Alcoholic beverage

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European countries grouped by preferred type of alcoholic drink, based on recorded alcohol consumption per capita (age 15+) (in liters of pure alcohol) in 2016
Map of Europe with individual countries grouped by preferred type of alcoholic drink, based on recorded alcohol consumption per capita (age 15+) (in liters of pure alcohol) in 2016[1]

An alcoholic beverage (also called an adult beverage, alcoholic drink, strong drink, or simply a drink) is a drink that contains ethanol, a type of alcohol and is produced by fermentation of grains, fruits, or other sources of sugar.[2] The consumption of alcoholic drinks, often referred to as "drinking", plays an important social role in many cultures. Alcoholic drinks are typically divided into three classes—beers, wines, and spirits—and typically their alcohol content is between 3% and 50%.

A selection of alcoholic drinks: red wine, malt whisky, lager, sparkling wine, lager, cherry liqueur and red wine

Most countries have laws regulating the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages,[3] and the temperance movement advocates against the consumption of alcoholic beverages.[4] Regulations may require the labeling of the percentage alcohol content (as ABV or proof) and the use of a warning label. Some countries ban the consumption of alcoholic drinks, but they are legal in most parts of the world. The global alcoholic drink industry exceeded $1.5 trillion in 2017.[5]

A liquor store in the United States. Global sales of alcoholic drinks exceeded $1.5 trillion in 2017.[5]

Alcohol is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the world, and about 33% of all humans currently drink alcohol.[6] In 2015, among Americans, 86% of adults had consumed alcohol at some point, with 70% drinking it in the last year and 56% in the last month.[7] Several other animals are affected by alcohol similarly to humans and, once they consume it, will consume it again if given the opportunity, though humans are the only species known to produce alcoholic drinks intentionally.[8]

Alcohol is a depressant, which in low doses causes euphoria, reduces anxiety, and increases sociability. In higher doses, it causes drunkenness, stupor, unconsciousness, or death. Long-term use can lead to an alcohol use disorder, an increased risk of developing several types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and physical dependence. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is in the highest risk-group carcinogen, and no quantity of its consumption can be considered safe.[9]



Discovery of late Stone Age jugs suggests that intentionally fermented drinks existed at least as early as the Neolithic period.[10]

The oldest verifiable brewery has been found in a prehistoric burial site in a cave near Haifa in modern-day Israel. Researchers have found residue of 13,000-year-old beer that they think might have been used for ritual feasts to honor the dead. The traces of a wheat-and-barley-based alcohol were found in stone mortars carved into the cave floor.[11]

Ancient period[edit]

Beer was likely brewed from barley as early as the 13,000 years ago in the Middle East.[12] Pliny the Elder wrote about the golden age of winemaking in Rome, the 2nd century BCE (200–100 BCE), when vineyards were planted.[13]

Examination and analysis of ancient pottery jars from the neolithic village of Jiahu in the Henan province of northern China revealed residue left behind by the alcoholic drinks they had once contained. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, chemical analysis of the residue confirmed that a fermented drink made of grape and hawthorn fruit wine, honey mead and rice beer was being produced in 7000–5600 BC (McGovern et al., 2005; McGovern 2009).[14][15] The results of this analysis were published in December 2004.[16]

The earliest evidence of winemaking was dated at 6,000 to 5,800 BCE in Georgia in the South Caucasus.[17]

Celtic people were known to have been making types of alcoholic cider as early as 3000 BC.[18][19] and wine was consumed in Classical Greece at breakfast or at symposia, and in the 1st century BC.[20]

Medieval period[edit]

Medieval Middle East[edit]

Medieval Muslim chemists such as Jābir ibn Ḥayyān (Latin: Geber, ninth century) and Abū Bakr al-Rāzī (Latin: Rhazes, c. 865–925) experimented extensively with the distillation of various substances. 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).[21] 12th century: The process of distillation spread from the Middle East to Italy,[22] where distilled alcoholic drinks were recorded in the mid-12th century.[22]

Medieval Europe[edit]

