Source of alcohol in spirit drinks

How does it matter if the C2H5OH alcohol was made by fermenting sugarcane, corn mash, potatoes , barley, oats or any other organic matter. The end product is ethyl alcohol which is distilled out. Water, colour, botanical, sugar etc is added later to make specific drinks.

My question. Is it relevant how the alcohol was made. Does anything from the original material remain in the end product. Is it all advertising hype? If I want 40%abv that I add to a mixing drink should I just get plain good cheap alcohol and be quids in. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

You’re wrong on a number of matters.

  1. Yes, different ingredients that go into the fermentation process affect the taste of the finished product. Unless you are consuming a chemically pure ethanol with nothing else present, there are tons of compounds in any sold for drinking purposes alcoholic beverage in the world.

  2. Color / botanicals / sugar etc is not always added later. Some beverages are made that way, some are not. Many beers and liquors are very specifically not given additives like that, and the brewers and distillers take it as a point of pride that they do not. Some styles of alcoholic beverage are defined by the addition of such additives, and makers of those obviously take no shame in it. It’s all about what product is desired.

  3. If you just want 40% abv to mix and don’t care, get a cheap vodka as they have the least powerful flavor and mix it until you can’t taste it. Distilling vs brewing, for the purposes of ABV, is important because it takes extremely exotic methods to get ABV very high at all via brewing, distilling can fairly trivially produce almost pure ethanol.

You don’t even need to waste your money on vodka: they sell 95%-97% “rectified” or “neutral” spirits with a neutral alcohol taste that you can use to mix drinks, or infuse fruits, etc.

Distilling whiskey and other liquors does not just distill the alcohol; it also separates and condenses other volatiles as well as (at least in the case of whiskeys) removes contaminants such as sulphur that would give an undesirable taste. The resulting product is then aged, typically in barrels that were often used to previously store some kind of wine or other fruit-based product which imparts the complex phenols that give each class and brand a distinct flavor. You don’t just infuse the product with flavorants to impart tastes like cola or liqueurs, and in fact in many styles such as Scotch, Irish, and bourbon whiskeys such infusions are viewed as adulterants, although I see that Bushnells has been injecting honey into their lower-shelf product which saddens me to a degree beyond words. Water is added to dilute “cask-strength” whiskey to a level that mere mortals can consume off the shelf but it should be the same source of water used to make the mash originally, not some kind of fruity flavored water.

Yeah, just inject that directly into the watermelon and cut chunks to take for work, or use a syringe to goose up your oranges. Nobody will notice, trust me.


Well, in one case you do:

This “whiskey” (it can still call itself that, as a grain spirit) is not aged, and never comes into contact with any oak, but is still meant to taste as if it had done exactly that. This is the root of the description as molecular whiskey—the company is claiming to produce its product “from the molecule up,” leaning on molecular chemistry to achieve the flavor profile of wood-aged whiskey without either wood or age. As a result, the label bears the words “spirit whiskey with natural flavors.”

That said, one of the reviews says:

Tastes like Replicant tears. Does not taste like whiskey (or whisky, or bourbon, or anything else borne of pot stills and time). Not fundamentally offensive, but not fundamentally natural by any stretch. When the red shirts gripe about synthahol in Ten Forward, this is what they’re griping about.

The way that spirits work is that something with starch or sugar is fermented, and then that fermented product is distilled. And due to the way that distillation works, and the specific equipment and techniques used, the resulting distillate has some of the characteristics of the original fermented product. So rum has distinct sugar cane/molasses flavors and aromas. Whiskey has flavors and aromas from the specific grains that are used to produce it, brandy has flavors and aromas from grapes (or whatever fruit is used).

On top of that, many spirits are aged in wooden barrels, which may or may not be charred, or have been used for other products. Bourbon is aged in new charred oak barrels, Scotch and rum are aged in just about anything- sherry (a type of wine) barrels, port barrels, old bourbon barrels, and so on. All of which donate a little flavor and aroma of their own, while removing other, harsher flavors and aromas.

That said, distillers can get tight enough on their distillation to pretty much get straight ethanol and water out of their stills, regardless of the fermented product going in. That’s why you see vodka made from so many different things- various grains, corn, grapes, sugarcane, and so on. In order not to be whiskey (various grains, corn), brandy (grapes) or rum(sugarcane), they effectively have to distill it to the point where you can’t even tell what it started with.

Some products such as gin, are made from neutral spirits (i.e. spirits , but infused with botanical ingredients specificallly to impart specific flavors and aromas.

But the big question at that point of disti is why bother? Just get the cheapest grain neutral spirits you can, and have at it. There’s no point in getting anything else if all you’re looking for is to get a buzz and mask the flavor of the alcohol with something flavorful.

Most people though, like the interplay between ingredients and spirits as found in highballs, cocktails and other mixed drinks, so they buy whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, etc…

“What in blazes is this?!?”


Or, to put it at the most basic level: Brewed spirits contain water, alcohol, and a variety of other compounds. Distilling typically removes some of the water and other compounds, but not all. And some of those compounds that aren’t removed contribute to the flavor.

If you want pure (or nearly pure) alcohol, then typically you start by brewing something that has very little of those other compounds, like sugar water, and then distill it more than is usual.

You can distill nearly any fermented sugar product to almost pure alcohol with enough stages via fractional distillation. Starting with something like refined sugar or potato certainly gives less other volatiles to deal with, but you can make virtually pure alcohol from any grain or fruit.


Have you really never had Tequila, or Scotch, or Gin? Those all have very distinctive flavor profiles.

Even before “water, colour, botanical, sugar etc is added later to make specific drinks”, these all have radically different tastes just because of what they started with and how they distilled it.

Hey, here’s your perfect excuse to try some of the good stuff: “But, smart people on the internet said I have to!”

Refined sugar is actually one of the hardest things to make good vodka out of. It is missing a lot of the micro nutrients and minerals that yeast need while replicating and that stress creates off flavors that are hard to remove.

Corn or wheat are probably the simplest and in the US corn is by far the cheapest which is why everclear and most other neutral grain spirits are made with corn. The only difference between a neutral spirit and vodka is what the manufacturer wants to call it. In the US all vodka must be distilled to at least 95% abv while Europe requires 96% from there most vodkas are diluted to 40% abv.

You are correct that it’s simply the amount of reflux that dictates how pure the alcohol is and you can use any base you want even hydrocarbons (you can’t sell that as drinking ethanol though) to make the ethanol though. One of my favorite examples of this is the Cow’s milk vodka by Vermont spirits company. Though it looks like they don’t make it anymore.

Heck. You can play this game just inside a narrow category like rye whiskey which is how I’ve been spending my weekends. We’ve developed a still that was used to make ~80% of the whiskey in the late 1800s and are starting construction of our first one next month so I’ve been making sure I understand what impacts certain things have on rye whiskey.

I asked a Mongol where to get some of that arkhi, koumiss, and other milk booze. She said, any supermarket in Mongolia, Kazakhstan, etc

I know a couple of closer places lactose is just annoying to ferment.

Moved to cafe society

Doesn’t that play hell with the optics?

Honey has a similar refractive index to optical glass, so it might not be a bad substitute under some conditions. If you don’t mind the color.

If the honey makes up more than 2% of the product they would have to disclose its addition on the label. It’s seems like an expensive adjunct to use and not disclose too.

Shamelessly requesting a bottle when available.

It’ll be coming out of Ved Elven Distillery when it’s available.