Alcohol is widely used in the world for manufacturing, but it is primarily know for alcoholic beverages, which date back thousands of years. Alcoholic beverages contain ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, which is the only alcohol that is safe to drink. Alcohol comes in countless forms, flavors and levels of potency. Ethyl alcohol is also present in mouthwash, perfume and other consumer products, but the other ingredients make it dangerous to drink. In the United States you must be at least 21 to purchase or drink alcohol.
Wine is made from various fruits through fermentation. Fermentation lets the fruit decompose and break down to become alcoholic. Some winemakers also add yeast to hasten fermentation. Grapes are the most common ingredient for wine making, but peaches, berries and other fruits also work. Wine is usually divided into a few categories: red, white, champagne and fortified wines. Red wines include Merlot and Burgundy while white wines include Chardonnay, sherry and Madeira. Fortified wines are wines that are distilled after initial fermentation for extra potency. These include sherry and brandy, which are sometimes called spirits to their alcohol content. Wine usually contains from 8 to 15 percent alcohol by volume.
Beer is one of the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverages. To make beer, brewers boil down barley or other grains, hops, yeast and sugar then ferment them with high heat. Beer ferments quickly and comes in myriad varieties and flavors, depending on the brewer. Many domestic American beers are filtered and light, with alcohol content of 3 to 6 percent, while microbrewed and specialty beers with more hops and alcohol content are referred to as ales and stouts.
Liquor, also referred to as spirits, is the name for a variety of high potency alcoholic beverages that have been distilled from grains, fruits or vegetables. Liquor usually has an alcohol content of over 30 percent. After fermentation, the mixture is then superheated to produce steam that has a higher percentage of alcohol. The Arabs discovered distillation sometime in the 14th or 15th century. Common liquors include whiskey, gin, vodka, rum and tequila, all of which have many varieties, flavors and alcohol percentages.
Alcohol for Other Purposes
Not all types of alcohol are potable or safe for human consumption. Rubbing alcohol, also called isopropyl alcohol, works as a disinfectant and cleanser for household cleaning and medical use. Methyl alcohol, or methanol, is another name for alcohol made from wood. Methanol is a key component of formaldehyde and other industrial chemicals for the manufacture of vinyl chlorides and polymers.
References and ResourcesWorld Health Organization: Types of Alcohol and Alcoholic Beverages
West Virginia University Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center: Types of Alcoholic Beverages