Alcoholic beverages are any drinks containing ethanol; a depressant prized for its psychoactive effects on the central nervous system. In moderate concentrations, ethanol can induce euphoria, talkativeness, and an overall state of relaxation. Humans have been consuming alcohol as far back as the Neolithic. Spanning cultures across the globe, there are many different types of alcoholic beverages, but for taxation and regulation purposes, it is convenient to group them in to three major classes: beers, wines, and spirits.
Beer is the third most popular beverage in the world, after water and tea. Brewed from fermented malted grains, beer is one of the oldest examples of alcohol; there are laws regulating the distribution of beer found within the Code of Hammurabi, a famous ancient Mesopotamian text. Grains are typically malted, mashed, boiled and fermented to create a hearty, carbonated, alcoholic beverage likened to liquid bread. The five most common classifications of beers are lagers, bocks, dry beers, pilsners, and ale, but there are many subdivision found within each of these classes. Beer has a rich culture, with many people taking pride in their local brews.
Wines are a type of alcoholic beverage produced from the fermentation of grapes and other fruits. Grapes are the most common, because of a natural chemical balance that allows them to ferment without the addition of enzymes, acids, sugars, water, or other nutrients. The wide variety of grapes, yeast strains, and locations creates a diverse selection of wines. Additional nutrients are required to help fruits like pears and pomegranates ferment into wines. When looking at the processing procedures, starch based “wines” like barley wine or sake are more similar to beer than conventional wine; the naming convention is likely due to similarities in consistency and alcohol content. Hard ciders are considered in a different category than apple wines based on yeast strain and alcohol content.
Distilled beverages or spirits include brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whisky, and other liquors. Distilled beverages with added sugars are called liqueurs. As diverse as these different beverages are, governments have generally lumped anything that isn’t a beer or wine into a third category of alcohol called spirits. The basic process of distillation involves separating components by exploiting differences in volatility in a boiling mixture. The component with the lower boiling point is evaporated and condensed into a separate container. In this way it is possible to enhance the alcohol content and purity of a vodka or whiskey over multiple distillations by isolating and removing undesirable byproducts.