Alcoholic drink

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A selection of alcoholic drinks: red wine, malt whisky, lager, sparkling wine, lager, cherry liqueur and red wine Interesting alcoholic beverages.jpg
A selection of alcoholic drinks: red wine, malt whisky, lager, sparkling wine, lager, cherry liqueur and red wine
A liquor store in the United States. Global sales of alcoholic drinks exceeded $1 trillion in 2018. Liquor store in Breckenridge Colorado.jpg
A liquor store in the United States. Global sales of alcoholic drinks exceeded $1  trillion in 2018.

An alcoholic drink is a drink that contains ethanol, a type of alcohol produced by fermentation of grains, fruits, or other sources of sugar. The consumption of alcohol plays an important social role in many cultures. Most countries have laws regulating the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. [2] Some countries ban such activities entirely, but alcoholic drinks are legal in most parts of the world. The global alcoholic drink industry exceeded $1 trillion in 2018. [1]


Alcohol is a depressant, which in low doses causes euphoria, reduces anxiety, and increases sociability. In higher doses, it causes drunkenness, stupor, unconsciousness or death. Long-term use can lead to an alcohol use disorder, an increased risk of developing several types of cancer, and physical dependence.

Alcohol is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the world, and about 33% of all humans currently drink alcohol. [3] In 2015, among Americans, 86% of adults had consumed alcohol at some point, with 70% drinking it in the last year and 56% in the last month. [4] Alcoholic drinks are typically divided into three classes—beers, wines, and spirits—and typically their alcohol content is between 3% and 50%.

Discovery of late Stone Age jugs suggest that intentionally fermented drinks existed at least as early as the Neolithic period (c. 10,000 BC). [5] Several animals (but not all) are affected by alcohol similarly to humans and, once they consume it, will consume it again if given the opportunity, though humans are the only species known to produce alcoholic drinks intentionally. [6]

Fermented drinks

Wine (left) and beer (right) are served in different glasses. Lady relaxing next to glass of red wine and glass of 1664 beer.jpg
Wine (left) and beer (right) are served in different glasses.


Beer is a beverage fermented from grain mash. It is typically made from barley or a blend of several grains and flavored with hops. Most beer is naturally carbonated as part of the fermentation process. If the fermented mash is distilled, then the drink becomes a spirit. In the Andean region, the most common beer is chicha, made from grain or fruits. [7] Beer is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the world. [8]


Wine is a fermented beverage produced from grapes and sometimes other fruits. Wine involves a longer fermentation process than beer and a long aging process (months or years), resulting in an alcohol content of 9%–16% ABV.


Cider or cyder ( /ˈsdər/ SY-dər) is a fermented alcoholic drink made from any fruit juice; apple juice (traditional and most common), peaches, pears ("Perry" cider) or other fruit. Cider alcohol content varies from 1.2% ABV to 8.5% or more in traditional English ciders. In some regions, cider may be called "apple wine". [9]

Fermented tea

Fermented tea (also known as post-fermented tea or dark tea) is a class of tea that has undergone microbial fermentation, from several months to many years. The tea leaves and the liquor made from them become darker with oxidation. Thus, the various kinds of fermented teas produced across China are also referred to as dark tea, not be confused with black tea. The most famous fermented tea is kombucha which is often homebrewed, pu-erh, produced in Yunnan Province, [10] [11] and the Anhua dark tea produced in Anhua County of Hunan Province. The majority of kombucha on the market are under 0.5% ABV.


Mead ( /md/ ) is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey with water, sometimes with various fruits, spices, grains, or hops. The alcoholic content of mead may range from as low as 3% ABV to more than 20%. The defining characteristic of mead is that the majority of the drink's fermentable sugar is derived from honey. Mead can also be referred to as "honeywine."


Pulque is the Mesoamerican fermented drink made from the "honey water" of maguey, Agave americana . The drink distilled from pulque is tequila or mescal Mezcal. [12]

Rice wine

Sake, huangjiu, mijiu, and cheongju are popular examples of East Asian rice wine.


"Fruit wines" are made from fruits other than grapes, such as plums, cherries, or apples.

Sparkling wine like French Champagne, Catalan Cava or Italian Prosecco can be made by means of a secondary fermentation.

Distilled drinks

Liquors (or spirits) are alcoholic drinks produced by distilling (i.e., concentrating by distillation) ethanol produced by means of fermenting grain, fruit, or vegetables. [13] Unsweetened, distilled, alcoholic drinks that have an alcohol content of at least 20% ABV are called spirits. [14] For the most common distilled drinks, such as whiskey and vodka, the alcohol content is around 40%. The term hard liquor is used in North America to distinguish distilled drinks from undistilled ones (implicitly weaker). Vodka, gin, baijiu, shōchū, soju, tequila, whiskey, brandy and rum are examples of distilled drinks. Distilling concentrates the alcohol and eliminates some of the congeners. Freeze distillation concentrates ethanol along with methanol and fusel alcohols (fermentation by-products partially removed by distillation) in applejack.

Fortified wine is wine, such as port or sherry, to which a distilled beverage (usually brandy) has been added. [15] Fortified wine is distinguished from spirits made from wine in that spirits are produced by means of distillation, while fortified wine is simply wine that has had a spirit added to it. Many different styles of fortified wine have been developed, including port, sherry, madeira, marsala, commandaria, and the aromatized wine vermouth. [16]

Rectified spirit

Rectified spirit, also called "neutral grain spirit", is alcohol which has been purified by means of "rectification" (i.e. repeated distillation). The term neutral refers to the spirit's lack of the flavor that would have been present if the mash ingredients had been distilled to a lower level of alcoholic purity. Rectified spirit also lacks any flavoring added to it after distillation (as is done, for example, with gin). Other kinds of spirits, such as whiskey, are distilled to a lower alcohol percentage to preserve the flavor of the mash.

Rectified spirit is a clear, colorless, flammable liquid that may contain as much as 95% ABV. It is often used for medicinal purposes. It may be a grain spirit or it may be made from other plants. It is used in mixed drinks, liqueurs, and tinctures, and also as a household solvent.


In the alcoholic drinks industry, congeners are substances produced during fermentation. These substances include small amounts of chemicals such as occasionally desired other alcohols, like propanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol, but also compounds that are never desired such as acetone, acetaldehyde and glycols. Congeners are responsible for most of the taste and aroma of distilled alcoholic drinks, and contribute to the taste of non-distilled drinks. [17] It has been suggested that these substances contribute to the symptoms of a hangover. [18] Tannins are congeners found in wine in the presence of phenolic compounds. Wine tannins add bitterness, have a drying sensation, taste herbaceous and are often described as astringent. Wine tannins adds balance, complexity, structure and makes a wine last longer, so they play an important role in the aging of wine. [19]

Food energy

Alcoholic drinks are a source of food energy. The USDA uses a figure of 6.93 kilocalories (29.0 kJ) per gram of alcohol (5.47 kcal or 22.9 kJ per ml) for calculating food energy. [20] In addition to alcohol, many alcoholic drinks contain carbohydrates. For example, in 12  US fl oz (355 ml) of 5% ABV beer, along with approximately 18 ml of alcohol (96 kilocalories or 400 kilojoules), there are usually 10–15 g of carbohydrates (about 40–60  kcal or 170–250 kJ).[ citation needed ] Excessive daily calorie intake may contribute to an increase in body weight and "beer belly". In addition to the direct effect of its caloric content, alcohol is also known to potentiate the insulin response of the human body to glucose, which, in essence, "instructs" the body to convert consumed carbohydrates into fat and to suppress carbohydrate and fat oxidation. [21] [22] Ethanol is directly processed in the liver to acetyl CoA, the same intermediate product as in glucose metabolism. Because ethanol is mostly metabolized and consumed by the liver, chronic excessive use can lead to fatty liver. This leads to a chronic inflammation of the liver and eventually alcoholic liver disease.

Amount of use

Alcohol consumption per person in 2016. Consumption of alcohol is measured in liters of pure alcohol per person aged 15 or older. AlcoholPerCapita.jpg
Alcohol consumption per person in 2016. Consumption of alcohol is measured in liters of pure alcohol per person aged 15 or older.

The average number of people who drink as of 2016 was 39% for males and 25% for females (2.4 billion people in total). [3] Females on average drink 0.7 drinks per day while males drink 1.7 drinks per day. [3] The rates of drinking varies significantly in different areas of the world. [3]

Reasons for use

Apéritifs and digestifs

An apéritif is any alcoholic beverage usually served before a meal to stimulate the appetite, [24] while a digestif is any alcoholic beverage served after a meal for the stated purpose of improving digestion. Fortified wine, liqueurs, and dry champagne are common apéritifs. Because apéritifs are served before dining, they are usually dry rather than sweet. One example is Cinzano, a brand of vermouth. Digestifs include brandy, fortified wines and herb-infused spirits (Drambuie).


Reduction of red wine for a sauce by cooking it on a stovetop. It is called a reduction because the heat boils off some of the water and most of the more volatile alcohol, leaving a more concentrated, wine-flavoured sauce. Reduction du vin rouge.jpg
Reduction of red wine for a sauce by cooking it on a stovetop. It is called a reduction because the heat boils off some of the water and most of the more volatile alcohol, leaving a more concentrated, wine-flavoured sauce.

Pure ethanol tastes bitter to humans; some people also describe it as sweet. [25] However, ethanol is also a moderately good solvent for many fatty substances and essential oils. This facilitates the use of flavoring and coloring compounds in alcoholic drinks as a taste mask, especially in distilled drinks. Some flavors may be naturally present in the beverage's raw material. Beer and wine may also be flavored before fermentation, and spirits may be flavored before, during, or after distillation. Sometimes flavor is obtained by allowing the beverage to stand for months or years in oak barrels, usually made of American or French oak. A few brands of spirits may also have fruit or herbs inserted into the bottle at the time of bottling.

Wine is important in cuisine not just for its value as an accompanying beverage, but as a flavor agent, primarily in stocks and braising, since its acidity lends balance to rich savory or sweet dishes. [26] Wine sauce is an example of a culinary sauce that uses wine as a primary ingredient. [27] Natural wines may exhibit a broad range of alcohol content, from below 9% to above 16% ABV, with most wines being in the 12.5–14.5% range. [28] Fortified wines (usually with brandy) may contain 20% alcohol or more.

Alcohol measurement

Alcohol concentration

Typical ABV ranges [29]
Fruit juices< 0.1%
Cider, wine coolers4%–8%
Beerstypically 5% (range is from 3–15%)
Winestypically 13.5% (range is from 8%–17%)
Fortified wines15–22%
Spiritstypically 30%-40% (range is from 15% to, in some rare cases, up to 98%)

The concentration of alcohol in a beverage is usually stated as the percentage of alcohol by volume   (ABV, the number of milliliters (ml) of pure ethanol in 100 ml of beverage) or as proof. In the United States, proof is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (e.g. 80 proof = 40% ABV). Degrees proof were formerly used in the United Kingdom, where 100 degrees proof was equivalent to 57.1% ABV. Historically, this was the most dilute spirit that would sustain the combustion of gunpowder.

