What Are the Different Types of Liquor? The 7 You Must Know

Who doesn’t love an alcoholic beverage? Whether you’re a malt beverage drinker (otherwise known as a beer lover), a wine connoisseur, or a spirits fiend, there is something for everyone. But when it comes to liquor it can be very hard to know what is what. There are many different types of alcoholic liquor that fall under this umbrella term.

In short, liquor is a term given to a variety of distilled spirits. These alcoholic beverages provide the foundation for many different cocktails. They are also enjoyable on their own, drunk straight or on the rocks. There are many different types of liquor on the market, each made using different ingredients that create complex flavors. If you want to know the difference between a whisky and a bourbon, what vodka is made from, or how to make some classic cocktails using liquors, read on. 

*Be sure to drink responsibly to avoid alcohol addiction or any other alcohol-related issues.

What Is Liquor?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes liquor as “a usually distilled rather than a fermented alcoholic beverage.” While it does start with fermented ingredients, such as grains, fruits, vegetables, or sugars, these are then put through different distillation processes. This concentrates the liquid, creating greater alcoholic content for the final product. Due to the higher alcoholic content, liquors are often labeled as “harder” drinks. 

Now don’t go confusing liquor with liqueur. They are two different types of drinks. While liqueur is a form of liquor, it contains more ingredients to give it a greater flavor. Spices, fruits, and herbs are added to give it a sweeter taste, but this lowers the alcohol by volume (ABV) content. Liqueurs are often used as mixers in cocktails to add flavor but can be drunk straight.

Types of Liquor

There are several types of hard liquor you can enjoy. Each is distilled to give it a greater alcohol content and has a unique flavor profile. While most people enjoy drinking their favorite spirit straight or on the rocks, they also form the base for many a delicious cocktail. Here are the seven most common liquors along with a few cocktail recipes to get you in the mood. 

Brandy

Popular brandy brands: Remy Martin, Hennessey, Martell, Courvoisier, and Asbach 8 Year.

Brandy was once a drink associated with the elderly. It is a soothing after-dinner drink often sipped before bed by those who have lived long lives. But this all changed in the 90s when rappers began indulging in the spirit. Wanting to highlight their luxurious lives and show their love for the finer things in life, many big-name rappers began drinking brandy. The likes of Nas, Jay-Z, P. Diddy, and Drake all enjoy a drop of the hard stuff. Or more specifically, Cognac, which is a type of brandy.

Unlike most hard liquor or beverages using malted barley, brandy is made from fermented fruit juices. Grapes, apples, apricots, peaches, and cherries are some of the most common fruits used. It’s very similar to fortified wine. After being put through the distillation process, this liqueur is often aged in old, wooden oak barrels to add extra flavor. It usually has an ABV of 35-60% and tastes similar to wine.

Cognac is a form of brandy from the southwestern region of France. It needs to meet several legal requirements, such as the type of grapes used and the way it is distilled, to be called Cognac. Armagnac is another famous type of brandy that is created following similar rules to Cognac. 

Brandy is a classic liquor that is still associated with high living today. While most drink it straight, there are several tasty brandy cocktails worth your attention. 

Brandy Cocktail

brandy cocktail

While it hasn’t got a fancy name or many ingredients, a brandy cocktail is a good way to elevate your standard glass of brandy. All it requires is the addition of orange curaçao liqueur, some bitters, and a lemon peel for garnish. Then sit back and enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces brandy
  • 1/2 ounce orange curaçao liqueur
  • 2 dashes of aromatic bitters
  • 2 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Lemon peel, for garnish

Instructions

Pour the brandy, curaçao, and bitters into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a glass. Garnish with lemon peel and enjoy. 

Sidecar

sidecar brandy cocktail

This classic brand cocktail has undergone a number of changes over the years but remains a yummy brandy sour that’s easy to make.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces brandy (Cognac or Armagnac recommended) 
  • 1 ounce premium triple sec
  • 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Lemon or orange twist, for garnish

Pour the brandy, triple sec, and lemon juice into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and serve in a chilled glass. Add lemon garnish and you’re good to go. 

Gin

Popular gin brands: London Dry, Tanqueray, Beefeater, Plymouth Gin, Hendricks, and Bombay Sapphire. 

Gin has had somewhat of a resurgence of late. Developed during the Middle Ages, gin has become a favorite with the youth of today. It generally has a clear look (unless heavily flavored) due to the use of grains like rye, barley, corn, and wheat. Gin gets its unique flavor from the use of juniper berries. This plant extract gives gin its dry taste. That said, these days there are many different distillation processes and extra ingredients added that create wonderfully diverse flavor pallets and colors. 

As it isn’t a sugary distilled spirit, gin cocktails generally aren’t sweet, making them ideal for people who like a stiff drink. 

Gin and Tonic

gin and tonic

The go-to cocktail for many, a gin and tonic is as simple as it gets. It’s a mighty refreshing drink that combines, you guessed it, gin with tonic. 