In Italy, the works of Taddeo Alderotti (1223–1296) describe a method for concentrating alcohol involving repeated fractional distillation through a water-cooled still.[23] By the early 14th century, distilled alcoholic drinks had spread throughout the European continent.[22] Distillation spread to Ireland and Scotland no later than the 15th century, as did the common European practice of distilling "aqua vitae", primarily for medicinal purposes.[24]

Early modern period[edit]

in 1690, England passed "An Act for the Encouraging of the Distillation of Brandy and Spirits from Corn" [25] Alcoholic beverages played an important role in the Thirteen Colonies from their early days when drinking wine and beer at that time was safer than drinking water – which was usually taken from sources also used to dispose of sewage and garbage.[26] Drinking hard liquor was common occurrence in early nineteenth-century United States.[27]

The Whiskey Rebellion (also known as the Whiskey Insurrection) was a violent tax protest in the United States beginning in 1791 and ending in 1794 during the presidency of George Washington. The so-called "whiskey tax" was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government. Beer was difficult to transport and spoiled more easily than rum and whiskey.

Modern period[edit]

The Rum Rebellion of 1808 was a coup d'état in the then-British penal colony of New South Wales, staged by the New South Wales Corps in order to depose Governor William Bligh. Australia's first and only military coup, its name derives from the illicit rum trade of early Sydney, over which the 'Rum Corps', as it became known, maintained a monopoly. During the first half of the 19th century, it was widely referred to in Australia as the Great Rebellion.[28]The alcohol monopoly system has a long history in various countries, often implemented to limit the availability and consumption of alcohol for public health and social welfare reasons.

The alcohol monopoly was created in the Swedish town of Falun in 1850, to prevent overconsumption and reduce the profit motive for sales of alcohol. It later went all over the country in 1905 when the Swedish parliament ordered all sales of vodka to be done via local alcohol monopolies.[29] In 1894, the Russian Empire established a state monopoly on vodka, which became a major source of revenue for the Russian government.

Later in the nineteenth century opposition to alcohol grew in the form of the temperance movement, in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Scandinavia and India, and it eventually led to national prohibitions in Canada (1918 to 1920), Norway (spirits only from 1919 to 1926), Finland (1919 to 1932), and the United States (1920 to 1933), as well as provincial prohibition in India (1948 to present).[30]

Fermented drinks[edit]

Wine (left) and beer (right) are served in different glasses.


Beer is a beverage fermented from grain mash. It is typically made from barley or a blend of several grains and flavored with hops. Most beer is naturally carbonated as part of the fermentation process. If the fermented mash is distilled, then the drink becomes a spirit. Beer is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the world.[31]


Cider or cyder (/ˈsdər/ SY-dər) is a fermented alcoholic drink made from any fruit juice; apple juice (traditional and most common), peaches, pears ("Perry" cider) or other fruit. Cider alcohol content varies from 1.2% ABV to 8.5% or more in traditional English ciders. In some regions, cider may be called "apple wine".[32]

Fermented water[edit]

Fermented water is an ethanol-based water solution with approximately 15-17% ABV without sweet reserve. Fermented water is exclusively fermented with white sugar, yeast, and water. Fermented water is clarified after the fermentation to produce a colorless or off-white liquid with no discernible taste other than that of ethanol.

Fermented sugar water[edit]

Fermented sugar water is fermented water with added refined sugar.


Mead (/md/), also called hydromel, is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey with water, sometimes with various fruits, spices, grains, or hops. The alcoholic content of mead may range from as low as 3% ABV to more than 20%. The defining characteristic of mead is that the majority of the drink's fermentable sugar is derived from honey. Mead can also be referred to as "honeywine."


Pulque is the Mesoamerican fermented drink made from the "honey water" of maguey, Agave americana. Pulque can be distilled to produce tequila or Mezcal.[33]

Rice wine[edit]

Rice wine is an alcoholic drink fermented and possibly distilled from rice, consumed in East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia. Sake, huangjiu, mijiu, and cheongju are popular examples of East Asian rice wine.


