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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Where Does Alcohol Come From?

By May 4, 2013

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Ethanol (Ben Mills)The alcohol that you can drink is ethyl alcohol or ethanol. It is produced by fermenting carbohydrates, such as sugars or starches. Fermentation is an anerobic process used by yeast to convert sugars into energy. Ethanol and carbon dioxide are waste products of the reaction. The reaction for the fermentation of glucose to produce ethanol and carbon dioxide is:

C6H12O6 → 2C2H5OH + 2CO2

The fermented product may be used (e.g., wine) or distillation may be used to concentrate and purify the alcohol (e.g., vodka, tequila).

Just about any plant matter can be used to produce alcohol. Here is a list of the source material for several popular alcoholic beverages.

Ale - fermented from malt with hops

Beer - brewed and fermented from malted cereal grain (as barley), flavored with hops

Bourbon - whiskey distilled from a mash of not less than 51 percent corn and aged in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years

Brandy - distilled from wine or fermented fruit juice

Cognac - a brandy distilled from white wine from a specific region of France

Gin - distilled or redistilled neutral grain spirits from a variety of sources, flavored with juniper berries and other aromatics

Rum - distilled from a sugarcane product such as molasses or sugarcane juice

Sake - produced by a brewing process using rice

Tequila - a Mexican liquor distilled from blue agave

Vodka - distilled from a mash as of potatoes, rye or wheat

Whiskey - distilled from mash of grain such as rye, corn, or barley

Scotch - whiskey distilled in Scotland typically from malted barley

Wine - fermented juice of fresh grapes and/or other fruit (e.g., blackberry wine)

If you have other types of alcohol you'd like to add to the list, feel free to post a response.


November 1, 2010 at 8:52 am
(1) John says:

Mead is fermented from honey.

“Second Wine” is made by adding sugar, water and yeast to the “Press Cake”, the skins, seeds and pulp left behind after presing the first wine. Distilling second wine yeilds “Grappa.”

November 1, 2010 at 9:20 am
(2) ashwene says:

its not a comment i just wanted to ask you question

wat is the percentage of alcoholic content are present in these?
how do each affect the physiological behaviour?

November 7, 2011 at 4:37 am
(3) sean says:

Beers/ales/lagers are typically about 3-7%. The idea is you can drink a lot without getting too much effect. Most beers are about 4% alcohol. The fermentation process stops when the sugar/starch runs out and this is controlled by the brewer.

Wines typically are 10-15% alcohol. What determinies the strength here is the quantity of sugar in the fruit used. But when the alcohol content gets high enough, it kills the yeast and the fermentation stops. Yeast can’t really tolerate more than about 14% alcohol.

Spirits and fortifies wines (sherry and port) are produced by distilling alcohol from a fermented solution. The alcohol is rediluted to the required strength and flavoured partly by adding stuff to them and partly by the maturation process (in oak barrels etc). Typically these are about 40% as much stronger than this is unpleasant to drink and even then most people drink spirits with mixers to dilute the alcohol.

It’s the same alcohol each time – ethanol. It disturbs the funtioning of the various parts of the brain, which as the blood alcolhol percentage increases, becomes more profound.

November 2, 2010 at 4:45 am
(4) vinod ( India) says:

In Japan Rice is used.
In Goa (India) cashew nut is used.In Bihar (India) Rice is used for raw wine. in few place Orange is used.
In Chhattis Garh (India) Mahua (a local tree fruit) is used by jungle tribes. Distill 40 to 95 % proof is consumed. Mostly Molassis is used to produce Ethenol. blended and flaverd and sold as branded whiski. In anciant time brued with saffron and some aromatic herbed was produced.

November 5, 2010 at 2:39 am
(5) gangasen says:

GOVAN FENNY cashew fruit juice in the wooden jars, long years fermentation, fenny

November 28, 2010 at 9:39 pm
(6) Kela says:

Thnx! For writing this blog, the imformation that is given on this website is realy goin to help me in my health class.

January 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm
(7) johnson says:

i like this.it will help in my exams.thanks.

March 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm
(8) Charles Vaught says:

helpful sight, thanks

November 7, 2011 at 8:21 am
(9) DJChem says:

all i see up here are the “legal” alcohols, im doing a history project, and am looking for moonshine, any ideas on that?

November 7, 2011 at 12:56 pm
(10) Daniel Rosenthal says:


Japanese alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.
18-20% alcohol.

November 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm
(11) Gaddafi M. Tafida says:

Dear Mrs. Anne Marrie, We have a drink that is been produced in our home country (Nigeria) but I am not sure whether it is an alcoholic drink or not, as a chemist I conducted some experiments with the drinks as my sample to test for the present of alcohol (ethanol) in the drinks and it was really indicated that the OH group is present and the drinks is flammable just like other alcohols but what confused me is that the company was saying it is not an alcoholic drinks the drinks is known as Maltina, Moltonic, etc. Please what can I do to testify that? Thanks!

May 3, 2012 at 8:00 am
(12) ShapoorII says:

In middle east date is used.
In some parts of Iran raisin is used.

May 5, 2013 at 3:50 am
(13) hafiz kashifullah says:

I like this. it will help in my exams. A lot of thanx

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