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 4 to 6 ounces of tonic water
  • Lime wedge or slices for garnish

Instructions

Pour the gin into a glass with ice and add tonic water. Add a lime wedge for garnish and hey presto, you have yourself a G&T. It doesn’t get any easier than that. 

Tom Collins

tom collins

This is another traditional gin cocktail that’s been around for over a century. It appeared in the first official bartending book, Bon Vivant’s Companion, and is believed to have gone by the moniker John Collins before Tom became the associated name. It’s a fantastic summer cocktail due to its refreshing flavor. 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces of gin
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simply syrup
  • 3 ounces of club soda
  • Maraschino cherry
  • Lemon or orange slices 

Instructions

Add ice cubes to a Collins glass and pour in gin, lemon juice, and syrup. Stir, add club soda, and garnish with cherry and lemon/orange slice.

Mezcal 

Popular brands: Ilegal Anejo, Bozal Ensamble, Del Maguey, Montelobos, and Don Vega.

Often confused with tequila, mezcal is another spirit made from the agave plant. Unlike tequila, where the agave is steamed and distilled inside giant copper pots, the magical plant is cooked inside fire pits in the ground before being distilled in clay pots, with the final product being mezcal. Another contrast is both liquors are produced in different regions of Mexico and aged for varying lengths of time. Mezcal can also be made using any type of agave plant, while tequila can only be produced using blue agave. As far as taste goes, mezcal has a smokey flavor similar to bourbon or whiskey. 

While not on the level of tequila just yet (there was $3 billion in revenue reported for tequila companies in 2018 compared to mezcal’s $90 million), mezcal continues to grow, particularly in the United States, where many mezcal-centric bars are opening.  

When it comes to cocktails, mezcal can be used in a variety of different drinks, from takes on the classics to wholly original tipples sure to please the tastebuds. 

Naked and Famous

naked and famous cocktail

Invented by bartender Joaquín Simó while working at the bar Death and Co in New York City in 2011, this is a modern and fresh cocktail anyone can enjoy. 

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce mezcal
  • 1 ounce yellow or green Chartreuse
  • 1.5 ounce Aperol
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice

Instructions

Add ice, mezcal, Chartreuse, Aperol, and fresh lime juice into a cocktail shaker. Shake hard, strain, and pour into a cocktail glass. 

Mezcal Margarita 

mezcal margarita 

Swap tequila for mezcal with this modern interpretation of the classic margarita cocktail. It has much more of a flavor kick and is a great party starter. 

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce mezcal
  • 1 ounce tequila Blanco or reposado
  • Kosher salt or flaky sea salt for the rim
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • Lime circle for garnish

Instructions

Cut a notch of lime and run it around the rim of the glass. Dip glass into salt and cover the rim. Put mezcal, tequila, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and ice cubes into a cocktail shaker and shake. Strain liquid and pour into glass. Add lime as garnish.

Rum

Popular brands: Captain Morgan, Kraken, Goslings, Sailor Jerry, Barcadi, and Parce Rum.

When it comes to a distilled alcoholic beverage, it doesn’t get any better than rum. Mainly produced in the Caribbean, rum is a hard liquor that’s a big part of West Indian culture. While often associated with the Royal Navy and pirates, it’s an alcoholic beverage anyone can enjoy at any time. It is developed using sugarcane molasses or sugarcane juice. This is fermented and then distilled and traditional-aged in oak barrels.

There are several varieties of rum, such as light, dark, gold, spiced, and flavored. Each has a different color, taste pallet, and distillation process. Most rums have an ABV of 40-75%. Light and spiced rums are often used in cocktails, while dark and gold rum is usually drunk on the rocks.  

Dark & Stormy

dark & stormy rum cocktail

This iconic rum cocktail is a staple of any bar worth its salt. A favorite amongst locals in the Caribbean, this is a refreshing cocktail ideal for sipping while sitting on the beach or lounging by the pool. What’s even better is it only uses three ingredients and takes no time at all to whip up.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces dark rum
  • 3 ounces ginger beer
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Lime wedge for garnish

Instructions

Pour rum, ginger beer, and lime juice into a glass with ice. Add a lime wedge for garnish and hey presto!

Pina Colada 

best-rums-for-a-pina-colada

This is another favorite that most people have heard of, even if they’ve never tried one. It’s another tasty tipple best enjoyed during the summertime. 

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces white rum
  • 2 ounces cream of coconut
  • 1-2 ounces pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple chunks
  • 2 ounces golden rum
  • Pineapple leaves for garnish

Instructions

Place the white rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice, and pineapple chunks in a blender and blend away until smooth. Pour into a glass and top with golden rum. Add pineapple leaves and one of those little umbrellas for garnish and away you go. 

