Beverage Basics: Beer, Spirits & Cocktails

Beverage Basics: Beer, Spirits & Cocktails offers a basic overview of these popular alcoholic beverages that every Two Roads Event Designer should know. You will learn about how beer is made, and the differences in varying styles of beer. You will also learn about several kinds of common spirits. Finally, you will learn about many popular cocktails. 


Welcome To Beverage Basics: Beer, Spirits & Cocktails

Thank you for participating in the Beverage Basics: Beer, Spirits & Cocktails training module. 

This course is designed to present Two Roads Event Designers with information they should know about beer, spirits and cocktails. It offers an overview on each subject, including how they are made, how they are consumed, and differences between them. At the end of this training, you should be able to converse with your clients to ensure they get a beverage program they are happy with. You should also be able to communicate with bartenders to make sure they are offering exactly what the client wants.


This training module has 3 sections. Each section covers information about a specific area of concern involving food today, and is then followed by 1 or 2 short quizzes on the knowledge that was presented. Completing these quizzes completes the training module. 



Beer is an alcoholic beverage made by the fermentation of grain, usually barley. While there are many types of beer brewed, the basics of brewing beer are shared across national and cultural boundaries. Malted barley is milled and then heated in a large kettle called a mash tun, producing a sweet liquid called a wort. The wort is combined with hops, a green flower that provides bitterness, and the combination is boiled together. After this mixture is cooled, yeast is added to ferment the liquid. After this, the liquid is aged for anywhere from a couple of days, to weeks or even years, and the beer is ready for consumption. 

Ales vs. Lagers

The most basic differentiation between beers is based upon where the yeast gathers and ferments. When the yeast ferments at the top of the vessel, it is an ale. When the yeast ferments at the bottom of the vessel, it is a lager.

Taste wise, ales are rich, complex and contain more yeast-derived flavors than lagers do. They also contain more esters, a fruity flavor created during fermentation. Lagers have far fewer esters, creating a mild, crisp, clean taste. Lagers tend to have softer flavors and textures. 

Beer Styles: Ales

Pale Ale: There are many different styles of pale ale, including American and British styles. Fundamentally, they are dry, golden ales with a crisp hops flavor.

Stout: Most stouts derive their flavor from roasted barley, and tend to taste of malt or caramel with little or no hops. They are thick, dark in color and very rich.

Wheat Beer: Wheat beers contain at least 50% wheat in their malt. They are very flavorful, and often contain unique flavors such as banana, vanilla and clove. They are usually light colored with a cloudy appearance.

Brown Ale: English style ales, they are predominantly malty, nutty and sweet with light hops. Unsurprisingly, they are brown in color, and tend to be medium-bodied.

Indian Pale Ale: A type of pale ale, IPAs are intensely flavored with hops. They are extremely bitter and typically have a high alcohol content. 

Hefeweizen: A type of wheat beer, they may contain upwards of 60% wheat in their malt. They are refreshing, crisp and light. In the United States, they are often served with a lemon to cut through the yeasty flavor they tend to have. 

Porter: Similar to stout, however porters are made with unroasted barley. They are dark in color and have notes of bitter chocolate. 

Beer Styles: Lagers

American Lagers: American Lagers are typically light bodied, low in alcohol and have little or no bitterness. The focus is not on complexity of flavor, but on consistency and easy drinkability. They are usually straw colored.

Amber Lagers: Usually darker and more malted than other lagers. They are typically medium bodied, with toasty or caramel malt characteristics. Amber lagers can, however, vary widely in taste, and can showcase both malt and hops.

Pilsner: Pilsners are the most popular beer style globally. They are straw-colored, pale and crisp, with a medium to light body. They may have slightly more hops than a typical lager, but they remain crisp and easy to drink.

Bock: Stronger than most lagers, Bocks are heavily malted and fuller bodied with light hops. They are dark amber or brown in color.

Oktoberfest: A seasonal, Vienna style beer meant to be served in Autumn. They have a toasted quality in taste, with heavy malt flavors and slight sweetness. They are typically deep amber in color. 

Craft Brewing

One of the largest beverage trends of the last decade or so is the rise of craft breweries. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of American breweries increased by 600%. Most Americans now live within 10 miles of a craft brewer. 

Such dramatic growth has affected consumers drinking habits in a number of ways. Firstly, the "old guard" of major brewing companies has been negatively impacted. In the same period that craft breweries rose to prominence, shipments from the 5 major brewers fell by 14%. Secondly, as consumers have shifted their drinking habits towards craft brews, they have been willing to pay a financial premium, as the average price of beer has risen by 50%. 

How does this impact event designers? Your clients may no longer be satisfied with a limited choice of beers, especially if they are mass-produced products like Coors Lite or Budweiser. Additionally, they may be willing to pay more money in order to have more options. They also may desire beer that has some kind of connection to the community you are located in. Finally, they are likely to be more educated about beer. 

True or False

  • Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain
  • All "dark" beers are ales
  • Hops provide a bitter taste to a beer
  • Most Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery
  • Beer in which yeast ferments at the top of the vessel it is stored in are known as lagers

Match the beer style with the description that fits it best

  • Indian Pale Ale
    Intensely flavored with hops
  • Stout
    A thick, rich ale; dark in color
  • Pilsner
    Straw-colored, pale & crisp
  • Bock
    Heavily malted; fuller bodied than most other lagers
  • Wheat beer
    Often contain distinct, pronounced flavors like banana and vanilla


Distilled Beverages

A distilled beverage or liquor is an alcoholic beverage produced by distilling (i.e., concentrating by distillation) ethanol produced by means of fermenting grain, fruit, or vegetables. Unsweetened, distilled, alcoholic beverages that have an alcohol content of at least 20% ABV are called spirits. For the most common distilled beverages, such as whiskey and vodka, the alcohol content is around 40%. The term hard liquor is used in North America to distinguish distilled beverages from undistilled ones (implicitly weaker). Vodka, gin, tequila, whiskey, brandy, are examples of distilled beverages.


Vodka is a distilled beverage composed primarily of water and ethanol, sometimes with traces of impurities and flavorings. Traditionally, vodka is made by the distillation of fermented cereal grains (such as rye and wheat) or potatoes. Vodka is a neutral spirit without a a distinctive character, aroma, taste or color (in fact, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives defines Vodka as "odorless, colorless and tasteless"). This doesn't mean that all vodkas taste the same, however, as decisions made during the distilling and filtering process can alter the flavor profile. Vodkas with added natural flavors, such as orange, are also widely available.


Gin is a spirit which derives its predominant flavor from juniper berries. From its earliest origins in the Middle Ages, gin has evolved from a herbal medicine to an object of commerce in the spirits industry. Gin is a neutral grain-spirit (similar to the definition of vodka) that is then re-distilled with added botanicals, one of which must be juniper. Gin can vary widely in flavor, as many other botanicals may be included or omitted. Some examples of botanicals used include coriander, licorice, bitter almonds, anise and citrus peels. 


Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels.

Rums are produced in various grades. Light rums are commonly used in cocktails, whereas "golden" and "dark" rums were typically consumed straight or neat, on the rocks, or used for cooking, but are now commonly consumed with mixers. Premium rums are also available, made to be consumed either straight or iced.


Tequila is a regional specific name for a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 km (40 mi) northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco. Tequila is classified based on how long it is aged. Blanco tequila is typically unaged, although it can be aged for up to 2 months in neutral steel or oak barrels. Reposado ("rested") tequila is aged at least 2 months, but less than a year, in oak barrels. Anejo ("aged") tequila is aged at least a year, but less than 3 years, in oak barrels. Extra anejo ("extra aged") tequila is aged at least 3 years in oak barrels. Generally speaking, the longer tequila is aged, the more complex it becomes. As a rule of thumb, blanco tequilas are best for shots, reposado tequilas are best in cocktails and anejo/extra anejo tequilas should be sipped. 


Whiskey is a spirit distilled from malted grain. Types of whiskey vary widely based on where they are from and what type of fermented grain is used. 

Scotch whisky, often simply called Scotch, is malt whisky or grain whisky made in Scotland. Scotch whisky must be made in a manner specified by law.

All Scotch whisky was originally made from malted barley. Commercial distilleries began introducing whisky made from wheat and rye in the late 18th century.  Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories: single malt Scotch whisky, single grain Scotch whisky, blended malt Scotch whisky (formerly called "vatted malt" or "pure malt"), blended grain Scotch whisky, and blended Scotch whisky.

Bourbon whiskey  is a type of American whiskey: a barrel-aged distilled spirit made primarily from corn. The name is ultimately derived from the French Bourbon dynasty, although it is disputed whether Bourbon County in Kentucky or Bourbon Street in New Orleans inspired the whiskey's name. Bourbon has been distilled since the 18th century.  The use of the term "bourbon" for the whiskey has been traced to the 1820s, and the term began to be used consistently in Kentucky in the 1870s

Canadian whisky is a type of whisky produced in Canada. Most Canadian whiskies are blended multi-grain liquors containing a large percentage of corn spirits, and are typically lighter and smoother than other whisky styles.  Several hundred years ago, when Canadian distillers began adding small amounts of highly-flavorful rye grain to their mashes people began demanding this new rye-flavored whisky, referring to it simply as "rye". Today, as for the past two centuries, the terms "rye whisky" and "Canadian whisky" are used interchangeably in Canada and (as defined in Canadian law) refer to exactly the same product, which generally is made with only a small amount of rye grain

Brandy & Cognac

Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling wine. Brandy generally contains 35–60% alcohol by volume and is typically taken as an after-dinner drink. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, some are colored with caramel coloring to imitate the effect of aging, and some brandies are produced using a combination of both aging and coloring

Cognac named after the town of Cognac in France, is a variety of brandy. It is produced in the wine-growing region surrounding the town from which it takes its name, in the French regions of Charente and Charente-Maritime.

For a brandy to bear the name Cognac, an Appellation d'origine contrôlée, its production methods must meet certain legal requirements.

Match each spirit with its descriptor

  • Vodka
    Distilled spirit composed of water and ethanol
  • Gin
    Fermented grain with added botanicals
  • Rum
    Fermented sugar cane
  • Tequila
    Fermented blue agave
  • Scotch whisky
    Fermented malted barley
  • Bourbon whiskey
    Fermented corn

True or False

  • Gin must contain the tasting characteristics of juniper berries
  • Vodka always contains potatoes
  • Cognac is a type of brandy
  • Most Canadian whiskies are blended
  • Anejo tequila is the best for making a margarita


Cocktails & Mixology

The first definition of the cocktail, dating back to 1806, still largely rings true today: "A cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters." The popularity of cocktails has risen in recent years as many bars and restaurants have embraced "mixology," which is essentially an increased attention to the art of mixing drinks. Many of your clients may want to discuss what cocktails are available to them, and they may even want a custom cocktail created for their events. This section will familiarize yourself with some of the most essential cocktails that every event designer should know. 

Apertifs: Pre-Dinner Cocktails

Serving a cocktail before dinner is both a courtesy to guests and serves a purpose. Known as an aperitif, the before dinner drink prepares the stomach for food and the palate for the delicious tastes it is about to enjoy. They can be served to guests at an elegant dinner party or enjoyed any night of the week at home.

Aperitifs come in many flavors and can complement a variety of meals. Many of the best aperitifs include gin, vermouth or another dry style of wine. There are also distilled spirits like Campari and Aperol that have long been used as appetite stimulants on their own. It's only natural that the cocktails these are mixed into be classified as aperitifs as well.


The Negroni is the ideal aperitif and it is the first cocktail that comes to mind when we discuss this class of drinks. Campari itself is designed to be an aperitif and in this recipe, it is paired with gin and sweet vermouth to create the ultimate before dinner drink. 

Aperol Spritz

Another iconic aperitif is the Aperol Spritz. It is a simple drink that once again features a bitter liquor designed specifically for this purpose. Aperol's bitter orange is definitely more approachable than Campari and that makes it a good, gentle introduction to a genuine aperitif. Here, the Aperol is combined with Prosecco and a dash of sparkling water, then garnished with an orange slice and served over ice.


This Fabiola is an interesting cocktail. It's a refreshing take on the brandy-based Metropolitan, only in this case we use dry vermouth and add Grand Marnier. The orange is a fascinating contrast to the dryness of the fortified wine and sweet strength of a decent brandy.

Campari Cocktail

There are Campari cocktails and then there is the Campari Cocktail. This is the most Campari-forward drink you can mix because the only back up the bitter has is vodka and a dash of Angostura bitters. Campari's bitterness displayed with such boldness means that this cocktail is not for everyone. Once you do train your palate to love Campari, you will agree that few drinks can kick off a meal in style like the Campari Cocktail.

Classic Cocktails


The Martini still remains an extremely popular cocktail, and is also often treated as an apertif. It can be made with either gin or vodka, and is then shaken or stirred with dry vermouth and served up. A "Dry" Martini contains little or no vermouth. It is typically garnished with olives or a twist of lemon. If garnished with cocktail onions, it is called a Gibson. 


A Manhattan is a cocktail consisting of rye or bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters. It is stirred and can be served either up or on the rocks. A "perfect" Manhattan contains both sweet and dry vermouth. It is typically garnished with either brandied cherries or maraschino cherries. 

Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is the grandfather of cocktails. Classically, it consists of bourbon or rye, sugar and bitters, and is served over ice with a twist of orange. Some consumers prefer it with muddled cherries and oranges as well. It is a very versatile cocktail, as many variations have been produced with different base liqours, including tequila, mezcal, brandy and rum. 


The Sazerac is an extremely spirit-forward cocktail. Originated in New Orleans, it typically combines bourbon or rye with a sugar cube, bitters and a touch of absinthe. It is stirred and served up in an old-fashioned glass, with a lemon twist as a garnish.


A classic Daiquiri is a rum-based cocktail with added sugar and lime juice, shaken and served up. A variation, the Hemingway Daiquiri, adds grapefruit juice and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur to the drink. Unlike the frozen daiquiris served at many resorts, the classic daiquiri can be rather bitter. 


The Sidecar contains brandy, lemon juice and an orange liqueur such as Cointreau. It is served up in a cocktail glass. It is often garnished with a sugar rim along the glass. 

French 75

The French 75 is another cocktail that is sometimes served as an apertif. It consists of Champagne, gin, sugar and lemon juice and is served in a flute and garnished with a lemon twist.

Ramos Gin Fizz

The Ramos Gin Fizz consists of gin, lemon juice, sugar, orange flower water and egg white. It is shaken vigorously, for several minutes, and then served in a highball glass and topped with club soda. There are many variations of the "Gin fizz," with the defining characteristic being the inclusion of egg white.


A basic margarita consists of tequila, lime and some kind of sweetening agent, usually triple sec. Other sweetening agents used include blue agave syrup, Cointreau and Grand Marnier. Many bars and restaurants have their own sour mix used to create the drink. It is served up or on the rocks, with a salt rim and a lime garnish. 

Digestifs: Post-Dinner Drinks & Cocktails

The digestif is the spirit that is consumed after a meal. Once you’ve filled your belly with whatever greasy meat and starch combination that is on the menu, you’re going to need help digesting it. That’s where the after dinner drink comes in. Classic post-dinner drinks, depending on where in the world you’re located, include: Grand Marnier, Schnapps, sweet brandy, port, drambuie, limoncello, amaro, kahlua, whiskey or a cocktail containing any of the above named. Some common after-dinner cocktails are displayed in the chart below:


The Mocktail— a word born from smashing together “mock” plus “cocktail”—has come a long way from sweet grenadine Shirley Temples and frozen piña coladas (hold the booze please). Ordering soda in food and beverage no longer means a choice between Sprite and Coke—bartenders now offer vinegary shrubs, house made concoctions like cucumber lemonade, berries, fruits, herbs and more.

For larger events, especially those involving families, it is nice to offer a Mocktail for those that do not imbibe.

Match the cocktail to its base spirit(s)

  • Negroni
    Gin & Campari
  • Sazerac
    Rye & Absinthe
  • Sidecar
    Brandy & Orange liqueur
  • Daiquiri
  • Old Fashioned
    Rye or Bourbon
  • Rusty Nail
    Scotch & Drambuie