Tag Archives: alcohol

The Basics of Distillation

Alcohol evaporates at roughly 175 degrees F.

This is the key fact that one needs to know to understand the basic premise of distillation. For if you have a fermented beverage (say, a nice wine) and you wanted to boil it, the alcohol within the beverage would start boiling off before the water of the beverage would. If you could only muster a very small fire, and could not get the temperature of the wine above 200 degrees F, then you would eventually boil off most of the alcohol and leave a fair amount of the rest of the liquid behind. This undoubtedly happened so often in the past that no one specific person can say “I’ve discovered the art of removing the alcohol from wine/sake/beer/cider!”. We don’t know who discovered this act any more than we can say who discovered fire.

But removing alcohol from fermented beverages is not the same as distilling. For distillation to occur, one must separate and collect the various liquids from the initial composition.

It wasn’t until someone had the bright idea to put a lid with a condensation collector upon the pot of liquid that was being heated that distillation actually became a viable process. So using the example above, the wine would heat to 200 degrees F, and the steam from the alcohol would rise to the top where it would collect on the top of the lid. Condensation would form and drip either back down into the wine, or into a tube or funnel that had been attached to the lid. In that case, the condensation would drip down the tube or funnel and deposit itself in another container. Voila! The Alcohol had been separated from the wine and someone had created a rough form of brandy.

Of course this is but one of many ways of distillation. It’s also likely the first form of distillation had nothing to do with heat. Rather, it had to do with freezing. Alcohol freezes at a much lower temperature (-117 degrees C) than water (0 degrees C). It’s not beyond the realm of probabilities that people placed their sakes/ciders/beer/wine out doors on a cold winter’s night, only to wake up to find that the alcohol within their fermented beverage was still in liquid form, while everything else was a solid chunk o’ ice.

Whether it was through heat, freezing or some other manner, when it comes to liquor and spirits, it means that we’re talking about the alcohol that has been extracted from some version of a fermented liquid.

(graphic swiped from Wikipedia)

Technorati Tags:distillation, drinks, liquor


The Cure for Hangovers?

In the Trek world, Synthenol was a chemical variant of alcohol, invented by the Ferengi, that had the same taste and smell as ‘real’ alcohol but none of its effects. It would prevent evrything from alcoholism to hangovers.

It was also science-fiction, at least for now. Psychopharmacologist David Nutt of the University of Bristol in the UK is suggesting in next month’s Journal of Psychopharmacology.

From the New Scientist:

The trick pharmacologists need to pull off is to make a mixture of molecules that deliver alcohol’s pleasurable effects, notably relaxation and sociability, without the aggression, nausea, loss of coordination and amnesia that can cause drinkers and those around them so much grief. Long-term problems such as cirrhosis of the liver could also be eliminated, says Nutt…

Althuogh the search for the cure for hangovers has been common ground for con men and idealists, tt’s not as far fetched as one might have believed in the past. Now that science has figured out what causes the effects of alcohol (essentially it’s a bio chemical response within a brain’s GABA A receptor…and this is a vaaaaaaast oversimplification), figuring out how to prevent the less-than-welcome after effects of alcohol may now be only a matter of time.

(via eGullet)
Technorati Tags: Drink, Alcohol, hangover+Cures


The Economics of Alcohol

Over at Fermentation, Tom alerts us to some interesting statistics:

People who consume alcohol make more money than abstainers.

To be specific, a study published in the Journal of Health Economics in 1998 found:

U.S. males who drink alcohol make 7% higher wages than do abstainer.
Women who drink receive about three and one-half percent higher wages than do abstainers.

Tom then asks Why this occurs.

Statistics can be interpretted in many ways of course, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. The issue here is cause and affect.

Drinking does not cause people to make more money. Rather the inverse is true: making more money causes people to drink more, as people who make more money tend to have more disposable income. Alcohol, for people not addicted to it, is a luxury item.

I can hear some of you saying “Yeah, but Kate – aren’t the costs of a bottle of vodka and a bottle of wine roughly the same?”

At first glance, yes, it does appear that a bottle of wine and a bottle of vodka can have a similar price…roughly twenty dollars depending upon where you live. But the vodka is more cost efficient than wine. Ask yourself this: How many glasses of wine can you get from a bottle? Compare that with how many glasses of screwdrivers you can make with one bottle of vodka.

Additionally, once you open a bottle of wine, it needs to be consumed within a relatively short period of time or it will go bad. An open bottle of Vodka has no such concern.

