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20 Facts About Your Favorite Liquors

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ThinkStock

Jack Sparrow has his rum, Ron Burgundy has his scotch, and you probably have your own favorite liquor, too. But how much do you know about your beverage of choice from that magical shelf behind the bar?

Whether you're a whiskey connoisseur or just a gin enthusiast, it's always good to keep a few little-known facts under your belt, because you never know when the right piece of trivia will come in handy. After all, if you can't do a magic trick, you might as well dazzle your drinking partners with your knowledge of good spirits.

With that in mind, here are 20 things you might not know about the most popular types of liquor. 

BOURBON

1. In 1964, the U.S. Congress recognized bourbon as a "distinctive product of the United States." The American whiskey gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky. Ironically, despite Kentucky producing 95 percent of the world's bourbon, none of it is currently made in Bourbon County.

BRANDY

2. The word brandy is derived from the Dutch word brandewijn, which translates to “burnt wine.” This popular digestif is created by distilling wine.

3. Some of the earliest thermometers—used in the 1600s—contained brandy instead of mercury. The liquor was eventually replaced with mercury due to the latter material's wider range of liquid-state temperature.

GIN

4. Even though gin has been produced in the U.S. since colonial times, it wasn't a very popular liquor until the Prohibition era. The ease with which it could be made and the relatively low cost involved in producing it made gin an abundant favorite at illegal bars.

5. The name gin is derived from various languages' names for the juniper berry—where gin gets much of its flavor. In French, it's genièvre, while in Dutch it's jenever, and in Italian it's ginepro.

6. Gin became extremely popular in the British colonies due to its use as an additive in concoctions intended to prevent malaria. Colonists in tropical areas would use gin to mask the bitter flavor of quinine, an anti-malarial drug, by dissolving it in carbonated water—forming tonic water—and then adding a splash of gin. This gin-and-tonic drink later made its way back to the rest of the world, and the rest is history.

RUM

7. Stylists in the 1800s believed that rum held the secret to clean and healthy hair, and often advised their clients to wash and soak their hair in the tropical liquor. (Brandy was considered a slightly less effective alternative.)

8. July 31 is “Black Tot Day” in the U.K., commemorating the 1970 rule that abolished the British Navy's daily ration of rum for sailors. The ration was referred to as a “daily tot” and dwindled from half a pint twice a day when it was originally introduced in 1655 to 70 milliliters once per day at the time it was abolished.

9. In order to determine whether their rum had been watered down more than it should be, sailors would occasionally mix gunpowder with their liquor and attempt to light it on fire. If the mix refused to flame up, they knew it had been watered down too much. A desirable proportion of water-to-rum, when mixed with gunpowder, would catch fire—thereby giving sailors “proof” of its alcohol content. This is where the modern term for a liquor's alcohol content originates.

SHERRY

10. Famous explorers Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus traveled with a large amount of sherry onboard their ships during their historic journeys. In fact, Magellan reportedly spent more on sherry than he spent on weapons for his 1519 trip around the world.

TEQUILA

11. True tequila (made from blue agave in specific regions of Mexico) never contains the infamous “worm,” though other types of mezcal (made from different agave plants) are occasionally sold with the larval form of a moth that lives on agave plants floating in the bottom of the bottle. Even though the presence of these moths was a bad sign—indicating that the crop has been infested—including a “worm” in bottles of mezcal became a popular marketing gimmick in the 1940s and continues today.

12. No one is quite certain when and how the margarita was first created, but the most popular origin story for the tequila drink dates back to October 1941, when bartender Don Carlos Orozco reportedly mixed up the drink for Margarita Henkel, the daughter of a German ambassador who wandered into Hussong's Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico. Henkel lived near the city, and since she was the first person to sample—approve of—the drink, Orozco named it after her.

VODKA

13. The word “vodka” is derived from the Slavic term voda, which translates to “little water.”

14. While most vodka is the product of distilled grains, potato vodka is also a popular alternative—especially for anyone with gluten allergies. Because it's derived from potatoes, this type of vodka is entirely gluten-free.