Ordinary distillation cannot produce alcohol of more than 95.6% by weight, which is about 97.2% ABV (194.4 proof) because at that point alcohol is an azeotrope with water. A spirit which contains a very high level of alcohol and does not contain any added flavoring is commonly called a neutral spirit. Generally, any distilled alcoholic beverage of 170 US proof or higher is considered to be a neutral spirit. [30]

Most yeasts cannot reproduce when the concentration of alcohol is higher than about 18%, so that is the practical limit for the strength of fermented drinks such as wine, beer, and sake. However, some strains of yeast have been developed that can reproduce in solutions of up to 25% ABV. [31]

Serving measures

Shot sizes

Shot sizes vary significantly from country to country. In the United Kingdom, serving size in licensed premises is regulated under the Weights and Measures Act (1985). A single serving size of spirits (gin, whisky, rum, and vodka) are sold in 25 ml or 35 ml quantities or multiples thereof. [32] Beer is typically served in pints (568 ml), but is also served in half-pints or third-pints. In Israel, a single serving size of spirits is about twice as much, 50 or 60 mL.

The shape of a glass can have a significant effect on how much one pours. A Cornell University study of students and bartenders' pouring showed both groups pour more into short, wide glasses than into tall, slender glasses. [33] Aiming to pour one shot of alcohol (1.5 ounces or 44.3 ml), students on average poured 45.5 ml & 59.6 ml (30% more) respectively into the tall and short glasses. The bartenders scored similarly, on average pouring 20.5% more into the short glasses. More experienced bartenders were more accurate, pouring 10.3% less alcohol than less experienced bartenders. Practice reduced the tendency of both groups to over pour for tall, slender glasses but not for short, wide glasses. These misperceptions are attributed to two perceptual biases: (1) Estimating that tall, slender glasses have more volume than shorter, wider glasses; and (2) Over focusing on the height of the liquid and disregarding the width.

Standard drinks

A "standard drink" of hard liquor does not necessarily reflect a typical serving size, such as seen here Glass of whisky.jpg
A "standard drink" of hard liquor does not necessarily reflect a typical serving size, such as seen here

A standard drink is a notional drink that contains a specified amount of pure alcohol. The standard drink is used in many countries to quantify alcohol intake. It is usually expressed as a measure of beer, wine, or spirits. One standard drink always contains the same amount of alcohol regardless of serving size or the type of alcoholic beverage. The standard drink varies significantly from country to country. For example, it is 7.62 ml (6 grams) of alcohol in Austria, but in Japan it is 25 ml (19.75 grams).

  • In the United Kingdom, there is a system of units of alcohol which serves as a guideline for alcohol consumption. A single unit of alcohol is defined as 10 ml. The number of units present in a typical drink is sometimes printed on bottles. The system is intended as an aid to people who are regulating the amount of alcohol they drink; it is not used to determine serving sizes.
  • In the United States, the standard drink contains 0.6 US fluid ounces (18 ml) of alcohol. This is approximately the amount of alcohol in a 12-US-fluid-ounce (350 ml) glass of beer, a 5-US-fluid-ounce (150 ml) glass of wine, or a 1.5-US-fluid-ounce (44 ml) glass of a 40% ABV (80 US proof) spirit.


Alcohol laws regulate the manufacture, packaging, labelling, distribution, sale, consumption, blood alcohol content of motor vehicle drivers, open containers, and transportation of alcoholic drinks. Such laws generally seek to reduce the adverse health and social impacts of alcohol consumption. In particular, alcohol laws set the legal drinking age, which usually varies between 15 and 21 years old, sometimes depending upon the type of alcoholic drink (e.g., beer vs wine vs hard liquor or distillates). Some countries do not have a legal drinking or purchasing age, but most countries set the minimum age at 18 years. [2] Some countries, such as the U.S., have the drinking age higher than the legal age of majority (18), at age 21 in all 50 states. Such laws may take the form of permitting distribution only to licensed stores, monopoly stores, or pubs and they are often combined with taxation, which serves to reduce the demand for alcohol (by raising its price) and it is a form of revenue for governments. These laws also often limit the hours or days (e.g., "blue laws") on which alcohol may be sold or served, as can also be seen in the "last call" ritual in US and Canadian bars, where bartenders and servers ask patrons to place their last orders for alcohol, due to serving hour cutoff laws. In some countries, alcohol cannot be sold to a person who is already intoxicated. Alcohol laws in many countries prohibit drunk driving.

