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Spirits of the earthly kind.


How to make a still

Wine and beer aficionados often enjoy making their own. Even if it's just a casual hobby, the experiments are fun and often produce some worthwhile results. But making vodka, gin and others is partly just a matter of continuing or altering slightly that same process.


Last year European Union officials gathered to debate the question posed by the title. One would think that after centuries, the issue would be easy to settle. But legal definitions for purposes of trade and regular names are sometimes two different things.


Tequila in some form has been made for centuries. The Aztecs as far back as the 1st century AD produced a milky brew from the local agave plant. The Spanish, who landed in Mexico in the 16th century, discovered a type being made by the local Ticuilas Indians, from whom the name derives.


There's no limit to the ingenuity of mankind. Anyone who could look at a juniper bush and think: "You know, I'll bet the fruit from that tree would make a great addition to an excellent spirit" just has to be some kind of genius. Adding the juice to distilled grains has created a drink popular for centuries: Gin.


Briefly put, Cognac is nothing but brandy. But, oh, how misleading is that little phrase 'nothing but'. Not for nothing is this fine spirit as well-known and widely appreciated the world over as champagne.


Spirits or liquor, such as scotch or bourbon, are made from grains and distilled. Wine, by contrast, is the product of fermented grapes.


Whiskeys are made from grain and so is Bourbon. However, the grain in the blend is not the common one and it is made to a unique specification.


Few would have thought that a member of the parsley family could be used to make an outstanding liqueur. Yet, anisette, based on the oil from anise seeds, is just that.


Rum is a distilled spirit made from molasses. But that simple statement belies the complexity of this outstanding drink, historically and in every other way.