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Types of Alcoholic Beverages

BeerThe alcoholic content in a beverage is determined relative to its proof, which is twice the alcohol content. For example, a glass of 24 proof wine would be 12 percent alcohol. A drink that is 40 percent alcohol would be 80 proof. There are three main categories of alcoholic drinks: beer, wine, and distilled spirits (hard liquor).

Beer making has a long history. As far back as 2000 B.C., the Code of Hammurabi set standards for beer production and behavioral codes pertaining to drunkenness. Beer is made from grain, malt, hops, yeast, and water. Historically, beer was full-bodied and quite nutritious. The beer of today is highly filtered and of negligible nutritious value, although calorie-laden. The alcohol content of beer in the United States is generally between three and six percent. Grain drinks with a higher level of alcohol are called malts, lager, or ale.

Red WineWine also has a long history. Historically, many monasteries have been known for their wine production. A number of fruits can be used to make wine, including grapes, berries, or peaches. The fruits are crushed, and yeast may be added. In general, the darker the color of wine, the longer the aging process. American wine is approximately 9 to 14 percent alcohol. Fortified wines are those with an alcohol content higher than 14 percent. Such wines contain added alcohol or brandy to increase the alcohol content to approximately 20 percent.

The remaining major category of alcoholic drink is distilled spirits, often called "hard liquor." The natural fermentation process stops when the alcohol content reaches 14 percent. However, the discovery of the distillation process by the Arabs lead to the use of this type of beverage with its higher alcoholic content. Distillation involves heating the substance of choice and capturing the steam that is released. When cooled, the steam contains less water and more alcohol. A number of different products are used for distilled spirits including corn (bourbon), potatoes (vodka), sugar cane (rum), wine (brandy), and malts/grains (scotch).


It is difficult for many people to ascertain exactly how much alcohol is found in a drink. A good rule of thumb is that a 12-ounce, 10 proof beer is equal to a five-ounce glass of 24 proof wine, which is equal to a 1 1/2 ounce shot (jigger) of 80 proof hard liquor (distilled spirits). Each of these drinks contains 0.6 ounces of alcohol. To determine how much ethanol (alcohol) is in a drink, divide the proof by half, and then divide that number by 100. Multiply the result by the number of ounces in the drink. Remember that proof is twice the percent of alcohol.

5 ounces of wine
24 proof

24 ÷ 2 = 12 (% alcohol)

12 ÷ 100 = 0.12

0.12 x 5 oz
=
0.6 ounces ethanol

12 ounces of beer
10 proof

10 ÷ 2 = 5 (% alcohol)

5 ÷ 100 = 0.05

0.05 x 12 oz
=
0.6 ounces ethanol

1 1/2 shot
80 proof

80 ÷ 2 = 40 (% alcohol)

40 ÷ 100 = 0.4

0.4 x 1.5 oz
=
0.6 ounces ethanol

If you know the percent of the drink, step 1 (finding the percent) can be eliminated.

Other types of alcohol are not safe to drink. They can be toxic and even fatal if consumed. They include:

  • Butyl alcohol, or butanol. This type of alcohol, derived from butane, is commonly used in products such as adhesives and varnishes. 
  • Methyl alcohol, also known as methanol or wood alcohol. It is used in the manufacture of formaldehyde and as industrial solvent. During Prohibition wood alcohol gained notoriety as a mixing agent with ethyl alcohol to make liquor. Several people became blind after drinking this toxic mixture, as methyl alcohol causes swelling of the optic nerve, an irreversible condition. 
  • Isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, is a common household product. It is used as a disinfectant and as an ingredient in cologne and after-shave lotion.
  • Ethylene glycol, also known as antifreeze, is the most harmful type of alcohol. It should never be consumed, as it is deadly.