Fine spirits encompass a range of distilled alcoholic beverages. The beverages used for spirits come from plants, and can include wines and brandies. The most common plants to use for spirits are corn, rice, rye, barley, sugarcane, potatoes and sugar beets. The selection of fruits that can be used include grapes, apples, and peaches. The liquid is first fermented before it can distilled. Beers, wine and ciders stop at fermentation and they do not get distilled, so they have a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) of around 15%.
Examples of distilled beverages include vodka, rum, gin, brandy, whisky, tequila, and bourbon. Moonshine falls under the distilled beverages category, too. While all of these are distilled spirits, they are not automatically fine spirits. Fine spirits are distilled spirits that are made to high standards, and are of excellent quality. They are on the more expensive end of the spectrum.
Brandy was developed in the 1600s, initially as a way to save space on the trade ships so they could transport more cargo. The idea was that the brandy would be diluted with water and turn it back into wine. It turned out that the customers actually preferred the brandy – the quality of wine in those days wasn’t very good and it was often acidic. The word brandy comes from the Dutch term ‘brandewijn’ which means burned (or distilled) wine.
For a distilled beverage to be considered a spirit, it must have a minimum of 20% ABV (although they are generally around 30%), and must have no added sugars. Distilled beverages that do include added sugar and flavourings are known as liqueurs.
It is very possible to make these spirits in your own home. ‘Microdistilling’ is a recent trend that has developed following the popularity of microbrewing. This is not legal everywhere though, so before starting to distil spirits, check the law first!