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Some typical alcoholic beverages
An alcoholic beverage is a drink that contains ethanol (commonly called alcohol). Alcoholic beverages are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits.

Alcoholic beverages are consumed in almost every sovereign state, and most have laws that regulate their production, sale, and consumption. In particular, such laws specify the minimum age at which a person may legally buy or drink alcoholic beverages. This minimum age can be as low as 16 years in some nations, however most nations set the minimum age at 18 years.

The production and consumption of alcohol occurs in most cultures of the world, from hunter-gatherer peoples to nation-states. Alcoholic beverages are often an important part of social events in these cultures. In many cultures, drinking plays a significant role in social interaction — mainly because of alcohol’s neurological effects.

Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that has a depressant effect. A high blood alcohol content is usually considered to be legal drunkenness because it reduces attention and slows reaction speed. Alcoholic beverages can be addictive, and the state of addiction to alcohol is known as alcoholism.


Alcoholic beverages that have a lower alcohol content (beer and wine) are produced by fermentation of sugar- or starch-containing plant material; beverages of higher alcohol content (spirits) are produced by fermentation followed by distillation.


Beer is the world's oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea. It is produced by the brewing and fermentation of starches which are mainly derived from cereal grains — most commonly malted barley although wheat, maize (corn), and rice are also used. Alcoholic beverages which are distilled after fermentation, fermented from non-cereal sources such as grapes or honey, or fermented from un-malted cereal grain, are not classified as beer.

Most beer is flavored with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative. Other flavorings, such as fruits or herbs, may also be used. The alcoholic strength of beer is usually 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (abv), but it may be less than 1% or more than 20%.

Beer is part of the culture of various nations and has acquired social traditions such as beer festivals and pub culture, which involves activities such as pub crawling and pub games.

The basics of brewing beer are shared across national and cultural boundaries. The two main types of beer are lager and ale, which is further classified into varieties such as pale ale, stout, and brown ale. The beer-brewing industry is a global business, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and thousands of smaller producers, which range from brewpubs to regional breweries.


Wine involves a longer (complete) fermentation process and a long aging process (months or years) that results in an alcohol content of 9%–16% ABV. Sparkling wine can be made by adding a small amount of sugar before bottling, which causes a secondary fermentation to occur in the bottle.


Unsweetened, distilled, alcoholic beverages that have an alcohol content of at least 20% ABV are called spirits. Spirits are produced by distillation of a fermented product; this process concentrates the alcohol and eliminates some of the congeners.

Spirits can be added to wines to create fortified wines, such as port and sherry.

Alcohol content of beverages

The concentration of alcohol in a beverage is usually stated as the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) or—in the United States—as proof. In the U.S.A., 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% ABV (191.2 proof) because at that point alcohol is an azeotrope with water. Alcohol of this high level of purity is commonly called neutral grain spirit.

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 beverages such as wine, beer, and sake. Strains of yeast have been developed that can reproduce in solutions of up to 25% ABV.

Serving sizes

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, serving size in licensed premises is regulated under the Weights and Measures Act . Spirits (gin, whisky, rum, and vodka) must be sold in quantities of 25 milliliters or multiples thereof, or 35 milliliters or multiples thereof. A sign must be displayed stating whether the 25 ml or the 35 ml measure is being used. See alcoholic spirits measures.

Beer is typically sold in pints (568 ml) or half-pints. Traditionally, a crown stamp on a glass was used to indicate that the glass was a full-sized measure. In 2008 however, this was replaced by a Europe-wide mark “CE” (Conformite Europeenne), leading to public outcry at the removal of a stamp that had been in use for over 300 years.

In addition to this, a system of units of alcohol exists as a guideline for alcohol consumption. A unit of alcohol is defined as 10 millilitres of pure ethanol. The number of units present in a typical drink is printed on bottles. The system is intended as an aid to people regulating the amount of alcohol they drink; it is not used to determine serving sizes.

United States

In the United States, the standardized serving of an alcoholic beverage contains of pure ethanol. That is approximately the amount of ethanol in a serving of beer, a glass of wine, or a glass of a 40% ABV spirit.


Alcohol is a moderately good solvent for many fatty substances and essential oils. This attribute facilitates the use of flavoring and coloring compounds in alcoholic beverages, especially distilled beverages. Flavors may be naturally present in the beverage’s base material. Beer and wine may be flavored before fermentation. 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 American or French oak.

A few brands of spirits have fruit or herbs inserted into the bottle at the time of bottling.


In many countries, people drink alcoholic beverages at lunch and dinner.

At times and places of poor public sanitation (such as Medieval Europe), the consumption of alcoholic drinks was a way of avoiding water-borne diseases such as cholera. Small beer and faux wine, in particular, were used for this purpose. Although alcohol kills bacteria, its low concentration in these beverages would have had only a limited effect. More important was that the boiling of water (required for the brewing of beer) and the growth of yeast (required for fermentation of beer and wine) would tend to kill dangerous microorganisms. The alcohol content of these beverages allowed them to be stored for months or years in simple wood or clay containers without spoiling. For this reason, they were commonly kept aboard sailing vessels as an important (or even the sole) source of hydration for the crew, especially during the long voyages of the early modern period.

