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Liqueur is derived from the Latin word ‘liquifacere’ which means “to dissolve or melt”. As a rule liqueurs are usually strong alcoholic drinks made from a neutral spirit and flavoured with many different products, herbs, spices, fruits, cream or many others and normally sweetened. These liqueurs can be drunk neat, diluted to make cocktails or even poured on desserts.
Historically liqueurs were derived centuries ago from herbal medicinal concoctions, elixirs, prepared by monks, some of the earliest records show that they were produced in Italy as early as the thirteenth century. Chartreuse is one of these early liqueurs made by monks from an ancient recipe and the only liqueur in the world with a completely natural green colour.
In 1605 Francois Hannibal d’Estrees (the Marshall of Artillery for King Henry IV) gave an ancient manuscript entitled ‘An Elixir of Long Life’ to the monks of a Chartreuse monastery in Veuvert. It wasn’t until 1703 that the complex recipe contained in the manuscript was fully unravelled and the first Chartreuse Elixir was made.
Nowadays the recipe of Green Chartreuse, as it is now known, is still faithful to the original manuscript of 130 plants, herbs, roots, leaves, barks, brandy, distilled honey and sugar syrup (with only subtle changes to allow the original Chartreuse Elixir to be adapted from 71% alcohol 142% proof to 55% alcohol and 110% proof) and such is the secrecy for the recipe and the 130 different herbs contained within it that at any one time only three monks know the secrets of the manuscript and to guard against its demise they never travel together. In 1833 a milder and sweeter form of the Chartreuse Elixir was made which is known as Yellow Chartreuse.
A Brief Whisky History
Though distillation was known during the Babylonian times, the first records of distillation of alcohol were in Italy in the 13th century. The art of distilling alcohol spread to Ireland and Scotland around the 15th century where the product became known as uisce beatha (water of life) in Irish Gaelic and uisge beatha in Scottish Gaelic. The word whisky is an Anglicisation of the word uisce/uisge.
The early whisky, made in monasteries and then later in private homes, was not allowed to age so it tasted rather raw and brutal. As the manufacturing techniques evolved and the whisky was allowed to age, it became smoother.
In 1608 the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland acquired its license, making it the oldest licensed whisky distillery in the world. In 1644 the Scottish Parliament introduced a tax on whisky which was repealed over time. When England and Scotland merged in 1707 to form Great Britain, taxes on whisky rose drastically forcing its manufacturers to operate at night, leading to the name moonshine for whisky. Moonshine came to an end when the UK’s Excise Act of 1823 allowed distillation of whisky for a fee.
From 1600 onward the art of whisky distillation was taken to America by the Irish and Scottish settlers. Whiskey (note the American spelling) was used as currency during the American Revolution War because it was easier for farmers to convert their corn to whisky and then transport it to the market. In 1791 a new excise on distilled alcohol, commonly called the whiskey tax, was introduced in America to fund the war debt. The tax led to the Whiskey Rebellion by the corn farmers (distillers) that only ended in 1794 when President Washington sent an army to crush it.
All classes and types of whiskies have one thing in common – the fermentation of grains (barley, corn [maize], rye and wheat), distillation, and aging in wooden barrels (American or French oak). It is during the aging process that whisky gets its final flavour, so age has nothing to do with how long it has been in a bottle.
Scotch whisky is the best known product of Scotland, mostly sold to the USA, contributing more than £4.25 billion to the UK economy every year. This is not surprising, seeing that the Scots have been distilling whisky for around 500 years. The most famous Scotch whisky is Johnnie Walker, first distilled in 1820 by John Walker, a Scottish grocer.
It’s a Rum Thing!
As one of the world’s most well-known spirits, rum can be found behind most bars across the country. However, you may not be aware that this now popular drink came into existence almost by accident. In the 17th Century the big export from the Caribbean was sugar. Sugar farmers produced the sugar they needed by crushing sugar cane and then boiling the juices that they got. The resulting boiled syrup was left in clay pots to cure. During this process, a viscous liquid would leech out of the pots and the sugar – the product the farmers actually wanted – would be left behind.
This liquid is what we know as molasses, and whilst it is a popular baking ingredient in most homes now, back in the 17th Century nobody wanted it. In fact, the sugar planters couldn’t even give it away. Some was eaten by cattle and slaves but there was only so much of this cloying sticky sweet substance anyone could eat. Luckily, someone eventually worked out a way to use molasses for something much better and the earliest version of a rather rough rum were produced.
From this point rum gained a popularity in other countries where the distillation process was refined and rum production became a much bigger industry with various different types being produced.
There are 2 types of still used for Rum distillation; Pot (alembic) Stills and Column (Coffey) Stills. In general, the type of still used has a bearing on the type of distillate that is produced, and each type produces a rather different type of end product.
Pot stills are the original type of still and the simplest. They look like large Copper kettles and in fact the same as the stills used in Malt Whisky production in Scotland and the production of Cognac in France. Pot stills are stopped and started during the distillation process, and because of increased copper contact and a higher boiling point the end result of the process is a lighter distillate.
Column stills, which are sometimes referred to as continuous stills run constantly this and the fact that the distillate they produce has a higher alcohol content makes then far more economical to run than pot stills. In addition to producing an end distillate that has a higher alcohol content this type of still produces a cleaner, lighter rum. The technology used in modern column stills helps to produce light and extra-light Rums to be produced in a much cheaper process.
Now you know a little more about the origins of rum, why not explore the different tastes each type of this delicious, but almost accidentally produced drink offers?