In some jurisdictions, alcoholic drinks are totally prohibited for reasons of religion (e.g., Islamic countries with sharia law) or for reasons of local option, public health, and morals (e.g., Prohibition in the United States from 1920 to 1933). In jurisdictions which enforce sharia law, the consumption of alcoholic drinks is an illegal offense, [34] although such laws may exempt non-Muslims. [35]


Members of a German Student Corps (Duchy of Brunswick) shown drinking in a picture from 1837. Corps Brunsviga Gottingen - 1837.jpg
Members of a German Student Corps (Duchy of Brunswick) shown drinking in a picture from 1837.

See also

Related Research Articles


An alcopop is any of certain flavored alcoholic beverages with relatively low alcohol content, including:

  1. Malt beverages to which various fruit juices or other flavorings have been added
  2. Beverages containing wine to which ingredients such as fruit juice or other flavorings have been added
  3. Beverages containing distilled alcohol and sweet liquids such as fruit juices or other flavourings
Drink Liquid intended for human consumption

A drink is a liquid intended for human consumption. In addition to their basic function of satisfying thirst, drinks play important roles in human culture. Common types of drinks include plain drinking water, milk, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, juice and soft drinks. In addition, alcoholic drinks such as wine, beer, and liquor, which contain the drug ethanol, have been part of human culture for more than 8,000 years.

Fortified wine Wine with an added distilled beverage

Fortified wine is a wine to which a distilled spirit, usually brandy, has been added. In the course of some centuries, winemakers have developed many different styles of fortified wine, including port, sherry, madeira, Marsala, Commandaria wine, and the aromatised wine vermouth.

Liqueur Alcoholic beverage

A liqueur is an alcoholic drink composed of distilled spirits and additional flavorings such as sugar, fruits, herbs, and spices. Often served with or after dessert, they are typically heavily sweetened and un-aged beyond a resting period during production, when necessary, for their flavors to mingle.

Low-alcohol beer

Low-alcohol beer is beer with little or no alcohol content and aims to reproduce the taste of beer while eliminating the inebriating effects of standard alcoholic brews. Most low-alcohol beers are lagers, but there are some low-alcohol ales. Low-alcohol beer is also known as light beer, non-alcoholic beer, small beer, small ale, or near-beer.

Vodka Clear distilled alcoholic beverage

Vodka is a clear distilled alcoholic beverage with different varieties originating in Poland, Russia and Sweden. It is composed primarily of water and ethanol, but sometimes with traces of impurities and flavorings. Traditionally it is made by distilling the liquid from cereal grains that have been fermented, with potatoes arising as a substitute in more recent times, and some modern brands using fruits, honey or maple sap as the base.

<i>Soju</i> A distilled beverage central to Korean drinking culture

Soju is a clear, colorless distilled alcoholic beverage of Korean origin. It is usually consumed neat, and its alcohol content varies from about 16.8% to 53% alcohol by volume (ABV). Most brands of soju are made in South Korea. While soju is traditionally made from rice, wheat, or barley, modern producers often replace rice with other starches, such as potato and sweet potato.

Alcoholic drinks in China Chinese alcoholic beverages

There is a long history of alcoholic drinks in China. They include rice and grape wine, beer, and various liquors including baijiu, the most-consumed distilled spirit in the world.

Aguardiente Generic term for alcoholic beverages containing 29% to 60% alcohol by volume

Aguardiente, in Spanish, or Aguardente, in Portuguese is a generic term for alcoholic beverages that contain between 29% and 60% ABV. It originates in the Iberian Peninsula, as well as Iberian America.

