Liquor or spirit (also distilled alcohol) is an alcoholic drink produced by distillation of grains, fruits, or vegetables that have already gone through alcoholic fermentation. The distillation process purifies the liquid to increase its alcohol by volume. As liquors contain significantly more alcohol (ethanol) than other alcoholic drinks, they are considered "harder" – in North America, the term hard liquor is sometimes used to distinguish distilled alcoholic drinks from non-distilled ones, whereas the term spirits is used in the UK. Examples of liquors include brandy, vodka, baijiu, shōchū, soju, gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, and whisky.
Like other alcoholic drinks, liquor is typically consumed for the psychoactive effects of ethanol. Liquor may be consumed on its own (“neat”), typically in small amounts. In undiluted form, distilled beverages are often slightly sweet, bitter, and typically impart a burning mouthfeel, with a strong odor from the alcohol; the exact flavor varies between different varieties of liquor and the different impurities they impart. Liquor is also frequently enjoyed in diluted form, as flavored liquor or as part of a mixed drink; with cocktails being a common category of beverage that utilize liquor.
Due to its high ethanol content, drinking a large amount of undiluted liquor within a short period of time causes serious and acute health problems associated with alcohol poisoning. Consumption of liquor correlates with higher mortality rates, with the rate of mortality increasing with consumption. Compared to other types of alcoholic beverage, excess consumption of liquor is more strongly associated with harmful health effects, which may be attributed to liquor drinkers consuming higher levels of alcohol on average.
The term "spirit" refers to liquor that contains no added sugar and has at least 20% alcohol by volume (ABV).
Liquor generally has an alcohol concentration higher than 30%. Beer and wine, which are not distilled, are limited to a maximum alcohol content of about 20% ABV, as most yeasts cannot metabolise when the concentration of alcohol is above this level; as a consequence, fermentation ceases at that point.
The origin of "liquor" and its close relative "liquid" was the Latin verb liquere, meaning "to be fluid". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an early use of the word in the English language, meaning simply "a liquid", can be dated to 1225. The first use the OED mentions of its meaning "a liquid for drinking" occurred in the 14th century. Its use as a term for "an intoxicating alcoholic drink" appeared in the 16th century.
History of distillation
Early evidence of distillation comes from Akkadian tablets dated c. 1200 BC describing perfumery operations, providing textual evidence that an early, primitive form of distillation was known to the Babylonians of ancient Mesopotamia. Early evidence of distillation also comes from alchemists working in Alexandria, Roman Egypt, in the 1st century. Distilled water was described in the 2nd century AD by Alexander of Aphrodisias. Alchemists in Roman Egypt were using a distillation alembic or still device in the 3rd century.
Distillation was known in the ancient Indian subcontinent, evident from baked clay retorts and receivers found at Taxila and Charsadda in modern Pakistan, dating back to the early centuries of the Christian era. These "Gandhara stills" were capable of producing only very weak liquor, as there was no efficient means of collecting the vapors at low heat.
Distillation in China could have begun during the Eastern Han dynasty (1st–2nd centuries), but the distillation of beverages began in the Jin (12th–13th centuries) and Southern Song (10th–13th centuries) dynasties according to archaeological evidence.
Freeze distillation involves freezing the alcoholic beverage and then removing the ice. The freezing technique had limitations in geography and implementation limiting how widely this method was put to use.
Distillation of wine
The inflammable nature of the exhalations of wine was already known to ancient natural philosophers such as Aristotle (384–322 BCE), Theophrastus (c. 371–287 BCE), and Pliny the Elder (23/24–79 CE). However, this did not immediately lead to the isolation of alcohol, even despite the development of more advanced distillation techniques in second- and third-century Roman Egypt. An important recognition, first found in one of the writings attributed to Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (ninth century CE), was that by adding salt to boiling wine, which increases the wine's relative volatility, the flammability of the resulting vapors may be enhanced. The distillation of wine is attested in Arabic works attributed to al-Kindī (c. 801–873 CE) and to al-Fārābī (c. 872–950), and in the 28th book of al-Zahrāwī's (Latin: Abulcasis, 936–1013) Kitāb al-Taṣrīf (later translated into Latin as Liber servatoris). In the twelfth century, recipes for the production of aqua ardens ("burning water", i.e., alcohol) by distilling wine with salt started to appear in a number of Latin works, and by the end of the thirteenth century it had become a widely known substance among Western European chemists. Its medicinal properties were studied by Arnald of Villanova (1240–1311 CE) and John of Rupescissa (c. 1310–1366), the latter of whom regarded it as a life-preserving substance able to prevent all diseases (the aqua vitae or "water of life", also called by John the quintessence of wine).
