Did you know that cognac has become the second-fastest-growing spirits category since 2020? The pandemic may have encouraged or even inspired some of us to be a bit more adventurous with our at-home drink orders. I’ll be the first to say that prior to March 2020, I wasn’t a big fan of dark liquor and didn’t know how to order drinks with Brandy, Rum, or Whiskey. The dark liquor category seemed a bit intimidating to be perfectly honest but over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the category and spirits. It turns out, just like light liquor, it’s all about preference, palette, and balance. This Guide to Exploring Dark Liquors is a quick way to help you become your own Brandy, Rum, and Whiskey connoisseur.
To start, it’s important to know what flavors you enjoy in a cocktail. Do you like smokiness, fruity, caramel, sweet, or spicey? Depending on your palette (and this guide) you’ll find it easier to explore Brandy, Rum, and Whiskey. The next time you’re at the liquor store and perusing the isles here is what you should look for: distilling notes, flavor, age, and style.
Distilling: This is the initial process of making the spirit.
Aging: Brandy, dark rum, and whiskey undergoes a process of aging in oak barrels that contribute to the flavor intensity, oakiness, and color. Aging also contributes to the price point. The longer the aging, the higher the price.
Flavor: This is the overall flavor profile that you experience after distilling and aging.
Style: Style varies based on where the spirit is made. I would suggest exploring styles based on countries or regions that seem interesting to you. It’s all about exploring!
A Guide to Exploring Dark Liquors
Brandy is often served neat in a snifter glass where the flavors and notes are closed in and the aromas are gradually revealed during the tasting. The color will vary depending on its age, origin, and the type of oak used.
Distilled from: Brandy is distilled from fruit; typically grapes, apples, and apricots.
Flavor: Fruity with an aromatic oakiness
Aged: Each style is different. After distilling the grapes, Brandy is aged in oak barrels usually for a minimum of 2 years.
Styles: Cognac, Armagnac, Spanish Brandy, Pisco, American Brandy, Grappa, Eau-de-vie, Flavored Brandy such as Apple Brandy
Recipes to try:
Vanilla Bean and Fig Infused Brandy
Rum is very versatile and one of the first spirits mixed into cocktails. While often enjoyed in tropical drinks, dark rum is especially perfect in warm cocktails.
Distilled from: Distilled from sugarcane or molasses.
Flavor: Rum flavors vary by style and region. The flavors range from toasted sugar, spiced vanilla, and caramel.
Aged: Aged in oak barrels and blended. Aging time can vary based on climate. Warmer clients require shorter aging times.
Styles: Light Rum, Gold Rum, Dark Rum, Over-Proof Rum, Spiced Rum, Cachaça, Flavored Rum
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Whiskey is a great base for warmer cocktails and even great served neat or on the rocks. As with any spirit, whiskey might require a bit of dilution to achieve a balanced cocktail.
Distilled From: Whiskey is distilled from malted grains. It varies by style, but corn, rye, wheat, and barley are most commonly used.
Flavor: Roasted malted grain with oak undertones are consistent in whiskey but each style has its own profile. Caramel, fruity, cinnamon, and spicey notes are also common.
Aged: Whiskey is aged in charred oak barrels. Some styles, such as bourbon, use a mixture of new and previously used whiskey or wine barrels.
Styles: Bourbon, Irish Whiskey, Japanese Whisky, Rye Whiskey, Scotch Whisky, Tennessee Whiskey, Blended Whiskey, Flavored Whiskey, and Canadian Whisky
Recipes to try: