People tend to prefer the taste of "premium" liquors. How much of the taste difference is simply due to them having more sugar? Have there been studies on this?

(I've learned recently that some chemical compounds found in some alcoholic drinks can break down into sugar molecules right in your mouth, due to the enzymes found there. For the purposes of this discussion, we should probably count them as "sugar" also)

3 Answers 3


I have been in the luxury spirits business for a couple of decades. I can tell you that in the case of brown spirits, whiskey (including subsets like bourbon) and cognac (or in most cases anything aged in high quality wood) the best producers never add sugar. In almost all cases, the legal standards forbid it. The fine taste and smoothness has to do somewhat with quality of raw grain material, and very much with distilling methods (and therefore much higher expense) and the aging wood itself. The best brown spirits producers highly distill their raw spirit (clear without color off the distilling process) that removes a very high amount of fusil oils. Fusil oils are a bad bunch of chemicals that even include benzine. These quality producers have a lower yield of liquid that others include in their spirits. This makes the raw alcohol coming off the stills more expensive. Getting a distillate like this is called a "narrow cut" - retaining only the purist of the distillates. Won't go into it here. The second most important thing is the quality of the wood in which they age the liquid. One company I am intimately familiar with pays 900 Euros for their barrels while most pay 90 USD. Now 90 USD wood is excellent but only if you are experts in wood buying and many pay in between 90 and 900. This is why great liquids taste smooth, are complex and leave no hangover (no fusil oils that are the hangover culprit).

Finally, some inferior Russian vodkas add a very small amount of sugar to make them "smoother" Its not legal but they do. And they are expensive some of them. But high quality producers of pure clear alcohol from which is made gin, vodka and is the base for other drinks are also very high quality and exclude as most all fusil oils. They cost more, and it's worth it for your heath - most have no sugar added.

Finally, remember that a high amount of sugar combined with alcohol (think cocktails) can produce hellatious hangovers because high sugar with low quality alcohol makes for a bad Saturday morning.

Hope this helps the discussion.


I'm not sure Premium Liquors in general contain more sugar. Quite the contrary, as I find the base level liquors are often just basic alcohol with sugar added.

Premium liquors are typically derived from a higher quality source than the mainstream or entry level; e.g. riper grapes from older vines when it comes to Cognac/Brandy and so on.

In some cases a higher quality source could yield more sugar - but most often, the higher sugar content is used to arrive at a higher alcohol content. Other times, the higher quality is evident in added finesse, depth, aftertaste, complexity.


I'm just a drinker, not an expert.

When I was younger (18-25), I was used to drink "sweet" drinks. Two main reasons for that:

  • Sweet is an easier taste, when you are young the bitter is not so affordable
  • Sweet is cheaper.......

The second motivation is crucial in my opinion. Indeed, adding "extra" sugar to alcoholic drink avoids the producer to perform several time-wasting processes, which would produce, on the other hand, a "premium" product.

Of course, also "premium" products contains sugar. Anyway, I think that the quality of the sugar makes a huge difference. You can produce a whiskey, wine or vodka which naturally contain sugar, or you can produce Vodka+Strawberry, Whiskey+Honey, Wine+Juice... in this case you are adding "bad" sugar to a "bad" product.

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