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Alcohol, in the context of human consumption, most often refers to ethanol. Ethanol is the alcohol component of all alcoholic beverages. It’s known by such names as ethyl acohol, drinking alcohol, and grain alcohol; ethanol has a pungent odor, and it’s flammable, colorless, and slightly noxious. Ethanol is manufactured by yeast fermentation of sugar. Luckily for alcoholic beverage companies, ethanol blends well with essential oils, flavorings, and fatty additives. In other words, it’s a very excellent solvent.

But what about alcoholic beverages? Alcoholic beverages have been consumed since pre-historic times for many intuitive reasons like its analgesic, anxiolytic, relaxant, euphoric, and sleep-inducing effects. Sexual arousal, artistic inspiration – because of less inhibitions, and festivals of worship and celebration are some of the other other occasions and reasons for consumption. For instance, some Greeks worshiped their god of drink and revelry, Dionysus, through ecstatic rituals and lewd dances. The Christian Eucharist and the Jewish Shabbat, especially, Passover, use alcohol consumption too. In Biblical times, Paul wrote to Timothy that he should, “No longer drink water [exclusively], but use a small wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” In Ancient Testament times, King David wrote, “wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” Proverbs 31:6-7 says, “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish;let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” Buddhism, but, forbids alcohol consumption, as well as the Hindu Brahman caste. Wine was drunk throughout the day by all family members in Classical Greece and Rome, and beer was drunk by the entire family in the Middle Ages. A triple fermentation process ensured that men got the strongest alcohol content with women and children following.

Most European countries have lower drinking ages than in the United States. Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Austria have set the legal age at 16 to buy beer and wine, and the age is 18 for distilled beverages.

The distinction is due to the alcohol content of each. For example, beer, produced from fermentation of sugar or starch-containing substances, typically has an alcohol content of between 3% and 8%. Wine, on the other hand, has an alcohol content of between 7% and 18%. Distilled beverages like liqueurs and spirits have an alcohol content of 30% and 37%. Liqueurs are distinguished with their infusion of flavors, and they have a distinct sugary taste. Spirits, but, are not infused with flavor after distillation.

Let’s take a look at one grain used to produce alcoholic beverages. Barley is fermented to make beer and ale, and it can be distilled to make Irish whiskey and Scotch whiskey.

Ethanol has uses as an alternative automobile fuel too, and it’s usually derived from grain or corn. As of November 2006, 107 grain ethanol biorefineries in the United States have the capacity to manufacture 5.1 billion gallons of ethanol per year. Ethanol presents some controversy in countries where the corn is the staple crop. Eventually, ethanol is expected to replace gasoline.

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