alcohol content %


How can the same amount of beer and hard liquor have such different alcohol %. What exactly is different?

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Hard liquor and beer are not pure alcohol. There’s water, other naturally occurring chemicals that give it the taste, etc.

The actual alcohol that is drinkable is ethanol. The Alcohol % basically tells you how much ethanol there is in the actual drink.

EDIT: See u/Ansuz07’s comment on how to get those % values.

Beer is the byproduct of the fermentation process. Grains are inoculated with yeast, which eats the sugars and converts the sugars to alcohol. When the beer reaches the desired ABV (alcohol by volume) the process is halted. Wine is produced the same way, they just use grape juice rather than grain.

There is a maximum ABV that can be achieved via this process. Eventually, the amount of alcohol in the beer becomes toxic to the yeast, and they die off.

To get a higher ABV – like whiskey – you take the fermented solution and distill it. Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, so by separating off the first substance that boils out of the liquid, you can get a **much** higher ABV in the distillate. Depending on what the distiller wants in the final product, they will then water down the distillate to the desired ABV and/or age it in barrels to get the desired end liquor.

TLDR: Whiskey is distilled, beer isn’t.

The same amount of soda and water and coffee can all have different amounts of sugar in them, right?

When it comes to alcoholic drinks, the “alcohol” is specifically something named *ethanol*. The drinks all simply have different amounts of ethanol in them. The “alcohol %” is literally the percentage of the drink that’s ethanol.

Answer: It depends on the amount of sugar that is fermented during the brewing/distilling process. In both processes grains are soaked in water which activate enzymes that create fermentable sugars. Yeast is added to the sugar water mixture and feeds on the sugar. The byproducts of that reaction are ethanol(alcohol) and carbon dioxide. The amount of sugar and the duration of the yeast reaction determine the percentage of alcohol in the mixture.

Alcohol is made by fermentation, a process in which living bacteria and fungi digest sugars without oxygen. Normally you can digest sugar with oxygen and end up with water and CO2. Without oxygen you can’t digest the sugar that far, so you end up with alcohol which is sort of like a half-way point between sugar and water+CO2.

Now alcohol is a poison (remember, we literally use it clean out wounds), that’s a side benefit for the organisms, it keeps competition away from their food. In making alcohol one of two things will happen, the organisms run out of sugar *or* the have tons of sugar and eventually make so much alcohol they poison themselves and they die.

This means there is a limit to how much alcohol you get from fermentation. For beers it’s common to have around 5%-8% alcohol by volume and for wine it’s closer to 12%.

Once you get to around 15% alcohol you really to the limit of poisoning the organisms people are smart and we’ve figured out ways to get it even higher.

But that being said, the upper limit is about 15% alcohol by volume with the remaining 85% being mostly water. AND water boils at a higher temperature than alcohol.

So what you can do is heat up the beer/wine/cider *but* don’t let it boil. Somewhere around 200F the alcohol will start to evaporate quickly and turn to alcohol steam. You can suck the steam up and let it cool down where it ill turn back to a liquid, but it’s pure alcohol liquid. This process is called ‘distillation’. And that’s the big separation from beer to liquor – one is fermented, the other is fermented then distilled.

For what it’s worth most of the liquor you drink is produced in bulk by a small handful of manufacturers. The make a strongish beer and then distill it to basically pure liquid alcohol. They then sell this pure liquid alcohol to the brands you know where they add flavor, water it down, and bottle it.