What are you drinking?

What is an alcohol beverage?

An alcohol beverage is simply any drink that contains more than a minimal amount of ethanol or ethyl alcohol.

Beer, wine, and spirits all start with a process called fermentation, which is the natural result of yeast digestion of the sugars found in ingredients like fruit, cereal grains, or other starches. Fermentation results in two substances:  ethanol and carbon dioxide.

Ethanol is the alcohol people drink, but there are other types of alcohol that may be harmful or even fatal to drink. Throughout this website, we use “alcohol” to refer only to ethanol.

Almost any yeast and source of sugar can produce alcohol. Trace amounts of ethanol may occur in non-alcohol beverages, including juices. Some beer, wine, and spirits drinks are designed to look and taste like alcohol beverages but contain very low levels of alcohol. These beverages are often classed under legislation as “non-alcohol” beverages.

Although recipes vary, alcohol beverages are generally divided into three broad categories:

  • Beers, typically made with barley that is sprouted and roasted into malt (sometimes other grains are used or added), then cooked with water, fermented with yeast, and flavored with the flowers of the hops plant.
  • Wines, made from grapes and sometimes other fruits that are juiced and fermented.
  • Distilled spirits, made from grain, fruit, or other sugar sources that are fermented and then distilled in a heating and cooling process that concentrates the alcohol.

These categories are far from complete. It is important to note that there are alcohol beverage products (locally homemade, regionally traditional, etc.) that may fall outside of commonly accepted beer, wine, or spirits. For example, liqueurs are a specialty including a diverse group of alcohol beverages obtained by addition of sugar and water to fruit distillates or herbs, seeds, and essences. Other alcohol beverages are made from rice, apples, cassava, and many other sugar sources, even including the milk of horses.

Types of Alcohol