Technorati Tags: Drink, Alcohol, Economics, Wine


Where have you gone, Dean Martin?

I come from a family of drinkers.

Not alcoholics mind you, but people who like various forms of alcohol and drink them in a responsible manner. This is a distinction that must be made. In fact, the mere fact that I have to make this distinction is why this post even exists.

My father was keen on scotch. My mother? She had a small bar in our double-wide trailer that consisted of vodka, rum and various schnapps. Both my parents had a taste for beer. These weren’t items that were consumed on a daily basis, but rather items that were saved for moments when they could be enjoyed.

I don’t necessarily mean enjoyed in the “taste” sense either, although my dad was known to mock lesser quality scotches and Budweiser was something that was brought into the house only by aunts and uncles. Rather, I mean enjoyed in the sense that adults would plan weekends together. At these weekends, cards and other board games were played, drinks were plied and fun was had by all. Everyone stayed the night, watched the football game the next day and then went home.

Do people still have nights like these?

American culture has changed over the past 50 years. Alcohol has been relegated to bars and beer ads. Alcohol for responsible home use is hardly spoken of any longer. My question is this: Does this reflect reality?

Consider this: The best resources for discovering data surrounding annual alcohol consumption are not the Food and Drug Administration or even the Bureau of Tobacco, Alchohol and Firearms. The best data comes from the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute on
Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The unintentional message sent by this is peculiar: the drinking of alcohol, responsible or otherwise, is a behavior that does not reflect that normal functioning adults, even if 55% of women and 61% of men drink in the United States.

Note that I don’t want to diminish the issue of alcoholism at all. People undoubtedly struggle with it, and the ramifications of this disease are far reaching. But for every one high-risk male drinker in the United States, there are five low-risk drinkers. In females, that ratio raises to 1:10 (data pulled from here). It is important to note that the a high-risk drinker is not an alcoholic or even a problem drinker, by the government’s definition. Rather their behavior may lend itself more easily to these diseases. (A high risk drinker is defined by the amount of a persons consumption. To be defined as a high-risk drinker, one must consume in a typical week, more than 14 drinks (men) or more than 7 drinks (women). Or on any day, more than 4 drinks (men) or more than 3 drinks (women))

But back to my main point for a moment – Alcohol is not a puritant product. We tend to drink alcoholic beverages not for the taste, but rather for (surprise, surprise) the alcohol. For proof of this, one needs only look at the sales of non-alcoholic beers and wines.

What I’m trying to say is this: I drink alcoholic beverages. I do so for a variety of reasons, including taste and for the slight buzz it may bring. I endeavor to drink responsibly, and I never drive after drinking, nor drink if I’m driving.

The question is: Is it socially acceptable simply to say “I drink alcoholic beverages” and leave it at that? Or must I add the qualifiers that I did in the previous paragraph in order to make my statement more socially acceptable?

Just wondering.

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Alcohol,


Alcohol is a Gas!!

A while ago, I linked to an item entitled powdered alcohol, which promised a flavorless alcohol powder that you can stir into any applicable beverage. I later found out that the makers are no longer selling the product (after I had predicted there wouldn’t be a big enough market for it), and I thought the the fad had gone by the way side (even though I do get about one hit a week based on the keywords ‘powdered alcohol’).

Today, I found something else while scouring the food blogs…Food Goat was linking to a an article about flavorful alcohol that was neither liguid nor solid, but a gas! The product called AWOL (an acronym for Alcohol WithOut Liquid) is a process in which user chooses which alcoholic spirit will be used and the alcoholic spirit is loaded into a diffuser capsule in the machine. The oxygen bubbles are then passed through the capsule, absorbing the alcohol, before being inhaled through a tube. The resultant cloudy alcohol vapor is then inhaled from the end of the tube via a device that converts liquid to vapor over a twenty minute period.

Can you get drunk? Well, yes and no. The machine distributes the alocohol slowly, so you cannot pound ‘em like the more serious drinkers can. But apparently there is a slight feeling of well being that comes after taking the appropriate hits. And if you look at their FAQ, you can see that there are some very stringent concerns about over-indulgence, including a disclaimer about mis-use of the machine that delivers the gas.

But unlike the powdered alcohol, I do see a market for these machines. There’s no way in hell they’ll replace the tried and true delivery mechanism of alcohol (Over the mouth and through the gums, look out stomach, here it comes!), but there is a gimmick market for this, much in the same way there is a market for oxygen bars. If a bar is willing to shell out three to four grand on the machine (which, I suspect, is VERY hackable), then you might see these soon in your local over priced night club.