Wine is a fermented beverage most commonly produced from grapes. Wine involves a longer fermentation process than beer and often a long aging process (months or years), resulting in an alcohol content of 9%–16% ABV.

Sparkling wines such French Champagne, Catalan Cava or Italian Prosecco are also made from grapes, with a secondary fermentation.

Fruit wines are made from fruits other than grapes, such as plums, cherries, or apples.

Distilled beverages[edit]

Rum display in liquor store

Distilled beverages (also called liquors or spirit drinks) are alcoholic drinks produced by distilling (i.e., concentrating by distillation) ethanol produced by means of fermenting grain, fruit, or vegetables.[34] Unsweetened, distilled, alcoholic drinks that have an alcohol content of at least 20% ABV are called spirits.[35] For the most common distilled drinks, such as whisky (or whiskey) and vodka, the alcohol content is around 40%. The term hard liquor is used in North America to distinguish distilled drinks from undistilled ones (implicitly weaker). Brandy, gin, mezcal, rum, tequila, vodka, whisky (or wiskey), baijiu, shōchū and soju are examples of distilled drinks. Distilling concentrates the alcohol and eliminates some of the congeners. Freeze distillation concentrates ethanol along with methanol and fusel alcohols (fermentation by-products partially removed by distillation) in applejack.

Fortified wine is wine, such as port or sherry, to which a distilled beverage (usually brandy) has been added.[36] Fortified wine is distinguished from spirits made from wine in that spirits are produced by means of distillation, while fortified wine is wine that has had a spirit added to it. Many different styles of fortified wine have been developed, including port, sherry, madeira, marsala, commandaria, and the aromatized wine vermouth.[37]

Rectified spirit[edit]

Rectified spirit, also called "neutral grain spirit", is alcohol which has been purified by means of "rectification" (i.e. repeated distillation). The term neutral refers to the spirit's lack of flavor that would have been present if the mash ingredients had been distilled to a lower level of alcoholic purity. Rectified spirit also lacks any flavoring added to it after distillation (as is done, for example, with gin). Other kinds of spirits, such as whiskey, (or whisky) are distilled to a lower alcohol percentage to preserve the flavor of the mash.

Rectified spirit is a clear, colorless, flammable liquid that may contain as much as 95% ABV. It is often used for medicinal purposes. It may be a grain spirit, or it may be made from other plants. It is used in mixed drinks, liqueurs, and tinctures, and also as a household solvent.


In the alcoholic drinks industry, congeners are substances produced during fermentation. These substances include small amounts of chemicals such as occasionally desired other alcohols, like propanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol, but also compounds that are never desired such as acetone, acetaldehyde and glycols. Congeners are responsible for most of the taste and aroma of distilled alcoholic drinks and contribute to the taste of non-distilled drinks.[38] It has been suggested that these substances contribute to the symptoms of a hangover.[39] Tannins are congeners found in wine in the presence of phenolic compounds. Wine tannins add bitterness, have a drying sensation, taste herbaceous, and are often described as astringent. Wine tannins adds balance, complexity, structure and makes a wine last longer, so they play an important role in the aging of wine.[40]

Amount of use[edit]

Alcohol consumption per person in 2016. Consumption of alcohol is measured in liters of pure alcohol per person aged 15 or older.[41]

The average number of people who drink as of 2016 was 39% for males and 25% for females (2.4 billion people in total).[6] Females on average drink 0.7 drinks per day while males drink 1.7 drinks per day.[6] The rates of drinking varies significantly in different areas of the world.[6]


Alcohol-related crimes[edit]

Alcohol is used in rum-running, the illegal business of smuggling alcoholic beverages where such transportation is forbidden by law.

Moonshine is illegal to produce and sell in most countries.

A straw purchaser may receive money or recompense from the underage person in exchange for purchasing the alcohol on their behalf.

