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Spirit FAQs

What do the letters VS, VSOP and XO stand for on Cognac?

Within the Cognac industry, there is a system of certification of age. The certificates are based on the length of time that the cognac has spent in oak.

  • VS (Very Special) – is at least two years old.
  • VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) – also called a reserve and at least four years old.
  • XO (Extra Old) – also called a Napoleon is at least six years old. Most cognac houses will use older than those required by law. Many allow their XO’s to reach a minimum of 20 years in order to reveal their best.

What is the difference between Blanco, Reposado and Añejo Tequilas?

  • Blanco (white) tequilas are not usually aged. These tequilas express the character of the agave in its purest form. Blanco tequilas may also be called “Silver” or “Plata”.
  • Reposado (rested) tequilas are aged a minimum of two months in oak barrels, although they are typically aged between three and nine months. Due to the hot climate, the oak “resting” mellows the flavors and imparts color.
  • Añejo (aged) tequilas are aged in oak barrels for at least a year, although they are typically aged between one and three years. Considerable complexity often develops with the greatest Añejos approaching very fine Cognacs in style.

What is the difference between Single Malt and Blended Scotch Whiskies?

Single malt whisky is produced at a single distiller and made only from malted barley. Each region has its own particular distinctive style of malt whisky, and it is usually possible to distinguish in which region of Scotland a particular whisky was made. However, the style of the distiller can also play a key difference in how a whisky tastes.=

Blended Scotch whisky is a mixture of any number of whiskies from different grain and malt distilleries. Standard blends will rarely state an age on the label, though the youngest spirit in the blend must be a minimum of three years old. The quality of the blend will owe a lot to the nature of the malt whiskies it contains.

What is Vodka?

The name originates in Slavic words that translate as “little water”. This is probably the world’s oldest spirit, with documents showing production in Russia going back to the ninth century. Early vodkas were flavored with fruit, spices and herbs to mask the harsh flavors. The technique of charcoal filtering for mellowing and purification was not developed until the eighteenth century.

Vodka is a white, fairly neutral tasting spirit. Vodka can be made using a wide range of base materials including cereal grains, potatoes and even grapes. It would be wrong to say that vodka is totally neutral since some trace of the base material flavors always remains and may be an important character of the spirit.

What’s the difference between Bourbon & Tennessee Whiskey?

Bourbon takes its name from Bourbon County in Kentucky, where most is produced, although it can be made anywhere in the United States. Bourbon must be made from a mash containing between 51% and 79% corn. If the corn content is higher, the product must be designated as corn whiskey. Bourbon is a straight whiskey that must be distilled at 160 proof (80% alcohol) or less and must be aged a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels. Usually though, most bourbon is aged at least four years and often longer. Since it is a straight whiskey, no blending is permitted and there are no additives, with the exception of water to reduce the proof.

While Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, Tennessee whiskey must be distilled only in Tennessee. Tennessee whiskey must be comprised of at least 51% of any grain, although corn is usually used in making Tennessee whiskey. It is made in a similar manner to sour mash bourbon, but Tennessee whiskey also includes an extra step in its production process – the distilled spirit is filtered through maple charcoal in large, wooden vats before aging in order to remove impurities. This charcoal filtering also imparts a smoky flavor to the whiskey.

What’s the difference between Brandy, Cognac & Armagnac?

The word Brandy comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, (“burnt wine”). This is how Dutch traders, who introduced it to Northern Europe from Southern France and Spain in the 16th century, described wine that had been “burnt,” or boiled, in order to distill it.

  • Brandy – in its broadest definition, is a spirit distilled from wine or fermented grape juice and aged for at least six months. Brandy is made widely around the world.
  • Cognac – is the most famous type of Brandy in the world, a benchmark by which most other Brandies are judged. The Cognac region is located on the west-central Atlantic coast of France, just north of Bordeaux. The primary grapes used in making Cognac are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. The wines made from these grapes are thin, tart, and low in alcohol; poor characteristics for table wines, but oddly enough, perfect for making Cognac. Produced only in the Cognac region of France, the wine is distilled twice in traditional Charentais copper pot stills. The finished product is clear and adopts its beautiful amber color after many years in French oak barrels. Under strict French law, cognac production methods and growing areas are clearly defined. The districts in order of quality are: Grand Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, Bois Ordinaires.
  • Armagnac – claims a longer history than Cognac, probably having been first produced in the twelfth century. The Armagnac region is located in the southwest corner of France. Distillation takes place in the unique type of column still that is even more “inefficient” than a typical Cognac pot still. The resulting brandy has a rustic, assertive character and aroma that requires additional cask aging to mellow it out. Most Armagnacs are blends, but unlike Cognac where single vintages are produced by few houses, Armagnac single vintages and single vineyard bottlings can be readily found.

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