Here it is, the end of October, and what are people thinking about? Grape Harvest? The end of daylight savings? No...Halloween. And what goes along with Halloween? Spirits. Not those ghostly type, but the drinks made with spirits for the Halloween party. So what exactly are spirits, and what differentiates them from wine, beer, or liqueurs?

The word "spirit" comes from the Latin "spiritus", or breath. While this is usually associated with the soul, or ghostly images, it can also refer to a type of alcohol. In this context,  "spirit" comes from Middle Eastern alchemists, who were working with medicinal elixirs. (Most alchemist of the time were trying to turn lead into gold.) The vapors given off during an distillation process were known as a spirit of the original liquor. And where did the word "liquor" come from? It is from the Latin verb "liquere" which means "to be fluid" or liquid.

Spirits are drinks that have had the alcohol concentrated by the process of distillation. The final product, after the distillation process, will create a product with about 37% to 43% alcohol (with a minimum of about 20%). Remember that beer is around 3% to 8% and wine is in the range of 7% to 16%. Anything that can be fermented, can be made into a spirit. All that is required is sugar, or starch that can be converted into sugar. So raw materials such as fruit, vegetables and grains, are fair game.

Alembic Still
The process of distillation is actually very simple. In general terms, the fermented liquid is cooked in a pot. As the liquid is heated, it vaporizes and rises from the pot into a condensation coil, where the vapor is cooled, and returns to liquid form. Ethanol vaporizes at a lower temperature than water, so this process creates a new liquid that has a higher concentration of alcohol than the original. This new liquid is separated into "heads and tails" (the first and last cuts of the vaporization process) and removed. They are removed, because these first and last contain possible toxic components. Only the "heart", or middle is used. Again, this is a very simple explanation, as there are many types of distillation techniques that are used, and they all produce different results in the final product.

Spirits made from wine (made from grapes) is known as Brandy (see my article on Cognac). Spirits like Vodka can be made from a number of different materials: potatoes, grain, or even sugar cane, while others, like Tequila can only be made from the Agave plant (see my article on tequila). The most common spirits are: Brandy, Gin, Rum, Whiskey, Vodka, and Tequila.

Liqueurs (or cordials) are spirits that have added flavor or sweeteners. These additions were originally included for medicinal purposes (usually digestive aids, or herbal cures), where the alcohol helped to accelerate the absorption. Most liqueurs are based on secret recipes, with a mix of herbs, bark, roots, seeds, fruit, etc. Some of the best known liqueurs are: Bailey's Irish Cream, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Sambuca, Frangelico, and Schnapps.

Vampire Wines
Here are some links for fun Halloween party drinks:



For those of you who still insist on wine at your Halloween party, why not try some Orange Wine? Basically, just white wines with some longer skin contact. Or, you could buy any number of wines with spooky themes: Vampire Vineyards, Hocus Pocus Syrah, Skeleton Wine, Witch Creek Winery, or even Big Red Monster Wine.

Whatever you decide to do with your Halloween party, have fun, and enjoy!