Wine 101: Spirits Without Sweeteners

I’m not a mixologist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have a Level Two Certification in Wine and Spirits. Part of my studies were devoted to spirits, and I have found that though not equal to my wine interests, I do appreciate a good cocktail as well as a straight libation. Discovering which way you take your scotch, gin or vodka can be equally illuminating.

Let me explain.

Wine Etiquette For Everyone by Eve Bushman Available Now on Amazon.comSome spirits are best left alone, with no additional components, while others are best served straight. I will give wine – and spirit – 101ers a little lesson here so that they can be more comfortable ordering a straight spirit or craft cocktail in a bar, or making one at home.

While single malt scotch is best served with a few squirts of bottled water, a single large ice cube or on the rocks, scotch blends can be served the same way, or for an inexpensive brand like Dewars, in cocktails such as a Perfect Rob Roy which also uses sweet and dry vermouth. Another cocktail, the Manhattan, can use a whiskey blend like Crown Royal or a rye, again with sweet vermouth and bitters.

While I can’t think of anyone that drinks straight gin it can be sampled so that you can discern its flavors. Besides being distilled from botanicals, my favorite Hendricks gin also has an infusion of cucumber and rose to add to its aroma and flavor palette. Other gins are distilled primarily from juniper berries, again giving them a distinct flavor. Most commonly served in a martini or with tonic over ice, gin was one of the original digestives meant to soothe the tummy. I often turn to it when I want to refresh my palate.

Most interesting, in the discussion of whether or not to add to your spirit up comes plain old vodka. This is the “cleanest” spirit, and lends itself to a bazillion cocktails. After a discussion and interview with a vodka expert, I held a vodka tasting in my home, and it was remarkable that when tasted side by side we could taste the minutest difference between vodka made from grain verses rye. With that said, I don’t drink vodka alone, but I don’t add much to it. My favorite is a martini with Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur replacing the small amount usually reserved for dry vermouth.

I’ve read some arguments about how craft cocktails do a lot to hide the flavor of the spirit. (Here’s an article explaining why the flavor of spirits were first hidden, and also, some great cocktail recipes.) I’m not a fan of drinking booze that tastes like an apple pie or chocolate fudge…and disguising booze to taste like dessert.

If this is what you are after, know that you will find plenty of options in the cocktail category to disguise the flavor of any given spirit. But what’s the point of that? Please, just have a nice wedge of dark chocolate fudge with a nice nosing glass of single malt – and call it a night. Cocktails are drinks, not food.

And the more you sample different spirits, the more you will grown an appreciation and a taste for many types of spirits.

Eve Bushman has been reading, writing, taking coursework and tasting wine for over 20 years.  She has obtained a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has been the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and recently served as a guest judge for the L.A. International Wine Competition.  You can email to ask a question about wine or spirits that may be answered in a future column. You can also seek her marketing advice via