Alcohol has been used as a currency for transactional sex in South Africa, and Uganda.[42][43][44]


Apéritifs and digestifs[edit]

An apéritif is any alcoholic beverage usually served before a meal to stimulate the appetite,[45] while a digestif is any alcoholic beverage served after a meal for the stated purpose of improving digestion. Fortified wine, liqueurs, and dry champagne are common apéritifs. Because apéritifs are served before dining, they are usually dry rather than sweet. One example is Cinzano, a brand of vermouth. Digestifs include brandy, fortified wines and herb-infused spirits (Drambuie).


Reduction of red wine for a sauce by cooking it on a stovetop. It is called a reduction because the heat boils off some of the water and most of the more volatile alcohol, leaving a more concentrated, wine-flavoured sauce.

Pure ethanol tastes bitter to humans; some people also describe it as sweet.[46] However, ethanol is also a moderately good solvent for many fatty substances and essential oils. This facilitates the use of flavoring and coloring compounds in alcoholic drinks as a taste mask, especially in distilled drinks. Some flavors may be naturally present in the beverage's raw material. Beer and wine may also be flavored before fermentation, and spirits may be flavored before, during, or after distillation. Sometimes flavor is obtained by allowing the beverage to stand for months or years in oak barrels, usually made of American or French oak. A few brands of spirits may also have fruit or herbs inserted into the bottle at the time of bottling.

Wine is important in cuisine not just for its value as an accompanying beverage, but as a flavor agent, primarily in stocks and braising, since its acidity lends balance to rich savory or sweet dishes.[47] Wine sauce is an example of a culinary sauce that uses wine as a primary ingredient.[48] Natural wines may exhibit a broad range of alcohol content, from below 9% to above 16% ABV, with most wines being in the 12.5–14.5% range.[49] Fortified wines (usually with brandy) may contain 20% alcohol or more.

Food preservative[edit]

Alcohol has been used to preserve food.[50]

In cultures[edit]

Terms for foods always served with alcoholic beverages:

  • Anju, Korean term
  • Kap klaem (Thai drinking food)
  • Sakana, Japanese term for snacks served while drinking

Wine and food matching[edit]

Wine and food matching is the process of pairing food dishes with wine to enhance the dining experience. In many cultures, wine has had a long history of being a staple at the dinner table and in some ways both the winemaking and culinary traditions of a region will have evolved together over the years. Rather than following a set of rules, local cuisines were paired simply with local wines. The modern "art" of food pairings is a relatively recent phenomenon, fostering an industry of books and media with guidelines for pairings of particular foods and wine. In the restaurant industry, sommeliers are often present to make food pairing recommendations for the guest. The main concept behind pairings is that certain elements (such as texture and flavor) in both food and wine interact with each other, and thus finding the right combination of these elements will make the entire dining experience more enjoyable. However, taste and enjoyment are very subjective and what may be a "textbook perfect" pairing for one taster could be less enjoyable to another.[51]


A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid, or grains such as rice, as an offering to a deity or spirit, or in memory of the dead. It was common in many religions of antiquity and continues to be offered in cultures today. Wine or other alcoholic drinks are often used for libation.


In Christianity, the sacramental wine used in the Eucharist is sometimes alcoholic. However, only a sip is taken, which does not cause a noticeable blood alcohol content.

Alcoholic beverages are typical offerings for the narco-saints Maximón,[52] and Santa Muerte.[53][54]


Beer tasting[edit]

A beer flight of three beers, on a wooden beer paddle, served by a bar in Brisbane, Australia

Beer tasting is a way to learn more about the history, ingredients, and production of beer, as well as different beer styles, hops, yeast, and beer presentation. A common approach is to analyze the appearance, smell, and taste of the beer, and then make a final judgment on the beer's quality. There are various scales used by beer journalists and experts to rate beer, such as the 1-20 scale used by British sommelier Jancis Robinson and the 1-100 scale used by American sommelier Joshua M. Bernstein. Professional organizations like the Wine & Spirit Education Trust often rate beer using verbal grades ranging from "faulty" to "outstanding" on a 1-5 scale.

