A distilled beverage, also known as a “spirit”, is a liquid preparation meant for consumption containing ethyl alcohol (ethanol) purified by distillation from a fermented substance such as fruit, vegetables, or grain. The word spirits generally refers to distilled beverages low in sugars and containing at least 35% alcohol by volume. Gin, vodka, rum, whisky (or whiskey), brandy, absinthe, and tequila are types of spirits. Beverages high in alcohol and with added flavourings such as Cointreau, Kahlua and schnapps are generally referred to as liqueurs. The term liquor may mean spirits; spirits and liqueurs; or all alcoholic beverages, including wine, sake, beer, and mead.
The actual process of distillation itself has not changed since the 8th century. There have, however, been many changes in both the methods by which organic material is prepared for the still and in the ways the distilled beverage is finished and marketed. Knowledge of the principles of sanitation and access to standardised yeast strains have improved the quality of the base ingredient; larger, more efficient stills produce more product per square foot and reduce waste; ingredients such as corn, rice, and potatoes have been called into service as inexpensive replacements for traditional grains and fruit. Chemists have discovered the scientific principles behind aging, and have devised ways in which aging can be accelerated without introducing harsh flavours. Modern filters have allowed distillers to remove unwanted residue and produce smoother finished products. Most of all, marketing has developed a worldwide market for distilled beverages among populations which in earlier times did not drink spirits.