Happy New Year! Where did 2016 go? Whether you toast in the New Year with sparkling grape juice or a more spirited drink, it is interesting to think of all the plants that make up spirits.
Spirits are actually named by the fermented material from which they are distilled. Various grains make up whiskey, vodka, gin and most types of schnapps. Brandy is made from fermented grape juice, and fruit brandy is made from other fruits. Rum and cane spirits come from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses. Tequila and mezcal come from the fermented pulp of the agave plant.
Whiskey is distilled from various grains. It is aged, often for extended periods of time, in wooden barrels (usually oak), which adds aroma, flavor, and an amber hue. After some time, these whiskey barrels are cut in half and sold as plant containers. Scotch and Irish whiskeys are made from barley, while North American whiskeys are typically a mix of corn, rye, wheat, barley and other grains in different proportions.
Vodka is distilled from a mash of pale grain or vegetable matter, including potatoes, molasses, beets, and a variety of other plants. Rye and wheat are the classic grains for vodka, with most Russian vodkas being made from wheat. In Poland, they are mostly made from a rye mash.
Gin is a juniper berry-flavored grain spirit. Junipers are grown worldwide and are very common foundation plants.
Rum comes from sugarcane. While touring the Bacardi factory in the Bahamas a few years ago, I found out that Bacardi rum's unique recipe is not only a distillation of molasses and water but also special yeast. The yeast is the secret and has been growing since 1862.
Distilling the fermented juice of agave plants in Mexico makes tequila. The agave is a spiky-leafed member of the lily family (it is not a cactus) and is related to the century plant.
Other alcoholic beverages include wine and beer. Wine comes from grapes and other fruits, while the beer is brewed from grain and hops.
For those of you who toast in the New Year with champagne, you might actually be drinking sparkling wine. Champagne is a region of France, and only wines that come from this region can properly be called "Champagne." Similar drinks from California and the rest of the world should be called "sparkling wines."
Have a safe and happy New Years! Please take care of yourself and each other and don't drink and drive!