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Beginners Guide To Drinking Spirits

Author: Michelle Richards   Date Posted:22 September 2021 

Take Your Knowledge Of Popular Spirits To The Next Level  

Are you ready to explore the fascinating world of spirits? Our helpful guide will walk you through the basics of popular types of alcohol, their taste sensations, and ways to drink them. It will help make your gift buying or cocktail shaking rise from amateur to aficionado. 


Here at The Hamper Emporium, we curate a selection of the finest spirit hampers with only the most well-loved and distinctive spirits. We choose them because of their accolades, reviews, awards, and because people love them. To truly appreciate each different type of spirit's flavour and qualities, these are the best brands to try. So, delve into some facts, enjoy yourself, and try some sipping!


Find out the best way to enjoy different spirits, when to serve, and which foods to pair for the perfect drinking experience.


What is an apéritif?

Apéritifs are an essential part of the dining experience and are generally served before your meal. Traditionally, they are low in alcohol and sugar to boost the appetite without satisfying it. Common choices for the best apéritif are a dry vermouth, champagne, gin, ouzo, dry white wine, vodka, amontillado or other styles of dry sherry.


What is a digestif?

Digestifs are enjoyed after the meal and are traditionally used to aid digestion and leave you feeling satisfied. For this reason, they are much higher in alcohol and often taste slightly bitter or herbal. Popular kinds of digestif include brandy, cognac, fortified wines, sweet sherries, vermouth, port, Madeira, and liqueur cocktails.


Fast Facts About Whiskey

The most popular ‘amber nectar’ worldwide is a blend of whiskies from different grain and malt distilleries. It is generally spelled “whiskey” (with an e) when made in the United States and Ireland, and “whisky” (without the e) when made in Scotland and Canada. Whiskey lovers enjoy it as a solo sip or on ice, but it’s also frequently used as the primary ingredient for cocktails. It pairs well with dark chocolate, cheese, salmon and dried fruit and nuts.


What is whiskey made from?

Whiskey is distilled from a mash mixture of fermented grains like wheat, corn, rye and malted barley. The ingredients and proportions used will affect the resulting flavour and aroma of the whiskey. It is typically aged in oak barrels and classified as bourbon, scotch or rye.


What does whiskey taste like?

The flavour depends very much on the type of whiskey, so there are no magic tasting notes. Bourbon can have strong notes of oak, vanilla and caramel, while scotch has a sharper, more spicy flavour. Single malt tastes woody with signature smoky notes.


How do you drink whiskey?

Most enjoy whiskey neat, holding it in their mouth for a few seconds and then cleansing the palate with water. This is how to get the full flavour of this pungently alcoholic nectar. Others add drops of water to open up the flavours, and many love it with mixers. 


Whisky Hamper


Fast Facts About Cognac

Cognac is one of the most versatile and oldest spirits in the world and is present in many classic cocktails. It’s the perfect choice for a wide range of occasions as an aperitif or digestif. In cooking, it enriches luxurious sauces, and food pairings include seafood, sushi, cheese and most desserts.


What’s the difference between cognac and brandy?

Cognac is an exclusive spirit and can only be made from grapes grown in the Cognac region. Brandy can contain grapes grown anywhere in the world and technically doesn't even have to include grapes. It can be any distilled spirit made using fermented fruit juice.


Do brandy and cognac taste the same?

While grapes are usually the basis of any brandy, there are versions made from apples and even plums. Cognac is recognised as the finest spirit and is often aged six years or more. No other brandy tastes quite like Cognac with its unique character and complexity of flavour. 


How do you drink cognac?

Sipping Cognac neat or with a drop of water will maximise its floral and spicy flavours and aromas. You can also pour it over ice or mix it if you’re in the mood for traditional cocktails. As a long, classic drink with fruity notes, Cognac is perfect with tonic or ginger ale.


Cognac Hamper


Fast Facts About Gin

Gin is a wonderfully clear, neutral spirit infused with botanical flavours to make it taste divine. It can have three different types of distillation processes and is around 40-80% ABV, so perfect for celebrations. Gin is the ideal accompaniment to smoked salmon, cheese, lamb, curries, nuts and berries, which is why our gin hampers are so popular! 

What is gin made from?

Gin always uses a neutral spirit with juniper berries and botanicals added. The traditional method is to distil botanicals, such as coriander, fruit peel, almond, cinnamon or liquorice, with vodka. It differs from making flavoured vodka in that botanicals are always pure and natural.


What does gin taste like?

Gin usually has a strong citrus aroma and a subtle taste of pine from the juniper berries. It has a sweet perfume-like flavour with a kick of mild bitterness due to the herbs and fruit peels used as ingredients. It can vary subtly depending on the brand and botanicals used in the recipe.


How do you drink gin?

Many gin lovers fill a tall glass with ice cubes and pour their gin neat on the rocks to savour the full flavour. The legendary combination is, of course, gin and tonic water but many fruit juices like bitter lemon work well. Alternatively, mix a classic Martini or add cucumber and fruit.


Gin Hamper


Fast Facts About Port

Port is a sweet, strong fortified wine with a high alcohol content of 20% ABV. Usually an after-dinner drink and sweet treat to finish the meal, it can also be enjoyed chilled as a delicious aperitif. It’s commonly paired with a selection of fine cheeses, dried fruits and nuts. 


What is port wine made from?

Port is made from grapes in the same way as wine but is fortified during the process, usually with brandy. This stops the fermentation process, and it’s then aged in oak casks. Generally, they are full-bodied red wines, but there are over 52 varieties, including dry, white, and rosé. 


What does port wine taste like?

Great port wine is a balanced drink with characteristic sweetness, complex flavours and sufficient acidity for a distinct bite. It can be almost syrupy in your mouth, and flavours can include hints of fruit, berries, cinnamon and chocolate, depending on the chosen variety. 


How do you drink port wine?

Those who enjoy the sophistication of tawny and ruby reserve port will normally sip it ‘neat’ using a proper port glass. It’s best served at a little below room temperature. It’s also simple and fun to make a variety of delicious port cocktails or drink it as a refreshing club soda spritzer.


Port Hamper


Fast Facts About Vodka

Vodka is usually one of the very first spirits we try. It’s known as a ‘neutral spirit’ which is unaged and usually around 40% ABV, having been distilled three or more times. Perfect for recipes from pasta sauces to desserts, it also pairs well with steak, seafood, cheese, and caviar! 


What is vodka made from?

Vodka is generally distilled from grains but can be made from pretty much anything. Potatoes, cereal grains and sugar beet molasses are the most popular. However, there are many varieties made from fruits and veggies, which influence its overall flavour.


What does vodka taste like?

A classic recipe has no distinctive flavour or aroma, so the subtle differences are gauged by the drink’s texture on your tongue, called the ‘mouthfeel’. There’s also a huge scene for flavoured vodka, each with its own subtly different background taste.   


How do you drink vodka?

Straight, chilled shots are enjoyed in Europe and vodka is traditionally drunk neat as a sipper. Many drinkers love to serve it ice cold and on the rocks. It can also be shaken and stirred with most mixers and served as a smooth cocktail. 


Vodka Hamper


Want to know more? Order one of our premium spirits hampers and find your favourite. Plan a taste testing evening with fine foods and discover for yourself the best way to enjoy spirits with friends.


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