Guide to Spirits and Liquor

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker. --Ogden Nash 

While you certainly don't need a fully stocked bar for your home, it never hurts to have a few key bottles on hand for guests or for when you're craving a cocktail.  Our guide will take you through the spirits that are most regularly required for mixing cocktails.  Cheers!

The Basics


The word vodka  is a diminutive of the Russian word for water, so it only makes sense that this spirit would be one of the world's most popular.  It may be distilled from plants high in starch or sugars (such as potatoes, sugar beets or soybeans), but the most popular ones today are made from corn, rye or wheat.

Vodkas may be infused with different ingredients to produce flavoured  versions. Consider lemon ,orange ,peach ,blueberry ,pepper ,pear  or vanilla  vodkas for a particularly delicious mixed drink.


Gin  is a white grain spirit flavoured with juniper berries and is commonly used in mixed drinks. Known for being quite dry, it is often balanced with sweeter ingredients such as tonic water  or vermouth .  The dominant style of gin in the UK is London Dry Gin : such spirits tend to be of high proof and accented with citrus botanicals.

Try mixing with  Rose's Lime Juice  for a refreshing Gimlet, or with lemon juice ,sugar syrup  and soda water  for a Gin Fizz.  Or for something different, try the gin-based Pimm's No. 1 Cup  with ginger ale  the next time you're pouring.



Whiskies  are distilled from grain and aged, often for long periods of time, in wooden casks; this aging process adds distinct aromatic and flavouring nuances in comparison to white grain spirits. Scotch whiskies  are generally distilled twice and aged for at least three year.  While the market is dominated by blends ,single malts  are the most celebrated of Scotch whiskies.

Irish whiskeys  are usually distilled three times and, in practice, are often distilled for at least 12 years or more.  Blended  and malt  versions are prevalent, but there are also a few pot still  brands to be found.


Whether ye be a pirate or a landlubber, rum  can be enjoyed by one and all (as long as ye be of age, of course).  To make rum, fermented sugar (most often from molasses) and water are distilled into a clear liquid that can then be barrel aged to produce different colours (added caramel can also have an effect).

White rums  are often light in body and subtle in flavour; they are excellent for mixed cocktails.  Golden  or amber rums  are fuller in body and mellower than white rums, but if you are looking for something truly special, consider dark rum , which is often meant to be consumed neat or on the rocks.



One produces tequila  and mezcal  by distilling the fermented juice of Mexican agave, a member of the lily family.  Tequila is named after the city in which it was originally produced, but by law must be produced with blue agave, while Mezcal is made from other species of the plant.

There are five categories of tequila: blanco  or plata  (aged less than two months), oro  (blanco mixed with aged tequilas), reposado  (aged between two months to a year), añejo  (aged one to three years), and extra añejo  (aged at least three years).

Liqueurs, Apéritifs and Cordials

Liqueurs  or cordials  are alcoholic beverages that are often flavoured with fruits, herbs, nuts, chocolate, coffees or crèmes; as such, they tend to be quite sweet.  Apéritifs  are drinks served before a meal and usually accompany a small snack such as nuts or chips. One of the most common apéritifs is sherry , but in different parts of Europe, ouzo ,pastis ,Campari  or Cinzano  are quite popular.

For more information, check out our helpful guide.

Related Guides

Beer Guide

Liqueurs Guide

White Wine Guide

Red Wine Guide