Spirits (also hard liquor, hard alcohol, liquor, or distilled drink) is an alcoholic drink produced by distillation of grains, fruit, or vegetables that have already gone through alcoholic fermentation. The distillation process purifies the liquid and removes diluting components like water, for the purpose of increasing its proportion of alcohol content (commonly expressed as alcohol by volume, ABV). As liquors contain significantly more alcohol, they are considered “harder” – in North America, the term hard liquor is used to distinguish distilled alcoholic drinks from non-distilled ones.
As examples, this term does not include beverages such as beer, wine, mead, sake, or cider, as they are fermented but not distilled. These all have a relatively low alcohol content, typically less than 15%. Brandy is a liquor produced by the distillation of wine, and has an ABV of over 35%. Other examples of liquors include vodka, baijiu, gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, and whisky. (Also see list of alcoholic drinks, and liquors by national origin.)
The term “spirits” refers to liquor that contains no added sugar and has at least 20% alcohol by volume (ABV).
Liquor bottled with added sugar and added flavorings, such as Grand Marnier, Frangelico, and American schnapps, are known instead as liqueurs.
Liquor generally has an alcohol concentration higher than 30%. Beer and wine, which are not distilled, are limited to a maximum alcohol content of about 20% ABV, as most yeasts cannot metabolise when the concentration of alcohol is above this level; as a consequence, fermentation ceases at that point.