A large family of alcoholic drinks that have undergone the process of alcoholic fermentation, followed by distillation. Spirits can be based on a range of foodstuffs, from grains such as rye or barley, to sweet plant-based foods such as palm sap, molasses or sugar cane, to starchy foods such as rice or sweet potato. These bases first undergo an alcoholic fermentation; once the fermented product has been distilled, it is known as a spirit.
A pure spirit, fresh from the distiller (the ‘still’), will be clear in colour with no discernible flavour apart from alcohol. The spirit will then usually undergo further processing, such as barrel-ageing or flavouring with spices, botanicals or herbs, and will normally be diluted with water before it reaches the consumer.
There is a very large selection of spirits available, and prices vary. The general rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. Don’t use the most expensive spirit for cooking but don’t spoil a good cake with an inferior product either.
The higher the level of alcohol (alcohol by volume or abv) of a spirit, the longer it will keep. Spirits such as vodka or rum, which contain a lot of alcohol by volume, will keep almost indefinitely, although the flavour may change with age, as alcohol evaporates more quickly than the other components in the drink. Store away from bright light.
Spirits can be drunk either as they are or over ice, or in cocktails. They can also be used to preserve certain types of fruit and are used to flavour chocolates, crêpes and cakes.
Article by Susan Low
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