Wine tasting[edit]

Wine tasting, on the other hand, is the sensory examination and evaluation of wine. While the practice of wine tasting is ancient, a more formalized methodology has been established since the 14th century. Modern, professional wine tasters use specialized terminology to describe the range of perceived flavors, aromas, and general characteristics of a wine. More informal, recreational tasting may involve similar terminology, but with a less analytical process and a more general, personal appreciation of the wine.


Some may only drink to celebrate on alcoholic beverage observances such as the International Beer Day.

Alcohol measurement[edit]

Alcohol concentration[edit]

Typical ABV ranges[55]
Fruit juices < 0.1%
Cider, wine coolers 4%–8%
Beers typically 5% (range is from 3–15%)
Wines typically 13.5% (range is from 8%–17%)
Sakes 15–16%
Fortified wines 15–22%
Spirits typically 30%-40% (range is from 15% to, in some rare cases, up to 98%)

The concentration of alcohol in a beverage is usually stated as the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV, the number of milliliters (ml) of pure ethanol in 100 ml of beverage) or as proof. In the United States, proof is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (e.g. 80 proof = 40% ABV). Degrees proof were formerly used in the United Kingdom, where 100 degrees proof was equivalent to 57.1% ABV. Historically, this was the most dilute spirit that would sustain the combustion of gunpowder.

Ordinary distillation cannot produce alcohol of more than 95.6% by weight, which is about 97.2% ABV (194.4 proof) because at that point alcohol is an azeotrope with water. A spirit which contains a very high level of alcohol and does not contain any added flavoring is commonly called a neutral spirit. Generally, any distilled alcoholic beverage of 170 US proof or higher is considered to be a neutral spirit.[56]

Most yeasts cannot reproduce when the concentration of alcohol is higher than about 18%, so that is the practical limit for the strength of fermented drinks such as wine, beer, and sake. However, some strains of yeast have been developed that can reproduce in solutions of up to 25% ABV.[57]

Serving measures[edit]

Shot sizes[edit]

Shot sizes vary significantly from country to country. In the United Kingdom, serving size in licensed premises is regulated under the Weights and Measures Act (1985). A single serving size of spirits (gin, whisky, rum, and vodka) are sold in 25 ml or 35 ml quantities or multiples thereof.[58] Beer is typically served in pints (568 ml), but is also served in half-pints or third-pints. In Israel, a single serving size of spirits is about twice as much, 50 or 60 mL.

The shape of a glass can have a significant effect on how much one pours. A Cornell University study of students and bartenders' pouring showed both groups pour more into short, wide glasses than into tall, slender glasses.[59] Aiming to pour one shot of alcohol (1.5 ounces or 44.3 ml), students on average poured 45.5 ml & 59.6 ml (30% more) respectively into the tall and short glasses. The bartenders scored similarly, on average pouring 20.5% more into the short glasses. More experienced bartenders were more accurate, pouring 10.3% less alcohol than less experienced bartenders. Practice reduced the tendency of both groups to over pour for tall, slender glasses but not for short, wide glasses. These misperceptions are attributed to two perceptual biases:

  1. Estimating that tall, slender glasses have more volume than shorter, wider glasses; and
  2. Over-focusing on the height of the liquid and disregarding the width.

Standard drinks[edit]

A "standard drink" of hard liquor does not necessarily reflect a typical serving size, such as seen here.

There is no single standard, but a standard drink of 10g alcohol, which is used in the WHO AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test)'s questionnaire form example,[60] have been adopted by more countries than any other amount.[61] 10 grams is equivalent to 12.7 millilitres.

A standard drink is a notional drink that contains a specified amount of pure alcohol. The standard drink is used in many countries to quantify alcohol intake. It is usually expressed as a measure of beer, wine, or spirits. One standard drink always contains the same amount of alcohol regardless of serving size or the type of alcoholic beverage. The standard drink varies significantly from country to country. For example, it is 7.62 ml (6 grams) of alcohol in Austria, but in Japan it is 25 ml (19.75 grams):

  • In the United Kingdom, there is a system of units of alcohol which serves as a guideline for alcohol consumption. A single unit of alcohol is defined as 10 ml. The number of units present in a typical drink is sometimes printed on bottles. The system is intended as an aid to people who are regulating the amount of alcohol they drink; it is not used to determine serving sizes.
  • In the United States, the standard drink contains 0.6 US fluid ounces (18 ml) of alcohol. This is approximately the amount of alcohol in a 12-US-fluid-ounce (350 ml) glass of beer, a 5-US-fluid-ounce (150 ml) glass of wine, or a 1.5-US-fluid-ounce (44 ml) glass of a 40% ABV (80 US proof) spirit.


