A look at what goes into making varieties of hard liquor

Washington state’s new craft distilleries law defines distilling spirits as an agricultural practice. Here’s a look at some of the crops and ingredients used to make hard liquor.

Whiskies, vodka, gin and most kinds of schnapps are made by distilling beer made from grains such as wheat, rye or corn.

Gin is typically made from wheat or rye, is often flavored with juniper berries or other herbs and botanicals.

Vodka is made by fermenting and distilling the simple sugars from a mash of pale grain, such as rye or wheat, or other vegetables, such as potatoes, molasses and beets. Though many Russian distillers prefer wheat, potatoes are revered by many Polish vodka makers. Molasses is widely used for inexpensive, mass-produced brands of vodka.

Whiskey is distilled from grain, which is sometimes malted. It is aged, often for long periods of time, in wooden barrels, usually oak, to mellow the flavor and add aromatic nuances and an amber hue.

Brandy, such as French Cognac, is distilled from fermented grape juice or wine.

Grappa is an Italian brandy made from the pressed grape pulp, skins and stems that remain after grapes are crushed and pressed.

Fruit brandy is made from other fruits.

Rum is made from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses.

Tequila comes from the fermented pulp of the agave plant.

Fortified wines are hybrid beverages that blend fermented wine and a distilled spirit, usually brandy. Port wine from the Porto region in Portugal is one example.

Absinthe, a spirit once thought to produce mysterious hallucinations and psychotic behavior, has a black licorice flavor and, often, a green color. It is typically made with neutral grain spirits, also known as pure grain alcohol, distilled with herbs, including green anise, wormwood and Florence fennel. It is often colored and flavored with hyssop, lemon balm and Roman wormwood. Last year, the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau lifted a decades-long ban of absinthe, prompted by fears of thujone, a chemical found in wormwood. To be legal today, absinthe must contain no more than 10 parts per million of thujone.

Source: Beverage Testing Institute; www.tastings.com.

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