Alcohol: Chemical | Organic composition

Last modified: Wednesday, 24. December 2008 - 3:57 am

The chemical composition for ethanol or ethyl alcohol, otherwise known as alcohol, is C2H5OH. This means it is composed of two atoms of carbon, six atoms of hydrogen, and one oxygen atom. Ethanol is colorless and highly flammable. Alcohol is too strong to drink by itself, so it is mixed with water and other substances to create alcoholic beverages. Ethyl alcohol is the only safe alcohol to drink. Other alcohols like methanol (wood alcohol; CH3OH) and isopropyl alcohol [rubbing alcohol; (CH3)2CHOH] are highly toxic and poisonous to the body.

Alcohol is produced by fermenting fruits, vegetables, and grains. Fermentation occurs when sugar in berries or grains is combined with yeast. An enzyme is released that changes the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol. When the combination of sugar, yeast, and berries reaches an alcohol concentration point of 14%, fermentation is complete and wine is formed. Similarly, when sugar, yeast, and grains such as barley, corn, or rice are combined and reach an alcohol concentration of about 6%, beer is made and fermentation stops.

Hard liquor is produced by a process called distillation. In distillation, liquids that have been fermented are boiled and the alcohol is extracted. At the boiling point, the alcohol separates from the fermented liquid to create a vapor. The vapor is held in a cooling tube until it turns into a liquid once again. The alcohol is then mixed with water. Hard liquor is about 60% water. Whiskey, rum, vodka, scotch, and gin are distilled liquors. These alcoholic beverages contain about 50% alcohol. The percentage of alcohol in hard liquor is called “proof.” Proof is double the amount of pure alcohol, which means that a 100 proof whiskey contains 50% alcohol. A 4-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, and a 1-ounce shot glass of hard liquor all have the same amount of alcohol or alcohol content. Cordials like brandy, port, and liqueurs are made from wine and have pure alcohol added to them. Sugar is added to make them sweet, thus hiding the taste of alcohol and making these drinks seem less potent than they really are.

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