Why is Alcohol Called Spirits?

Millions of people around the globe consume alcohol daily, making it one of the most widely used substances.

bottles of assorted alcoholic spirits

But have you ever questioned the meaning of the word “spirits”? This article will look at the history, definition, and development of this intriguing term.

Origins of the Term “Spirits”

Alchemy and distillation date back to the earliest times when the word “spirits” was first used.

Alcohol was once thought to have mystical properties that could turn common metals into gold. This magical essence, which was believed to be the substance’s life force, was referred to as having a “spirit.”

Whiskey drinks on wood

Whiskey, gin, and vodka are just a few examples of refined alcoholic beverages that have come to be referred to as “spirits” over time.

These drinks were thought to hold both the spirit or life force that gave them their power as well as the essence of the plant or grain from which they were derived.

The Meaning of “Spirits”

Today, any alcoholic liquid that has been distilled as opposed to fermented is referred to as a “spirit.”

Alcohol is produced when yeast breaks down sugar into ethanol through the fermentation process.

strong alcoholic drinks and distillates

Alcohol is then removed from water and other impurities in the fermented liquid through the distillation process.

Spirits’ elevated alcohol content and distinctive flavor come from distillation.

Spirits are frequently more costly than other alcoholic beverages like beer and wine because they are produced through the distillation process.

The Evolution of the Term “Spirits”

Whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, tequila, and brandy are just a few of the alcoholic beverages that fall under the umbrella word “spirits,” which has expanded over time.

Depending on the ingredients and distillation process, each of these spirits has a distinct taste and personality.

Hand alcoholic and drink the distillate brandy or cognac.

For instance, whiskey has a unique flavor because it is aged in oak barrels after being made from fermented grain mash.

Gin, on the other hand, is created by distilling grain that has gone through the fermentation process and then adding botanicals like juniper berries, coriander, and citrus zest.

The process of making vodka, which has its roots in Russia and Poland, involves distilling fermented cereals or potatoes and purifying the resulting spirit through charcoal to get rid of impurities.

Rum has a sweet, caramel-like flavor and is produced from fermented sugarcane. It is usually aged in oak barrels.

Tequila, which is made from the blue agave plant, is only manufactured in Mexico, and it is given a smooth, mellow taste by being aged in oak barrels.

Brandy has a fruity, floral flavor and is created from distilled wine or fruit juice. It is usually aged in oak barrels.


Is there a difference between “spirits” and “liquor”?

The terms “spirits” and “liquor” are often used interchangeably to refer to any alcoholic beverage that has been distilled. However, some people use the term “liquor” to refer specifically to distilled beverages that are not aged, such as vodka and gin.

Why are spirits more expensive than other types of alcohol?

Spirits are more expensive than other types of alcohol because they are made through a process of distillation, which is more expensive than fermentation. In addition, many spirits are aged in oak barrels, which adds to their cost.

What is the difference between whiskey and bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is made from at least 51% corn and is aged in new, charred oak barrels. Other types of whiskey, such as Scotch and Irish whiskey, are made from different grains and are aged in different types of barrels.

Are all spirits gluten-free?

Not all spirits are gluten-free. Spirits that are made from grains, such as whiskey and vodka, may contain gluten unless they have been specially distilled or filtered to remove it. However, many spirits that are made from other ingredients, such as tequila and rum, are gluten-free.

How should I store my spirits?

Spirits should be stored in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. They should also be stored upright to prevent the cork from drying out and allowing air to enter the bottle, which can affect the flavor of the spirit.

Can I mix different types of spirits together in a cocktail?

Yes, you can mix different types of spirits together in a cocktail. However, it is important to choose complementary flavors and to balance the proportions of each spirit in the cocktail.

Is it safe to drink spirits that have been stored for a long time?

In general, spirits do not spoil or go bad over time, but their flavor can change if they are stored improperly. Spirits that have been stored for a long time may develop a “dusty” or “musty” flavor, but they are still safe to drink.


Although the term “spirits” may have first been used to refer to the ethereal essence of alcohol, it is now used to refer to a broad range of distilled drinks, each with a distinctive flavor and personality.

Whatever your preference, there is a spirit to fit every mood and situation, whether you favor whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, tequila, or brandy.

So the next time you sip on a cocktail or a glass of your preferred spirit, take a minute to appreciate the fascinating term’s long history and development. Cheers!

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

Written by Paul Kushner

I have always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. My restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time I turned 17 I was serving tables, and by 19 I was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, I opened my first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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