<i>Baijiu</i> Chinese distilled liquor

Baijiu, also known as shaojiu (烧酒/燒酒), is a colourless liquor typically coming in between 35% and 60% alcohol by volume (ABV). Each type of baijiu uses a distinct type of Qū for fermentation unique to the distillery for the distinct and characteristic flavour profile.

Liquor alcoholic beverage that is produced by distillation

Liquor or spirit is an alcoholic drink produced by distillation of grains, fruits, or vegetables that have already gone through alcoholic fermentation. The distillation process concentrates the liquid to increase its alcohol by volume. As liquors contain significantly more alcohol (ethanol) than other alcoholic drinks, they are considered "harder" – in North America, the term hard liquor is sometimes used to distinguish distilled alcoholic drinks from non-distilled ones, whereas the term spirits is used in the UK. Examples of liquors include brandy, vodka, absinthe, gin, rum, tequila, and whisky.

Arrack Distilled alcoholic drink typically produced in South and Southeast Asia

Arrack is a distilled alcoholic drink typically produced in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers or sugarcane, and also with grain or fruit depending upon the country of origin. It is sometimes spelled arak, or simply referred to as 'rack or 'rak. It is not to be confused with the anise-flavored distilled spirit called Arak or Araq.

Brennivín is considered to be Iceland's signature distilled beverage. It is distilled from fermented grain mash and then combined with Iceland's very soft, high-pH water, and flavored only with caraway. A clear, savory, herbal spirit, the taste is often described as having notes of fresh rye bread. It is considered to be a type of aquavit and bottled at 40% ABV. The steeping of herbs in alcohol to create schnapps is a long-held folk tradition in Nordic countries, and Brennivín is still the traditional drink for the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót. Today, Icelanders typically drink it chilled, as a shot, with a beer, or as a base for cocktails. It often takes the place of gin in classic cocktails, or of a lighter rum in tropical drinks.

Rectified spirit, also known as neutral spirits, rectified alcohol, or ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin is highly concentrated ethanol that has been purified by means of repeated distillation in a process called rectification. In some countries, denatured alcohol or denatured rectified spirit may commonly be available as "rectified spirit".

History of alcoholic drinks

Purposeful production of alcoholic drinks is common and often reflects cultural and religious peculiarities as much as geographical and sociological conditions.

An alcohol-free or non-alcoholic drink, also known as a temperance drink, is a version of an alcoholic drink made without alcohol, or with the alcohol removed or reduced to almost zero. These may take the form of a non-alcoholic mixed drink, non-alcoholic beer, and "mocktails", and are widely available where alcoholic drinks are sold.

Korn (liquor) German colorless grain spirit

Korn, also known as Kornbrand or Kornbranntwein, is a German colorless distilled beverage produced from fermented cereal grain seed. In the production of Korn only the cereal grain types rye, wheat, barley, oats and buckwheat are permissible. Most of the production is based on rye or wheat; barley is mainly used to obtain the required malt for the brewing process, while oats and buckwheat are rarely used. The addition of food colorings, flavorings, or sweeteners is not permitted. Korn differs from vodka in that it is distilled to lower alcoholic proofs and less rigorously filtered, which leaves more of the cereal grain flavor in the finished spirit.

Moonshine is a generic term for distilled alcoholic beverages made throughout the globe from indigenous ingredients reflecting the customs, tastes, and raw materials for fermentation available in each region. The term commonly applies to small-scale production, which is often illegal or tightly regulated in many countries.


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  41. 1 2 Irfan Habib (2011), Economic History of Medieval India, 1200–1500, p. 55, Pearson Education
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  43. 1 2 Haw, Stephen G. (2006). "Wine, women and poison". Marco Polo in China. Routledge. pp. 147–48. ISBN   978-1-134-27542-7 . Retrieved 2016-07-10. The earliest possible period seems to be the Eastern Han dynasty... the most likely period for the beginning of true distillation of spirits for drinking in China is during the Jin and Southern Song dynasties