In China, archaeological evidence indicates that the true distillation of alcohol began during the 12th century Jin or Southern Song dynasties. A still has been found at an archaeological site in Qinglong, Hebei, dating to the 12th century.
Fractional distillation was developed by Taddeo Alderotti in the 13th century. The production method was written in code, suggesting that it was being kept secret. In 1437, "burned water" (brandy) was mentioned in the records of the County of Katzenelnbogen in Germany. It was served in a tall, narrow glass called a Goderulffe.
Claims upon the origin of specific beverages are controversial, often invoking national pride, but they are plausible after the 12th century AD, when Irish whiskey and German brandy became available. These spirits would have had a much lower alcohol content (about 40% ABV) than the alchemists' pure distillations, and they were likely first thought of as medicinal elixirs. Liquor consumption rose dramatically in Europe in and after the mid-14th century, when distilled liquors were commonly used as remedies for the Black Death. Around 1400, methods to distill spirits from wheat, barley, and rye beers, a cheaper option than grapes, were discovered. Thus began the "national" drinks of Europe: jenever (Belgium and the Netherlands), gin (England), Schnaps (Germany), grappa (Italy), borovička (Slovakia), horilka (Ukraine), akvavit/snaps (Scandinavia), vodka (Poland and Russia), ouzo (Greece), rakia (the Balkans), and poitín (Ireland).
It is legal to distill beverage alcohol as a hobby for personal use in some countries, including New Zealand and the Netherlands.
In the United States, it is illegal to distill beverage alcohol without a license. In some parts of the U.S., it is also illegal to sell a still without a license. However, all states allow unlicensed individuals to make their own beer, and some also allow unlicensed individuals to make their own wine (although making beer and wine is also prohibited in some local jurisdictions).
Some countries and sub-national jurisdictions limit or prohibit the sale of certain very high-percentage alcohol, commonly known as neutral spirit.
Due to its flammability (see below) alcoholic beverage with alcohol content above 70% by volume is not permitted to be transported in aircraft.
Microdistilling (also known as craft distilling) began to re-emerge as a trend in the United States following the microbrewing and craft beer movement in the last decades of the 20th century. In contrast, large-scale distillation facilities were never as dominant in Scotland, so the tradition of small-scale distillation was never really lost in the Scotch whisky market.
Liquor that contains 40% ABV (80 US proof) will catch fire if heated to about 26 °C (79 °F) and if an ignition source is applied to it. This temperature is called its flash point. The flash point of pure alcohol is 16.6 °C (61.9 °F), less than average room temperature.
The flammability of liquor is applied in the cooking technique flambé.
