Alcohol is a mood-altering drug that depresses the central nervous system. It depresses the activity of the nerve cells in the brain.
There are two types of alcohol. Ethyl alcohol or Ethanol, which is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. Methyl alcohol or Methanol, which is the form of alcohol found in paint thinner or shellac. This type of alcohol is unsafe to drink. It is poisonous. This section deals with alcohol found in beverages.
The basis for the formation of all alcoholic beverages is called fermentation. This occurs when yeast cells act on sugar in the presence of water producing a chemical change.
Wines are made from the fermentation of grapes or other fruits. Other alcoholic beverages are made from the fermentation of grains such as barley, corn, or rye.
Distilled spirits are alcoholic beverages that have concentrations of alcohol higher than those reached by fermentation. To get these higher contents of alcohol, a process called distillation is used. The alcohol that is contained in the solution boils first since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. The vapors of alcohol are collected and condensed into liquid form again. The result is a higher concentration of alcohol in the distillation than there was in the original solution. Distilled spirits have the highest alcohol content of any alcoholic beverage. They usually are between 40 to 60 percent alcohol by volume.
The amount of alcohol in any alcoholic beverage is indicated by its proof. Proof is double the percent of alcohol content in a beverage. Therefore, if an alcoholic beverage label indicates 80 proof, the beverage contains 40 percent alcohol by volume.