Sean Summers is the owner operator of Calistoga Wine & Spirits. Sean’s lineage in the liquor busines. Wine Madison, MS, Wine Jackson, MS - Sean Summers is the owner operator of Calistoga Wine & Spirits. Sean’s lineage in the liquor business began in the 1980’s with his grandfather Ellis Saik. Liquor Store, Jackson MS, Madison MS, Wine Madison, MS, Jackson, MS, Wine Madison, MS, Wine Jackson, MS, Wine Madison, MS, Wine Jackson, MS



Spirits 101

RUM. Rum is distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses or other sugar cane byproducts.

Yeast is added to the sugar cane juice or molasses, which converts the sucrose to alcohol during fermentation.  To concentrate the alcohol in the sugar cane wine, the wine is boiled.  The vapor is collected and condensed – distilled.

When distillation is complete, the fresh spirits are aged in oak barrels that once held whiskey or Bourbon. Aging can take one year – or 30 years - depending on the maker. As the rum ages, it acquires a golden color that deepens to a dark brown with time.

Rum is then blended and bottled for consumption.


SCOTCH WHISKEY. In order to earn the name “Scotch Whiskey”, the liquor must be distilled and matured in Scotland.  There are two kinds of Scotch whisky:  malt whiskey and grain whiskey. Grain whisky is combined with malt whisky to produce the famous blends.

Scotch malt whiskey is made from malted barley, water and yeast.  The malted barley is dried in a kiln fired by peat. Once dried, the barley is ground up and mixed with hot water to convert the starch in the barley into a sugary liquid. The sugary liquid is fermented into crude alcohol. Malt whiskey is distilled twice and the high quality of the whiskey is dependent on the skill of the ‘stillman’ – who judges when the Scotch Malt is ready to be collected.

Scotch Grain whiskey is made from wheat or maize that is cooked first to break down the starches into fermentable sugars.  The resulting substance is combined with a portion of malted barley, mixed with hot water and fermented. Finally, the spirit is distilled.

Both Scotch malt whiskey and grain whiskey are allowed to mature in oak casks placed in cool, dark warehouses. Three years of aging is required for the spirit to be legally defined as Scotch Whiskey, but most Scotch whiskey matures longer – five to fifteen years – and even longer.

Most Scotch whiskey is consumed in blended form. The blending decisions are the responsibility of the Master Blender, whose goal is to create a blended Scotch Whiskey that is different from all the others. Blending can require from fifteen to fifty single whiskeys of varying ages, and is of course a highly secret process. The finished blend is returned to casks to rest for six to eight months. Finally, the Scotch is ready for bottling.

One special note – if the bottle of Scotch whiskey you are buying gives an age statement on the label, this is the age of the youngest whiskey in the blend.  It is not the average age of the whiskeys.

BOURBON WHISKEY. Whiskey made in Kentucky, mostly from corn, aged for at least two years in new, white-oak barrels that have been charred earns the label “Bourbon Whiskey.”   While other whiskeys are produced essentially the same way in other states, they are whiskeys – not Bourbon Whiskeys.

Kentucky regulations require that at least 51% of the grain used to produce the whiskey must be corn, but most Kentucky distillers use 65 to 75% corn. The regulations also state that nothing can be added during bottling to enhance flavor, add sweetness or alter color. Bourbon is not blended with neutral whiskey or spirits.

The rare single-barrel Bourbon is a whiskey taken and bottled from a single barrel. Small-batch Bourbon takes whiskey from a limited number of barrels – maybe 20 or less – and mingles the whiskeys together. A common brand Bourbon could be the result of mingling whiskey from 200 or more barrels.

Fermentation takes three or four days, then the Bourbon will be double-distilled and transferred into white oak barrels that have been charred. During the aging process, the Bourbon will take on both color and flavor from the oak.

Single-barrel and small-batch Bourbons age for at least six years, and some are held for as long as 12 years.

TEQUILA. Tequila can only be produced in Mexico, in the Tequila Region. It is distilled from fermented juices from the heats of blue agave plants. The blue agave has long spiny leaves with sharp points that are blue-green in color. Blue agave is not a member of the cactus family.

The blue agave juices ferment for 30 to 48 hours before they are distilled twice.  The distilled tequila is blended before it is bottled.

The Mexican government regulates tequila production and defines two tequila categories:

  • Tequila 100% Agave. Must be made with 100% blue agave juice and must be bottled at the Mexican distillery.
  • Tequila. Must be made with at least 51% blue agave juices and can be exported in bulk to be bottled in other countries following the Mexican Standard (NOM).

Within the categories, there are four types of tequila:

  • Blanco or Silver.  This is the traditional tequila. Clear tequila is bottled immediately after distillation.

  • Oro or Gold. Tequila Blanco that has been mellowed through the addition of flavorings, most commonly caramel.  Tequila Oro is the typical choice for frozen Margaritas.

  • Reposado or Rested.  Tequila Blanco that has rested in white oak casks or vats for more than 2 months, but less than one year. The oak barrels mellow the taste of the tequila.

  • Anejo or Aged.  Tequila Blanco that has aged in white oak casks for more than one year. The oak imparts an amber color and woody flavor to the tequila. A special Anejo tequila, called Reserva, is created by aging tequila for up to 8 years.

Curious about the fabled worm found in tequila?  It is fable – this famous worm graces bottles of Mescal – a related but completely different beverage produced in another region of Mexico. The worm is the Agave worm, and it is found on blue agave plants, but it is not found in tequila.  The worm’s introduction into the bottle of Mescal was the brainstorm of an entrepreneur – the worm is a marketing device.

VODKA. Vodka is a colorless and relatively tasteless liquid that is distilled from cereal grains - wheat, barley or rye.  Occasionally potatoes or corn could be used, but rye and barley are deemed to be the best.

The name vodka is derived from the Russian word ‘voda’, meaning water.

The spirit goes through a complex distillation and filtration process and the resulting vodka is over 90% alcohol. Distilled water is added to the vodka before bottling, in order to lower the alcohol content to accepted standards.   Vodka does not go through an aging process before bottling.

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