak barrels while Scotch whiskies may use partially spent barrels. Another variation is Tennessee whiskey, such as Jack Daniel’s, which is identical to bourbon except that is charcoal filtered, giving it a unique flavour.

Another variation includes malt, which is distilled using only malted barley. Single malt whisky refers to malt from a single distillery. Unless it is labelled as “single cask,” however, it will have whisky from different casks and different years, letting the blender achieve a specified taste unique to the distillery. Examples of single malts include Oban Whisky, Rosebank Whisky, Glenlivet, or Bushmills.

Blended whiskies combine both malt whisky and grain whisky. If it is described as Scotch or Irish Whiskey, it usually blended. The blend will usually be made from several different distilleries. Examples include Jameson Irish Whiskey, Midleton Whiskey, Chivas Regal, Famous Grouse Whisky, Irish Mist, and Canadian Club.

Common ways to drink whisky include straight, on the rocks, with water, or with cola.

Vodka, Gin, Rum, and Tequila

Vodka is a fermented beverage made from grain, wheat, rye, potatoes, or sugar beets. The alcohol usually ranges from 35 to 50 per cent, with Russian and Polish vodka averaging 40 per cent.

Vodka is one of the most popular spirits around the world, as its neutral flavours let it be mixed in a variety of drinks. It often replaces gin in traditional drinks such as a martini. A popular entry-level vodka brand is Smirnoff Vodka, while Grey Goose Vodka is a more expensive, smoother option. Flavoured vodka is now widely available, such as Finlandia Lime Vodka. Flavouring options include fruits, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, red pepper, and chocolate.

Gin is a distilled spirit primarily flavoured by juniper berries. The most common variety, which is often used for mixed drinks, is London dry gin. In addition to juniper berries, it usually contains citrus botanicals like lemon or bitter orange. Popular gin brands include Hendricks Gin, Beefeater, Gordon's Gin, and Bombay Sapphire Gin. Because it is typically a dry drink, gin is usually mixed with sweeter ingredients like vermouth or tonic water.

Rum is distilled from sugar cane products like molasses or sugar cane juice through a combination of fermentation and distillation. The distillate is then aged in barrels. Most rum is produced around the Caribbean or in South America, although there are rum producers in Australia and elsewhere around the world. Light rum is typically used in cocktails, while golden or dark rum is appropriate for drinking straight. Premium rums are meant to be consumed straight or over ice. Popular brands include Bacardi, Sailor Jerry Rum, Bundaberg Rum, and Pussers Rum.

Tequila is distilled from the nectar of blue agave plants, primarily produced in the city of Tequila, Mexico. Mexican law specifies that tequila can only be made in the state of Jalisco. Tequila is available in five categories. White or Silver is un-aged, with the liquor being bottled immediately after distillation. Gold is a blend of White and either Resposado, Anejo, extra Anejo, or some combination thereof. Responsado is aged between two months and one year; Anejo is aged one to three years, and Extra Anejo is aged at least three years. Some of the best-known ways to drink tequilla includes a straight shot usually accompanied by salt and a lime wedge or in a margarita.

Tips to consider before buying Spirits

  • Decide how you want to serve the spirits. Do you want a cocktail or a straight drink? Rum lends itself well to sweet fruit-based punches, while gin would provide a drier cocktail. Vodka becomes nearly invisible taste-wise in many drinks, while whisky retains its strong flavour even mixed.
  • When you’re setting up your home bar, consider which will be the most useful bottles to buy. The first is rum, either dark or white, preferably one of each. Next choose a vodka and a gin, then you’ll want a range of whiskies, including Irish, Scotch, and bourbon. This can get expensive, so you can slowly build up your bar supply.
  • Good liqueurs to have available for mixing include Triple Sec or Cointreau. These are similar, with Triple Sec being more economical for mixing. For non-alcoholic mixers, make sure you have Grenadine, bitters, and a selection of sodas.
  • When hosting a cocktail party, you may have questions about how much, and what type, of spirits to serve. It’s easier to offer a limited number of cocktails, rather than trying to satisfy all possible combinations. You can make it easy for guests to serve themselves by having pre-mixed chilled pitchers of martinis, a large punch bowl filled with a rum punch, or an easily assembled Bloody Mary bar for a brunch gathering.
  • When deciding on which brand and variety to serve, buy a decent level of quality. The better the alcohol, the easier it is on your body. Also, remember that most of your guests will be happy with whatever you serve.
  • How much alcohol you buy depends on the type and time of your party. People will generally drink more at an evening party than at an afternoon gathering, for example. As a general rule, figure an average of two drinks per guest for the first hour, and then 1 drink per hour per guest for the duration of the party.

Jargon Explained

ABV or Alcohol by VolumeA measure of a spirit’s alcoholic strength. ABV is listed as a per cent. An ABV of 40 per cent is 40 per cent alcohol and 60 per cent water. The higher the number, the stronger the drink. 

Buying Guide to Spirits
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