The flash points of alcohol concentrations from 10% ABV to 96% ABV are:
- 10% – 49 °C (120 °F) – ethanol-based water solution
- 12.5% – about 52 °C (126 °F) –wine
- 15% – 42 °C (108 °F) – sake, mijiu, cheongju
- 20% – 36 °C (97 °F) – shōchū, fortified wine
- 30% – 29 °C (84 °F) – strong shōchū
- 40% – 26 °C (79 °F) – typical vodka, whisky or brandy
- 50% – 24 °C (75 °F) – typical baijiu, strong whisky, bottled in bond whisky, typical blanche absinthe
- 60% – 22 °C (72 °F) – strong baijiu, normal tsikoudia (called mesoraki or middle raki), barrel proof whisky, typical verte absinthe
- 70% – 21 °C (70 °F) – slivovitz
- 80% – 20 °C (68 °F) – strong absinthe
- 90% or more – 17 °C (63 °F) – neutral grain spirit
Liquor can be served:
- Neat — at room temperature without any additional ingredient(s)
- Up — shaken or stirred with ice, strained, and served in a stemmed glass
- Down — shaken or stirred with ice, strained, and served in a rocks glass
- On the rocks — over ice cubes
- Blended or frozen — blended with ice
- With a simple mixer, such as club soda, tonic water, juice, or cola
- As an ingredient of a cocktail
- As an ingredient of a shooter
- With water
- With water poured over sugar (as with absinthe)
Alcohol consumption by country
The World Health Organization measures and publishes alcohol consumption patterns in different countries. The WHO measures alcohol consumed by persons 15 years of age or older and reports it on the basis of liters of pure alcohol consumed per capita in a given year in a country.
Distilled spirits contain ethyl alcohol, the same chemical that is present in beer and wine and as such, spirit consumption has short-term psychological and physiological effects on the user. Different concentrations of alcohol in the human body have different effects on a person. The effects of alcohol depend on the amount an individual has drunk, the percentage of alcohol in the spirits and the timespan that the consumption took place, the amount of food eaten and whether an individual has taken other prescription, over-the-counter or street drugs, among other factors.
Drinking enough to cause a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.03%-0.12% typically causes an overall improvement in mood and possible euphoria, increased self-confidence, and sociability, decreased anxiety, a flushed, red appearance in the face and impaired judgment and fine muscle coordination. A BAC of 0.09% to 0.25% causes lethargy, sedation, balance problems and blurred vision. A BAC from 0.18% to 0.30% causes profound confusion, impaired speech (e.g., slurred speech), staggering, dizziness and vomiting. A BAC from 0.25% to 0.40% causes stupor, unconsciousness, anterograde amnesia, vomiting, and respiratory depression (potentially life-threatening). Death may occur due to inhalation of vomit (pulmonary aspiration) while unconscious. A BAC from 0.35% to 0.80% causes a coma (unconsciousness), life-threatening respiratory depression and possibly fatal alcohol poisoning.
As with all alcoholic beverages, driving under the influence, operating an aircraft or heavy machinery increases the risk of an accident; as such many countries have penalties for drunk driving.
The main active ingredient of distilled spirits is alcohol, and therefore, the health effects of alcohol apply to spirits. Drinking more than 1-2 drinks a day increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and stroke. The risk is greater in younger people due to binge drinking which may result in violence or accidents. About 3.3 million deaths (5.9% of all deaths) are believed to be due to alcohol each year. Unlike for wine and perhaps beer, there is no evidence for a J-shaped health effect for the consumption of distilled alcohol.
Alcoholism, also known as "alcohol use disorder", is a broad term for any drinking of alcohol that results in problems. Alcoholism reduces a person's life expectancy by around ten years and alcohol use is the third-leading cause of early death in the United States.
Consumption of distilled alcohol is the most important single factor behind variation on mortality rates and life expectancy for men in Europe. For example, in heavily Islamic regions of the Caucases (Islam forbids alcohol consumption) the life expectancy gap between women and men is five years; in nearby Christian areas it is ten years, and in the Czech Republic (where beer predominates) the chance of a man dying between the ages of 15 and 60 is less than half that of nearby Ukraine.
- Alcoholic drink
- Baijiu / Shōchū / Soju
- Eau de vie
- Er guo tou
- Freeze distillation
- Gin (and Jenever)
- Liquor store
- List of beverages
- List of national drinks
- Neutral grain spirit
- Rectified spirit
- Rượu đế
- Blue, Anthony Dias (2004). The Complete Book of Spirits: A Guide to Their History, Production, and Enjoyment. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-054218-7.
- Forbes, Robert (1997). Short History of the Art of Distillation from the Beginnings up to the Death of Cellier Blumenthal. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 90-04-00617-6.
- Multhauf, Robert (1993). The Origins of Chemistry. Gordon & Breach Science Publishers. ISBN 2-88124-594-3.