Don’t look now, but you’re surrounded by spirits

It’s true! They’re everywhere. Sometimes they’re transparent, sometimes more of an amber hue. They can even be Orange, Purple, or Chartreuse!
They can appear shaken, as still as night, or stirring about. Sometimes they’re hot and other times, cold as ice…..

Many of them are solitary by nature, while others like to mingle with their fellow spirits; you just never know.

So just what are these spirits and where do they come from? Well, unlike Beer and Wine, “Spirits” refers to a distilled beverage that contains no added sugar and has at least 20% alcohol by volume. Well known spirits include brandy, fruit brandy (also known as eau-de-vie or Schnapps), gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whisky. In contrast, the alcohol content of Beer is usually between 4% and 10% for the most part, and Wine; between 7% and 16%.

The term “spirit” as it relates to alcohol comes from Middle Eastern alchemy. These alchemists were more concerned with medical elixirs than with turning lead into gold. The vapor given off and collected during an alchemical process (as with distillation of alcohol) was called a “spirit” of the original material, hence the name.

The first evidence of distillation comes from Greek alchemists working in Alexandria in the first century AD; but the earliest evidence of the distillation of alcohol comes from the School of Salerno in southern Italy in the 12th century.

It can be a complex world; the world of spirits, and we are proud to have what we feel is a thorough and varied selection. We’re also delighted to have an in-house expert with an extensive knowledge of all facets of these libations. Fred Thumhart joined us a number of months back, and is a wine specialist in our Montecito store. He worked with Traverso’s Market before that, and many of you will know him from there. Fred took his personal interest in spirits to a higher level due to his enthusiasm for them. He probably ranks Single Malts as his #1 passion, but is enthusiastic about a lot of the Bourbons coming out of the U. S., as well as the Ryes. Tequila as well, is piquing his interest.

When asked about trends; what he sees as up and coming, as well as what is likely to – or should – fade away, he first notes the rise of micro distillers. Like micro brewers, these small batch producers are really making their presence felt. Some couldn’t more closely tie the two concepts together; such as Moylan’s Brewery in Novato; (currently making a Rye under their own label!) Gins as well, seem to be holding their own. He wishes that more attention was devoted to Calvados and Armagnac; the latter often having much more character than so many of the garden variety Cognacs out there.

What’s on its way out, (or should be!)? Well, he feels that the market has more than its share of flavored vodkas, and with flavors like cotton candy and whipped cream appearing on the market, he may well be right!

Fred additionally conducts both public and private tastings, featuring selections of scotch, tequilas, and more. These can then be purchased at Oliver’s for often outstanding prices, especially when ordered at the event. He can be contacted at the Montecito store for more information.
Recently, we had a unique opportunity come our way. The folks at Angel’s Envy; (featured in a past issue of The Tasting Times), asked us if we would like to create our own signature blend bourbon whiskey to sell during the holiday months. We enlisted Fred, and he came up with a blend that has delighted us all. The supply is limited, but we hope to have enough of this highly unique blend, created by one of our own, to make it through the holiday season.

Here’s hoping we can keep all of those spirits out there happy, and that they will do the same for us!


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