All Forms of consumable alcohol have their origins in the process of ‘fermentation’. Whether they be wine, beer or spirits, all consumable alcohols must first begin with the fermentation process. Fermentation is the natural process of the decomposition of the mixture of the organic components of carbohydrates & yeast. (The Mash) Since carbohydrates & yeast are found in abundance in just about every sustainable society worldwide, almost every civilization developed some type of alcoholic beverage early in their respective history.
The fermentation process utilizes sugars that are hidden in the products used, which when mixed with yeast, create a reaction which then expels alcohol as a by-product. The base products used in this worldwide production range from rice to sugar cane, grapes, honey, assorted grains or even potatoes. The necessary ingredient that is used in fermentation from these items is carbohydrates. All these organic products contain carbohydrates. Beer & Wine production use the process of fermentation and stop there with the desired end result…Beer & Wine. Spirits on the other hand… take this ‘alcoholic brew’ if you will… and pass it through another process call ‘distillation’ that basically vaporizes the alcohol out and away from the water that is a medium from the fermentation process.
‘Distillation’ is the process of heating the water & fermented alcoholic ‘brew’ to the point where one of the products (alcohol) ‘boils’ first before the water & juice does. This is done in a heated ‘closed’ container called a ‘still’. This process produces a vapor that rises and is collected. This condensate is at a higher concentration of alcohol than the original ‘brew’. This vapor is of course flavored with the original components of the original fermentation process.
Alcohol boils at 173.3 degrees & we all know that water boils at 212 degrees, so if they keep the brew between these two temperatures, the steam from the alcohol rises & is collected in that curly tube that we have all seen on the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’. The ‘tube’ is called a ‘condenser’ and as I said the whole contraption is called a ‘still’. The condensate that is derived from this process is the alcohol. Many of the products on the market today distill and redistill their wares many times to increase the level of purity, or to enhance the desired flavor. The number of times and the exact process is the ‘recipe’ that each distiller views as the best way to achieve their goals. There are different kinds of ‘stills’, but that topic is for another day.
Vodka is distilled as clean and pure as possible. Gin on the other hand is distilled with varying amounts of flavoring agents. Herbs, spices & botanicals, the most notable and universal being the Juniper Berry. So…the only difference between Vodka & Gin is that in the distillation process, herbs & spices & botanical are used to ‘flavor’ Gin, Vodka by design is to be as pure and clean as possible.
The raw ingredients that are used to make a distilled spirit are of two types…
- Those that have a high degree of natural sugars; such as sugar cane grapes, molasses, sugar itself and agave.
- Those that have a high degree of carbohydrates that can be easily converted to sugar by enzymes. These ‘Starchy’ materials include; corn, rice, barley, wheat & potatoes. ‘Spirits’ have a range that is often double that of wine or beer.
- Beer has an alcohol range between 2-8 %
- Wine has an alcoholic range between 8-14 %
- Alcoholic Spirits have a range between 35-50 % alcohol.
The dis – ‘Stilled’ liquid rises into the condenser, which is attached to the collector that, you guessed it, collects the vapor laden with alcohol. By the simple process of allowing this heated vapor to cool, it now changes back to a liquid. Presto… We have Vodka or Gin or Rum, or whatever product was intended depending on the original ingredients used to make it.
The process of distillation boils the fermented brew, which produces an alcoholic vapor that rises and is collected in the top of the still. This condensate is at a much higher concentration of alcohol than the original ‘brew’. This vapor is of course flavored by the original components of the original fermentation process. All liquor is distilled clear. A good Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon or Brandy gets it’s color, and a lot of it’s final flavor and character, from the casks that it aged in before being released for bottling.
The origins of the ‘cocktail’ and the great ‘era of the cocktail’ show their roots in the end of the19th century.1872 in fact, shows the first patent application, by William Harnett, on the beginnings of what we know today as the cocktail shaker. Labeled an ‘Apparatus for Mixing Drinks’, by the United States Patent Office.
The first mention, however, of spirited beverages goes back to ancient Egypt, many thousands of years ago, in hieroglyphics. ‘Mead’, similar to beer, was very important to this and many other ancient civilizations, evident in the offerings to the gods in many an ancient tomb. Before this, one can only speculate how intertwined these various beverages were to the myriad of small bands of tribes scattered throughout the world, and throughout history. The fermented beverage has always been an important part of most of the world’s cultures. Certainly a food source, perhaps an escape from the toils of life…but also, perhaps, an elixir of love… bringing people together since pre-history. Maybe one main common thread, through all cultures is the spirited beverage, whether it be wine, beer or cocktail is that they all have strong roots in religion, medicine and healing arts. Whatever the local belief, countless religious offerings, gatherings, rituals and ceremonies through the ages have been blessed with the local beverage of choice. Many cities have sprouted because of their proximity to grains. Many people throughout the ages have been buried with a bottle or two of their favorite elixir, just to help ease the journey through the afterlife.
Booze, it seems, is here to stay.