Alcohol laws regulate the manufacture, packaging, labelling, distribution, sale, consumption, blood alcohol content of motor vehicle drivers, open containers, and transportation of alcoholic drinks. Such laws generally seek to reduce the adverse health and social impacts of alcohol consumption. In particular, alcohol laws set the legal drinking age, which usually varies between 15 and 21 years old, sometimes depending upon the type of alcoholic drink (e.g., beer vs wine vs hard liquor or distillates). Some countries do not have a legal drinking or purchasing age, but most countries set the minimum age at 18 years.[3]

Some countries, such as the U.S., have the drinking age higher than the legal age of majority (18), at age 21 in all 50 states. Such laws may take the form of permitting distribution only to licensed stores, monopoly stores, or pubs and they are often combined with taxation, which serves to reduce the demand for alcohol (by raising its price) and it is a form of revenue for governments. These laws also often limit the hours or days (e.g., "blue laws") on which alcohol may be sold or served, as can also be seen in the "last call" ritual in US and Canadian bars, where bartenders and servers ask patrons to place their last orders for alcohol, due to serving hour cutoff laws. In some countries, alcohol cannot be sold to a person who is already intoxicated. Alcohol laws in many countries prohibit drunk driving.

In some jurisdictions, alcoholic drinks are totally prohibited for reasons of religion (e.g., Islamic countries with sharia law) or for reasons of local option, public health, and morals (e.g., Prohibition in the United States from 1920 to 1933). In jurisdictions which enforce sharia law, the consumption of alcoholic drinks is an illegal offense,[62] although such laws may exempt non-Muslims.[63]

Alcohol and health[edit]

Alcohol is a depressant, which in low doses causes euphoria, reduces anxiety, and increases sociability. In higher doses, it causes drunkenness, stupor, unconsciousness, or death.

The short-term effects of alcohol consumption range from a decrease in anxiety and motor skills and euphoria at lower doses to intoxication (drunkenness), to stupor, unconsciousness, anterograde amnesia (memory "blackouts"), and central nervous system depression at higher doses. Cell membranes are highly permeable to alcohol, so once it is in the bloodstream, it can diffuse into nearly every cell in the body. Alcohol can greatly exacerbate sleep problems. During abstinence, residual disruptions in sleep regularity and sleep patterns are the greatest predictors of relapse.[64] Long-term use can lead to an alcohol use disorder, an increased risk of developing physical dependence. cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists ethanol in alcoholic beverages as a Group 1 carcinogen in humans and states that: "There is sufficient evidence and research showing the carcinogenicity of acetaldehyde (the major metabolite of ethanol) which is excreted by the liver enzyme when one drinks alcohol."[65] According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is in the highest risk-group carcinogen, and no quantity of its consumption can be considered safe.[9]

Intervention alcohol warning labels (actual size 5.0 cm × 3.2 cm each). The label intervention included three rotating labels: (a) a cancer warning, (b) national drinking guidelines, and (c) standard drink information (four separate labels were developed for wine, spirits, coolers, and beer; wine example shown above)

Some nations have introduced alcohol packaging warning messages that inform consumers about alcohol and cancer, as well as fetal alcohol syndrome.[66] The addition of warning labels on alcoholic beverages is historically supported by organizations of the temperance movement, such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, as well as by medical organisations, such as the Irish Cancer Society.[67][68]

A systemic metanalysis of 107 cohort studies concluded low daily alcohol intake gives neither harm nor benefit; however, increased consumption, even at relatively low levels of daily intake (>2 beverages for women and >3 beverages for men), does increase health and mortality risks.[69]

See also[edit]


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