In the seventeenth century a man named Clarke invented a weighted float. When the float was dropped into a spirit it sank to a certain depth. This indicated the density of the liquor. With that knowledge the alcoholic strength could be calculated. Clarke was then able to calculate a particular strength as "proof". Liquor with a greater or lesser concentration of alcohol was "overproof" or "underproof".
History of Spirits
Thousands of years ago, it was discovered that by heating a fermented liquid, the alcohol could be separated from the other substances in the liquid. It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who coined the term 'spirit' for the cooled distillate. Historical references to distillation date back to many centuries before Christ. It was known to the ancient Egyptians. Arak was distilled in the East Indies from sugarcane and rice hundreds of years before Christ. However, it was the Arabs of the 10th century that gave us the words alcohol and alembic; this latter word means "a still." Alchemists produced aqua ardens, 'burning water', or an alcohol and water mixture that would burn, and aqua vitae, 'water of life' or alcohol. The French still call this 'eau-de-vie.' The Celts called this 'uisege baugh,' which was later, shortened to whiskey. It was apparent though that alcohol had medicinal benefits and early experimentation mixed it with all sorts of herbs and spices so as to mask its harsh flavor.
The term 'brown spirits' or 'brown goods' refers to those spirits that have a brown color and are typically aged in wood. This includes whiskey and brandy. Whiskey is a spirit obtained from the distillation of a fermented mash of grain and usually aged in oak. Brandy is obtained by distilling wine or a fermented mash of fruit.
Vodka is the traditional spirit produced in Poland, Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe from fermented grain, potatoes or other plant stuffs. In the late 20th century vodka saw immense renewed interest by consumers who searched for higher quality and distinction. Today it is not surprising to see dozens of super-premium vodka products on the back bars of restaurants and shelves of package stores.
Cordials and Liqueurs
The terms cordials and liqueurs are synonymous, although the former is used more in the U.S. while the later is more European. Originally, liqueurs were devised as medicinal remedies, so products in this category encompass virtually every flavor. These flavors come from fruits, leaves, herbs, seeds or flowers.