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By Boris M | 25 November, 2019 Published in Resources
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In our modern society, we are inundated with both the sale and promotion of alcohol throughout our everyday lives.

From restaurants and bars to television and sporting events, one doesn’t have to search long or hard until they encounter wine, beer, or liquor.

In fact, for millions of people, there is a grocery store or gas station immediately within reach, making the abundance and availability of all types of alcohol something they must face nearly every single day.

We can see the effect that this has on our society as a whole, with alcoholism spreading to nearly every corner of our culture, and commonplace in countless households worldwide.

However, there is a widespread lack of knowledge about what lies at the center of this problem known as alcoholism, and the numerous types of alcohol that exist.

Many aren’t even aware that there is more than just one kind of alcohol, and understanding the different forms it can take and how it is made can go a long way toward giving the victims of alcoholism a stronger foundation to battle this crippling condition.

By being aware of how the different types of alcohol are produced and how they interact with the vital organs and bodily functions we rely on, we can be better equipped to inform people around us of the potential dangers that alcohol presents.

Therefore, let’s dive right into where alcohol comes from, the different types of alcohol, and how they are produced.

What is Alcohol?

While all of us are aware of its effects, many of us still don’t know where alcohol comes from or the processes involved that create it and give the different types of alcohol their unique properties.

Ancient humanity first learned how to make bread, and soon after, discovered the techniques that led to the production of alcohol.

The connection between the two comes from the fact that yeast is a required ingredient in the making of both bread and alcohol.

It happens that through the magic of fermentation, yeast consumes starch or sugar from nearly any food source containing it, and through this process, excretes alcohol after digesting the glucose source.

This biological, micro-organic process is how alcohol is created, and it can be done with grains, grapes, or a wide variety of fruits.

Alcohol is the most readily available (and usually, legal) drug worldwide, and results in 3 million deaths each year according to the world health organization.[1]

Ironically, despite alcohol’s legal status, it happens to be among the most life-threatening drugs on the market, surpassing the threshold of even many recreational (and illegal) street drugs.

In fact, when it comes to disease and the inability to function properly, alcohol ranks as the third leading cause across the world.

It also surpasses AIDS and violence as a leading cause of death around the globe, responsible for nearly 5.3% of deaths annually.

The Three Main Types of Alcohol

Alcohol comes in many forms and varieties, but is typically identified by the technique used to produce it with the two top categories being those of fermented alcohol and distilled alcohol.

However, these categories break down into several additional techniques and methods for producing the types of alcohol we see today, depending on the drink being made.

For example, the fermentation process for lagers takes place at a lower temperature than that of ales, and that’s just for beer.

There are numerous types of alcoholic drinks and fermentation and distillation processes, but one thing all alcoholic drinks share in common is that they contain ethyl alcohol (or ethanol), the only drinkable variety of alcohol. [2]

Even then, for ethyl alcohol to be safe for human consumption, it must also not contain any toxic impurities introduced through the fermentation process, and maintain its original, natural qualities.

There are also many varieties of alcohol that are not suitable for drinking but are commonly used as cleaning fluids or disinfectants.

These types of alcohol fall into the alcohol isopropyl category and the denatured alcohol category, and can be highly toxic if ingested. [3]

The main thing to remember is that alcohol that can be safely consumed falls into just two main categories; distilled alcohol that includes most liquors and spirits, and fermented alcohol that includes beers, wines, and ciders. [4]

The Distillation Process

Distillation is the process of taking a liquid, turning it into a vapor, and then back into a liquid once again.

Distilled alcoholic drinks begin with a fermented substance first, however, the fermentation process can only bring alcoholic content in a beverage to approximately 15%, where the distillation process can then take effect to boost the alcohol content even higher.

That is because distillation begins with a liquid, boils it, and then cools it through tubes and a condenser to form a “distillate”, or a purified version of the original substance.[5]

By distilling a brew through heating and then condensing it inside of containers called “stills”, distillers are able to achieve a higher level of alcohol without completely sacrificing the original natural traits of the fermented alcoholic beverage.

By using the distillation process multiple times, some liquors can contain all the way up to 95% alcohol.

Many of these fall into the moonshine or grain alcohol category, and if abused, can cause serious injury or even death if the person drinking them isn’t careful.

Everclear, for example, is one popular and highly distilled liquor that has an alcohol content of 95%, and can quickly lead to alcohol poisoning or cause a serious accident if imbibed prior to driving.

