Just like with food, consumers are becoming more discerning about the provenance and production methods of their favorite spirits. Taking a brilliant cue from the farm-to-table food movement, Bridgeport-based, Fifth State Distillery works with 4th generation Connecticut farmers to source non-GMO corn both responsibly and sustainably. The result? Hand-crafted, small-batch gins, whiskeys, unique flavored vodkas, and liqueurs made from the highest quality ingredients. “None of our products have artificial colors, added sugar, citric acid, or added flavors,” says Rob Schulten, Co-Founder & Distiller at Fifth State.
Proudly named as an homage to Connecticut’s heritage as the fifth state to join the Union in 1778, Fifth State was the first distillery to open in Fairfield County since January 1920, which was the start of Prohibition and the ratification of the 18th Amendment. Which is exactly why we asked this distilling mastermind (and former chemical engineer at GE) to shed light on the historical nuggets, current nuances, and fun tidbits of three of the most popular spirits on the market: Gin, Vodka, and Whiskey. So pour yourself a cocktail and read on. Cheers!
From Evolution to Current Trends…
· Invented by the Dutch in the 1500’s, Gin was the first commercial spirit on the planet. Their genius was the addition of Juniper berries to disguise the bad tasting alcohol.
· One of reasons gin originally tasted bad was the lack of understanding around fermentation—they didn’t know alcohol was created by yeast converting sugar to alcohol.
· Gin was brought to the UK in the 1600’s. By 1650, 25% of the London population were manufacturing gin and distributing it around the world.
· The average person in London drank 3 quarts of gin per week (yes, 3 quarts!) since the water was unsafe to drink.
· Many people don’t like gin because they had a “Gincident” in their younger days. Gin by tradition is higher proof than many spirits, which may make it easier to overindulge.
· Today gin remains wildly popular in the UK. Ever hear of Gin Palooza? We didn’t, but trust us, it’s a thing.
· Currently only representing approximately 8% of U.S. market, the demand for distilled gin manufactured in the U.S. is expected to grow as consumer interest is shifting toward exotic, handcrafted drinks.
· Gin’s dry profile makes it a perfect candidate for non-sweet cocktails, including the classic martini. We'll take ours like James Bond—shaken, not stirred.
· The origin of “vodka” comes from the Russian word “voda”, which means water.
· Vodka is in fact, lighter than water. 1 liter of water equates to 1,000 grams, compared to 1 liter of vodka at 950 grams.
· The geographic region of Nordic countries (minus Denmark), the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Russia, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Slovakia are referred to as the “Vodka Belt”.
· The government’s qualitative description of vodka’s taste is “without distinction” which literally means odorless and tasteless.
· Vodka is often referred to as a “marketing miracle” from the 1950’s since the allure of an odorless spirt appealed to Madison Avenue executives. With vodka, they could happily indulge in a “martini lunch” without returning to the office smelling like gin.
· Vodka can be made from any sugar or starch.
· Being “infinitely mixable” because of its neutral taste, vodka represents close to 25% of the U.S. spirits market.
· Arguably the most versatile spirit available, vodka cocktails include almost every imaginable flavor profile from sweet to savory, from fruits to herbs, and from spices to sparkling mixers.
· Whiskey is distilled from malted grains. It varies by style, but corn, rye, wheat, and barley are very common. Many whiskies use a combination of a few grains in the mash bill.
· There are many different types of whisky including Bourbon, Canadian, Irish, Japanese, Rye, Scotch, Tennessee, Malt, and Single Malt.
· To be considered a bourbon, it must be made in the U.S. (not just Kentucky), distilled at least 51% corn in the mash bill, come off the still below 80% alcohol, and aged in a new American oak-charred barrel.
· The thousands of barrels dumped in Kentucky each year are containerized and shipped to Ireland and Scotland where they will be re-used for another 10-25 years.
· Much of the flavor of bourbon whiskey (and the color) comes from the caramelized sugars in the oak barrels.
· Whiskey is hugely popular representing over 25% of the U.S. spirits market. Unique bottles can sell for $50K or more and have become a collectible item.
· Whiskey is another one of the more versatile cocktail bases. With so many styles, there is the opportunity for great diversity in flavor profiles. It mixes well with other liquors to create complex drinks, and it pairs well with many fruits, particularly darker fruits. Warm drinks are also very popular with whiskey.