Tequila 

Tequila is one hard liquor you either love or hate. Everyone seems to have a tequila story, often ending badly. If you can still stomach this spirit, then you are in for a treat. Made from the blue agave plant in Jalisco, Mexico, tequila is a smooth, clear spirit usually served straight. While Westerners love a tequila shot with lime and salt, most Mexicans prefer to sip their tequila neat, provided it’s a decent brand. The other alternative is with a mixer, such as soda water or some sort of juice. This spirit is also good for cocktails, with some pretty famous drinks using tequila as their base. 

Margarita

the-classic-margarita

There are so many variations of the margarita these days that it’s easy to forget the original still exists. Not only is it one of the easiest cocktails to make, but it goes down smoothly and is perfect no matter the occasion. 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces tequila
  • 1 ounce premium triple sec
  • 3/4 ounces freshly squeed line juice
  • Coarse salt
  • Lime wedge for rim and garnish

Instructions

Run the lime around the edge of the glass and then dip it in salt. Pour the tequila, triple sec, and lime juice into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake, strain, and pour into glass. Garnish with lime.

Tequila Sunrise

tequila-sunrise-how-to-drink-tequila

Also the name of an underrated Kurt Russell film, a tequila sunrise is a bright, fruity cocktail. It gets its name from the use of grenadine, which when poured into the glass, rises up like a sunrise. Neat. 

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces tequila
  • 4 ounces of orange juice
  • 1/2 ounce grenadine
  • Orange slice for garnish
  • Maraschino cherry for garnish

Instructions

Fill a highball glass with ice, tequila, and orange juice. Stir well and then slowly add the grenadine and watch as it slowly rises. Then garnish with orange slice and cherry. 

Vodka

Usually made using just water, ethanol (ethyl alcohol), and fermented grains, vodka is a popular alcohol that originates from Russia and Poland. It is a distilled alcohol often drunk as a shot, although its popularity has led to many varieties of flavored vodka that are enjoyed by the younger generation. Due to its relatively neutral flavor, vodka makes a fantastic base for many types of cocktails. As it is easy to drink when mixed, you can get drunk quickly by drinking vodka cocktails. Too many could lead to alcohol poisoning and a stay in the hospital, so be careful with your alcohol consumption. 

Moscow Mule

moscow-mule-cocktail

A tasty refreshing cocktail that’s easy to make, the Moscow Mule is super simple and requires few ingredients. It’s an alcoholic drink that suits the warm weather. 

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 4 ounces of ginger beer
  • Lime wedge, for garnish

Instructions

Pour the vodka and lime juice into a copper mug (you can use a normal glass but a copper mug is preferred) filled with ice cubes. Top up with ginger beer and add lime wedge as garnish. Welcome to flavor country. 

Cosmopolitan

the-premium-cosmopolitan

You can thank Sex and the City for this drink dominating cocktail lists. A favorite of the after-work crowd, there are hundreds of variations of the Cosmopolitan. This is the one we enjoy the most. 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounce vodka, or citrus vodka
  • 1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 ounce cranberry juice
  • Orange peel, for garnish

Instructions

Pour vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, and cranberry juice into a cocktail shaker then add ice. Shake well, strain, and pour into a chilled glass. Garnish with orange peel and this tasty mixed drink. 

Whisky/Whiskey

Depending on where it is made, the spelling of whisk(e)y is different. If distilled in America or Ireland, it is written as whiskey, but when this liquor is made in Canada or Japan it is referred to as whisky. If manufactured in Scotland, the liquor is often called Scotch Whisky. American whiskey is also known as bourbon, just to confuse you even more, although it must adhere to strict guidelines to be classified as bourbon. 

While the name might be spelled differently, the ingredients are the same. Whisk(e)y is made from grain, barley, corn, rye, or wheat and aged in wood or oak barrels and sometimes sherry casks. The alcohol concentration varies from distillery to distillery, but it usually ranges from 40-50%. While most people enjoy whisk(e)y neat or on the rocks, there are numerous cocktails that make great use of this type of distilled alcohol. 

Old Fashioned

old fashioned whiskey

When it comes to cocktails associated with luxury and opulence, the old fashioned immediately comes to mind. It’s a simple drink that doesn’t water down the taste of the whisk(e)y. The type of whisk(e)y you use also adds to the flavor, with a rye whiskey or bourbon changing the palate profile. 

Ingredients 

  • 1 sugar cube, or 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 dashes bitters
  • 2 ounces ​bourbon or rye whiskey
  • Orange peel for garnish
  • Maraschino cherry for garnish

Instructions

Place sugar cube/sugar in a glass, add bitters, and stir well. Add whisk(e)y, ice, and stir well. Squeeze the juice of the orange peel into the drink before garnishing with said orange peel and maraschino cheery. 

Whiskey Sour

whiskey sour

For those who like something a little different, try a whiskey sour. It creates a great balance between the sourness of the citrus juice and the sweetness of the whiskey. This cocktail is so popular it has its own holiday known as National Whiskey Sour Day, falling on August 25.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 to 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • Maraschino cherry or lemon peel for garnish

Instructions

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake well, strain, and pour into a chilled glass. Garnish with maraschino cherry or lemon peel and enjoy. 

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