These types are alcohol are often very popular with underage drinkers as well as alcoholics, due to their extremely high levels of alcohol and relatively low prices.

The Fermentation Process

Fermentation is the metabolic process that begins with a carbohydrate, typically in the form of sugar, or even starch, and converts it into the acid we all know as alcohol.[6]

This biological process most commonly occurs with yeast, which converts these carbohydrates into acid as a form of obtaining energy, as it is a living biological entity.

Also, bacteria are known to take part in the fermentation process as well, however, rather than converting carbs into alcohol, it has the distinct end-result of converting it into lactic acid.

Through this conversion (or digestive) process of fermentation by cellular organisms, the vast majority of alcoholic drinks such as beers, wines, and ciders are created.

The thing is, one of the most commonly eaten foods around the world is also made using fermentation; that being bread.

In the making of bread, fermentation causes the dough to rise, but in the creation of alcohol, the process is slightly different During alcohol fermentation, the sugars undergo the biological process of glycolysis, which is the first stage toward fermentation.

This act creates molecules known as “pyruvate”, which in the second stage of fermentation, are then converted into carbon dioxide molecules along with another byproduct called ethanol.

Ethanol is the substance we all much more commonly refer to as, “alcohol”.

The second stage is technically the true conversion process that is defined under the term “fermentation”, although the first stage is also a necessary step toward this end result.

From the standpoint of the yeast itself, the main goal is not actually to produce alcohol (or ethanol), which is simply the byproduct or “waste”, but rather to use the glucose (sugar or starch) to obtain ATP, one of the primary fuels for cellular energy.

There are many different ways and conditions under which fermentation can occur, which will change the end result of the substance that is produced.

Each distinct process is associated with the form of alcoholic drink being produced, for instance, red wines, white wines, ales, lager beers, and ciders.

The Difference Between Distilled and Undistilled Alcohol

In our most frequently-used societal lexicon, there are three main types of alcohol; those three being wine, spirits, and beer.

There also happen to be five central varieties of wine which are red, white, rose, sparkling, and fortified.

Common to many other alcoholic drink varieties (such as beer), these central versions of wine can then break down even further into hundreds of distinct styles that comprise the virtual multitude of wines commonly sold and sought-after in restaurants, bars, and shops worldwide.

As mentioned previously, wine is an alcoholic drink created using the process of fermentation,

The vast majority of liquors are made using the fermentation process that is then finished through distillation.

One great example of this is vodka, which is produced by distilling fermented grains or potatoes.

Large-scale distilleries complete this stage of the liquor manufacturing process in peculiar looking contraptions known as “stills,” which help to facilitate this process.

The sheer size of the liquor market is truly staggering, with sales topping out at $64.3 billion in the United States alone, and total spending being much higher for alcohol as a whole.[7]

Beers are also made using fermentation, though different styles of beer go through unique processes and the number of potential variables involved in making beer can be virtually endless.

That being said, there are two main methods involving the fermentation process when it comes to beer-making, the first being that of lagers, and the second for ales.

Ales are made using what is known as top-fermenting, where fermentation rises to the top of the wort (or fermenting mixture) at higher temperatures that are generally between 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

By contrast, lagers use a bottom-fermentation at a lower temperature range of between approximately 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, causing yeast to work less vigorously throughout the process for a slightly longer overall duration required than for ales.

Lager beers, whose name comes from the German word “lagern” was originally produced in caves during colder months to be later drunk in the springtime months because of the fact that the typical ale-making process was not possible during this time.[8]

This is what the term “lagern” refers to, as it can be translated as “to store” from German into modern English.

Although lagers are more widely purchased by consumers across the full spectrum of the international marketplace, ales are preferred by the majority of independent, craft, and medium to smaller-sized beer companies because they are faster to produce without the need for the longer processing times that are commonly associated with lagers.

Uses For Distilled Alcohol and Effects on the Human Body

Historians credit the Romans with being the earliest known civilization to practice the process of distilling alcohol and designated the finished product to be “aqua vita,” or “water of life.”

During the distillation process, water is removed which has the effect of concentrating the remaining alcohol, therefore distilled alcohol most usually has between 40 to 50% alcohol content.

In the early twelfth century, wine was converted to brandy using distillation in Italy, the earliest recorded time when distillation was known to be used for medicinal purposes.

During this time, distilled alcohol was used as a form of anesthesia, as well as an antiseptic for cleaning wounds due to its sterilizing properties as a result of its heightened alcohol content.

