David Willner (General Manager, PS 450, Vig 27 & The Volstead, NYC) gives expert video advice on: What is an "aperitif"?; What is a "cordial" or "liqueur"?; What is "vermouth"? and more...
What is an "aperitif"?
I always think the best way to think of an aperitif is as an appetizer. An appetizer starts your meal, an aperitif starts your drinking experience. Aperitifs are usually a little bit sweeter than most alcohols. Aperitifs are very low in alcohol content and mild in taste. An aperitif something like a lilet or a compari. An aperitif is something to start your drinking experience, and get you ready for a wide variety of flavours and experiences that you're about to have. Once you open an aperitif, you want to keep it in a mild, dry place. And you should have about three years shelf life on that aperitif.
What is a "cordial" or "liqueur"?
A cordial, or liqueur, is herbs and spices blended together with brandy. Typically, you would have a liqueur, served over ice, at the end of your meal because it's a little bit sweeter and brings all of the flavors together. Famous liqueurs include Drambuie, Galliano or amaretto. Once you've opened a liqueur, it'll have around 3 years in a cool, dry place before it goes off.
What is "vermouth"?
Vermouth is sour or uncompromised wines mixed with herbs, spices and sweeteners. There's two basic kinds of vermouth. One is dry vermouth and one is sweet vermouth. The most common cocktail that you will see with vermouth is a martini. When you say you want a sweet martini or a dry martini, that's based on the vermouth that you use. There's a variety of different types of vermouth. The most popular types of vermouth are Martini & Rossi and Cinzano. You want to refrigerate vermouth as soon as you open it. And again you should have about two or three years shelf life on vermouth.
What is "vodka"?
Vodka is one of the only flavorless spirits. Vodka originated about 600 or 700 years ago; Poland and Russia both claimed that they invented it. Traditionally, it is was potato-based; nowadays, however, there is a lot more vodka that is wheat, corn, and rye-based. Potato-based vodkas, whilst in the minority, are still in existence, one example being Showpan. Grey Goose and Stoley's are just two of the famous wheat, corn or rye vodkas. Vodka will not freeze in the freezer, due to it's very high proof. The quality of vodka is distinguished by the number of distillations that it has undergone; high-end vodkas will have been triple or quadruple distilled whereas the lower quality ones will be subject to less. Vodka is an ideal mixer because it is flavorless, and so can be used with a range of juices or sodas.
What is "gin"?
Gin is a very old spirit invented by the Dutch in or around the 1500's. Gin comes from Juniper Berries and was originally invented by the Dutch to actually cure a lot of various ailments with the bladder and kidney. The English got a hold of it and wanted to take it back to England, and they changed the name to gin. Gin can be anywhere from 60 to 80 proof and can also be mixed in a wide variety of things. There are some very high end gins; things like 'Tanqueray No. Ten', 'Bombay Sapphire', or 'Beefeater', and there's also a wide variety of low end gins. Gin can be an acquired taste; you either love it or you hate it. The easiest way to start loving it is to start with some high end gins. I wouldn't spend too much time with the lower end gins because they're not made correctly; they probably don't have the right proof and you're just not going to enjoy it. Most of the time when people say they don't like gin, they've had a bad gin experience with a poor quality gin. If you have a great gin and you mix it with the finest ingredients and the greatest fruits and mixers, I think people will change their mind about gin.
What is "rum"?
Rum is a spirit that is distilled from sugar cane. There are two types of rum; light rum and dark rum. Almost all light rum will come from Puerto Rico and almost all dark rum will come from the Caribbean Islands of Haiti or Jamaica. After it is distilled, rum is aged. Where it's aged will determine if it's a light rum or dark rum. If it's aged in an oak cask or a wooden cask, it will traditionally become a dark rum and if it's aged in stainless steel, it will become a light rum. Almost all rums are proof of about 120-180. Once you open it, you should have about two years. Rum should be stored in a cool, dry place and not in the refrigerator. There's a lot of different rums and a lot of different cocktails that you can make based on whether you are using light or dark rum. The most popular rum drink is probably what is called a 'Cuba Libre' which is a cooler way of saying rum and coke. There is also a great trend now with Mohitos. That's light rum, muddled mint, crushed ice and a couple of different sweeteners to make a Mojito.
What is "Scotch"?
Scotch is a spirit that dates back to the mid 1400s in Scotland. There's two main types of Scotch, malt whiskey and grain whiskey. One is from barley. One is from cereals. All Scotches were single malt until somewhere around the 15 1600s they decided to try to combine the malt and the grain whiskeys and that made blended Scotch. You will find almost completely in any bar you go blended Scotch. You also will find single malt Scotch. Those are the two main differences there. The most important thing about Scotch is it's from Scotland. It must be distilled in Scotland. It doesn't necessarily have to be bottled in Scotland but it does have to be distilled in Scotland. That is the only thing that can make it Scotch. Everything else is just whiskey. Now, almost all Scotches are a proof of about 80. And you typically don't mix Scotch. Scotch drinkers prefer their Scotch either neat or on the rocks so they really get the purity of the Scotch. I have seen people mix it. There's a drink called a rusty nail that uses Scotch but for the most part you just want that Scotch, the flavors, the smokiness of it to be by itself.
What is "whiskey"?
Whiskey can be a rather confusing spirit because there's several different kinds. There is American whiskey, Scottish whiskey, Canadian whiskey, and rye whiskey. Which is which depends on the type of grain that is used and where it comes from. Bourbon, for example, is a whiskey that comes from Kentucky. It has to come from Kentucky and it has to have at least 51% corn; anything that doesn't have that characteristic is whiskey but not bourbon. There are Canadian whiskeys like Canadian Club and Crown Royal that are just made in Canada. The Canadian whiskeys follow the same exact characteristics as any other whiskey made in Ireland, for example, but they're made in Canada so that's a type of Canadian whiskey. The proof on whiskey ranges from about 80 up to about 125. Whiskey has to be aged for a minimum of 2 years but it can go up as far as 7 or 8. While "Jack and Coke" is a universally known combination, whiskey-purists would refrain from mixing it and simply drink it straight, or possibly over ice.
What is "brandy"?
Brandy is a spirit made by distilling wine or fruit in casks and then letting it age. The length of time that it's aged varies from brandy to brandy. There's a lot of different types of brandies, all differing in flavor and taste. There are fruit brandies like an apple jack and then there are brandies which are distinguished by region, such as the Mexican brandy. The one thing that they'll all have in common is they're a little bit sweeter. You definitely want to have a brandy as an after dinner drink. The famous brandy cocktail is a "Brandy Alexander", which is a very famous brandy drink. If you store an opened Brandy in a cool, dry place then you should have around 2 years shelf-life.
What is "tequila"?
Tequila is made from the agave plant and is a product of Mexico; tequila dates back to the time of ancient Indians. Mexican law states that for an agave spirit to be "tequila" it has to come from the Tequila region of Mexican. One common way to drink tequila is with salt and citrus fruit. The salt is taken first, followed by the tequila and finally the citrus fruit, usually lemon or lime. The sweet, refreshing flavor of the fruit counteracts the harsh flavor of the tequila. You should have around 3 years shelf-life following the bottle's opening before the Tequila goes off.