People brew beer, make wine, distill hard liquor, but how do they actually put the alcohol in? What is alcohol? Is it just mixing grapes and vodka? Are they buying alcohol and blending it in? Do they have to add….chemicals? The shot-sized answer after the jump.
The part of any drink that’s getting you drunk is a chemical compound called ethanol or ethyl alcohol, which is a particular type of alcohol. If you ask a chemist, an alcohol roughly means it’s mostly carbon and hydrogen with a special end on one side. (There are a bunch of other alcohols as well, which present in your drink contribute other flavors and affect what kind of hangover you feel later).
All ethanol consumed in beverages comes, at the end of the day, from microorganisms eating sugar and transforming it into ethanol. In general, this process is called fermentation. Like making bread, or kimchi, or sauerkraut, these little beasts (yeast or mold or bacteria) will take, for example, grape juice, or a hot water infusion of barley, or watered down molasses, introduce a culture of little cells to it, and let it sit for them to do their work changing all of the sugar to alcohol. It’s practically “set it and forget it”. Once it’s in there, you have wine, or beer, or a molasses “mead”, respectively with some mild amount of alcohol (usually between 4-16% abv, (alcohol by volume). Nerd.Bar will call these products in general ferments, or fermentates. The ethanol is now mixed very well into the transformed juice/water/etc mixture.
Carboys- technical term for these big bottles, fermenting what looks like cider with an airlock on top
From here, this alcoholic product can either be bottled and served as is (as wine/cider/beer frequently are), or can be purified to concentrate the alcohol and other non-water flavor molecules (distillation). Distilled spirits from some other batch of fermentation can be added to this one (fortifying), or they can even try and pull most of the alcohol out (non-alcoholic wine and beer).