What made distilled alcohol such a favorable choice to serve as an anesthetic was due to the effect that it has on the human brain after it has entered the body through digestion.

While today, alcohol is no longer preferred because of its less predictable nature, at that time it was perceived as an optimal choice for anesthesia due to it causing relaxation and insensitivity in patients who partook of it.

The high purity of distilled alcohol also happens to make it a fine preservative, and medications that are produced in liquid form still use it as such to this very day.

In moderation, alcohol has shown to have a potential beneficial impact on the body, but thanks to it’s elevated alcohol content levels and value when compared to fermented drinks with less alcohol, it’s one of the most abused forms of alcohol available.

Uses For Fermented Alcohol and Effects on the Human Body

Fermented alcohol is most commonly used for recreational purposes thanks to its lower alcohol content, and the sale of fermented beverages is a massive world-wide industry and has solidified its position as a commonplace activity in nearly every nation on Earth.

This complete acceptance of moderate drinking by the majority of modern cultures and pervasiveness of alcohol throughout society has had the likely unintentional or unforeseen consequence of normalizing this behavior to drinkers of every age and amount, resulting in some eyebrow-raising statistics.

In one study conducted by The National Survey don Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) of 270,000 people over the age of 12 came back showing that 50.7% of participants had indicated that in just the 30 days prior to taking the survey, they had drunk alcohol, and additionally that 47.8% had also reported binge drinking in the previous month alone.[9]

Not only that, but in a 2015 report from NSDUH, they had found that 86.4% of people above 18 had drunk in their lifetime, with a full 70.1% having done so just in the past year.[10]

With so many respondents answering in the affirmative when questioned on whether they partake in alcohol, perhaps the next survey would be better served by simply asking the question who hadn’t drank alcohol.

It isn’t difficult to realize the prominent role that alcohol plays in the lifestyle of so many throughout our society, but by studying how it is developed and the impact that it produces upon those who use it, we can be in a better position to use it responsibly or refuse it when necessary.

Knowing each individual’s unique limitations and risks, as well as how these conditions stack up against the types of alcohol that are readily available at restaurants, pubs, or liquor shops, leaves us with a more level-headed and well-informed perspective on how to approach the pervasive presence of alcohol throughout our everyday lives.

Moreover, we can use this helpful information not simply to make better decisions for ourselves, but lead the way toward healthier living for those we love.

Taking just a few moments longer to consider our options and rethink our choices when it comes to alcohol can lead to longer lives and less negative consequences down the road.

Resources

[1.] Volkov, S. “Alcohol.” WHO, World Health Organization, 21 September 2018, http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/alcohol.

[2.] Ph.D. Helmenstine, Anne. “The Difference Between Alcohol and Ethanol.” ThoughtCo, Dotdash Publishing, 13 January 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/alcohol-versus-ethanol-3976082.

[3.] Johnson, Doug. “Denatured Alcohol vs. Isopropyl Alcohol.” Sciencing, Leaf Group Ltd, 17 May 2019, https://sciencing.com/denatured-alcohol-vs-isopropyl-alcohol-5519636.html.

[4.] Blake, Tom. “The Different Types of Alcohol – A Comprehensive Guide.” Crafty Bartending, Crafty Bartending, https://craftybartending.com/types-of-alcohol/.

[5.] Harris, Roger. “What Is Distillation? Definition, Process & Apparatus Video.” Study, Study.com, https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-distillation-definition-process-apparatus.html/

[6] Ph.D. Helmenstine, Anne. “What is Fermentation? Definition and Examples.” ThoughtCo, Dotdash Publishing, 22 January 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-fermentation-608199.

[7] Morris, Seren. “US Alcohol Sales Increased By 5.1% in 2019.” The Drinks Business, Union Press Ltd, 17 January 2019, http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2019/01/us-alcohol-sales-increased-by-5-1-in-2018/

[8] Warshaw, Brette. “What’s The Difference Between Ale and Lagar?” Eater, Vox Media, 13 September 2019, http://www.eater.com/2019/9/13/20863787/whats-the-difference-ale-lager.

[9] T, Buddy. “Statistics on Alcohol Use in the U.S.” Verywell Mind. Dotdash Publishing, 24 June 2019, http://www.verywellmind.com/how-many-people-drink-alcohol-in-the-us-67305

[10] NIH. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, August 2018, http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

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