15. The first country to make vodka its national drink was Poland, which was also the first country to export vodka.

16. During the reign of Peter the Great, it became customary for foreign dignitaries to drink from the “Cup of the White Eagle”—a chalice containing 1.5 liters of vodka. This prompted many nations' ambassadors to travel in pairs, with one official drinking the vodka and the other attending to the important state issues that needed to be discussed.

17. Vodka is the world's most popular liquor by a huge margin, with more than 4.44 billion liters consumed last year. In Russia alone, 13.9 liters of vodka are consumed each year per person.

WHISKEY

18. The name “whiskey” comes from the English pronunciation of the Gaelic term for distilled alcohol, which translates to “water of life” (or “lively water”).

19. Just after his term as the nation's first president, George Washington built a whiskey distillery on his Mount Vernon plantation. After its completion in 1797, it soon became the largest distillery in the U.S., producing more than 11,000 gallons of the liquor per year. He was encouraged to build the distillery by his farm manager, James Anderson.

20. During the Prohibition era, the U.S. government's ban on alcohol sales did not include whiskey prescribed by a doctor and sold in pharmacies. This exemption was one of the chief reasons behind the exponential growth of the Walgreens pharmacy chain, which stocked whiskey and grew from 20 stores at the start of Prohibition to almost 400 stores in 1930.

Images courtesy of iStock

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The Annual Festivals That Draw the Most People in Every State
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Every state has that one big event each year that draws residents from across the region or even across the nation. Louisiana has Mardi Gras. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby. South Dakota has Sturgis. Genfare, a company that provides fare collection technology for transit companies, recently tracked down the biggest event in each state, creating a rundown of the can't-miss events across the country.

As the graphic below explores, some states' biggest public events are national music and entertainment festivals, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, SXSW in Texas, and Summerfest in Wisconsin—which holds the world record for largest music festival.

Others are standard public festival fare. Minnesota hosts 2 million people a year at the Minnesota State Fair (pictured above), the largest of its kind in the U.S. by attendance. Mardi Gras celebrations dominate the events calendar in Missouri, Alabama, and, of course, Louisiana. Oktoberfest and other beer festivals serve as the biggest gatherings in Ohio (home to the nation's largest Oktoberfest event), Oregon, Colorado, and Utah.

In some states, though, the largest annual gatherings are a bit more unique. Some 50,000 people each year head to Brattleboro, Vermont for the Strolling of the Heifers, a more docile spin on the Spanish Running of the Bulls. Montana's biggest event is Evel Knievel Days, an extreme sports festival in honor of the famous daredevil. And Washington's biggest event is Hoopfest, Spokane's annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

Mark your calendar. Next year could be the year you attend them all.

A graphic list with the 50 states pictured next to information about their biggest events
Genfare
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Alexa Can Now Help You Find a Wine Pairing
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Even if you enjoy wine regularly, you may not know exactly how you’re supposed to pair it with food. But you don’t have to be a sommelier to put together a good pairing at home. According to Lifehacker, you can just ask Alexa.

An Alexa skill called Wine Finder is designed to help you figure out which wine varietal would go best with whatever food you’re planning to eat. You just have to ask, “What wine goes well with … ”

Created by an app developer called Bloop Entertainment, the Amazon Echo skill features a database with 500 wine pairings. And not all of them are designed for someone working their way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The skill will also help you find the proper pairing for your more casual snacks. In one demo, the skill recommends pairing nachos with a Sauvignon blanc or Zinfandel. (Note that the latter also goes well with Frito pie.)

You can also ask it to find you the perfect wine to drink with apple pie and pizza, in addition to the meats, cheeses, and other wine-pairing staples you might expect. However, if you ask it what to pair with hot dogs, it says “water,” which is an affront to hot dog connoisseurs everywhere.

There are a few other wine-pairing skills available for Alexa, including Wine Pairings, Wine Pairings (two different skills), and Wine Expert. But according to user reviews, Wine Finder is the standout, offering more and higher-quality suggestions than some of the other sommelier apps.

It’s free to enable here, so drink up.

[h/t Lifehacker]

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