In cold climates, strong alcoholic beverages such as vodka are popularly seen as a way to “warm up” the body, possibly because alcohol is a quickly absorbed source of food energy and because it dilates peripheral blood vessels (peripherovascular dilation). This is a misconception because the perception of warmth is actually caused by the transfer of heat from the body’s core to its extremities, where it is quickly lost to the environment.

Drunk driving

Most countries have laws against drunk driving, i.e., driving with a certain concentration of alcohol in the blood. Punishments for violation include fine, temporary loss of driving license, and imprisonment.

The legal threshold of blood alcohol content ranges from 0.0% to 0.08%, according to local law. Similar prohibitions exist for drunk sailing, drunk bicycling, and even drunk rollerblading.

In many places in the United States, it is illegal to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger compartment of a vehicle.


Short-term effects of alcohol consumption include intoxication, dehydration, and ultimately alcohol poisoning. Long-term effects of alcohol include changes to metabolism in the liver, the brain, and possibly addiction (alcoholism). Studies have found that alcohol absorption is reduced when food is consumed prior to alcohol consumption, and the rate which alcohol is eliminated from the blood is increased. The mechanism for the increased alcohol elimination appears to be unrelated to food type. The likely mechanism is food-induced increases in alcohol-metabolizing enzymes and liver blood flow.

Short term effects

Alcohol intoxication affects the brain, causing slurred speech, clumsiness, and delayed reflexes. Alcohol stimulates insulin production, which speeds up the glucose metabolism and can result in low blood sugar, causing irritability, and possibly death for diabetics; in normal subjects severe alcohol poisoning can also be lethal. A blood-alcohol content of 0.45% represents the LD50, or the amount which would prove fatal in 50% of test subjects. This is about six times the level of intoxication (0.08%), but vomiting and/or unconsciousness are triggered much sooner in people with a low tolerance, among whom such high levels are rarely reached unless a large amount of alcohol is consumed very quickly. However, chronic heavy drinkers' high tolerance may allow some of them to remain conscious at levels above .4%, despite the serious health dangers.

Mortality rate

A 2001 report estimates that medium and high consumption of alcohol led to 75,754 deaths in the USA. Low consumption has some beneficial effects, so a net 59,180 deaths were attributed to alcohol.

In the U.K., heavy drinking is blamed for up to 33,000 deaths a year.

A study in Sweden found that 29% to 44% of "unnatural" deaths (those not caused by illness) were related to alcohol; the causes of death included suicide, falls, traffic injuries, asphyxia, intoxication and murder.

A global study found that 3.6% of all cancer cases worldwide are caused by alcohol drinking, resulting in 3.5% of all global cancer deaths. A U.K. study found that alcohol causes about 6% of cancer deaths in the U.K., killing over 9,000 people a year.

Heart disease

One study found that men who drank moderate amounts of alcohol three or more times a week were up to 35% less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers, and men who increased their alcohol consumption by one drink a day over the 12 years of the study had a 22% lower risk of heart attack.

Daily intake of 1 or 2 units of alcohol (a half or full regular size glass of wine) is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease in men over 40 and women who have been through the menopause. However, getting drunk at least once a month puts women at a significantly increased risk of heart attack, negating any of alcohol's potential protective effect.

Increased longevity is almost entirely the result of lowered coronary heart disease.


Long-term moderate or short-term excessive (binge) drinking has been linked to dementia; it is estimated that between 10% to 24% of dementia cases are caused by alcohol consumption, with women being at greater risk than men.

The consumption of alcohol does not kill brain cells but rather damages dendrites, the branched ends of nerve cells that bring messages into the cell. Alcohol dilates the channels in the cellular structure that regulate the flow of calcium, causing excess calcium to flow into the cells and stimulating increased activity. This does not kill the whole cell, but causes a loss of the end segments, leading to the loss of incoming signals and therefore a change in brain function. Most of this damage is temporary, but the recovery process changes nerve-cell structure permanently.

In people aged 55 and over, daily light to moderate drinking (one to three drinks) was associated with a 42% drop in the probability of developing dementia, and a 70% reduction in risk of vascular dementia. The researchers suggest alcohol may stimulate the release of acetylcholine in the hippocampus area of the brain.


Alcohol consumption has been linked with seven different types of cancer: mouth cancer, pharyngeal cancer, oesophageal cancer, laryngeal cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer. The risk of developing cancer increases even with a moderate consumption of as little as 3 units of alcohol (one pint of lager or a large glass of wine) a day. Heavy drinkers are more likely to develop liver cancer due to cirrhosis of the liver.

A global study found that 3.6% of all cancer cases worldwide are caused by alcohol drinking, resulting in 3.5% of all global cancer deaths. A U.K. study found that alcohol causes about 6% of cancer deaths in the U.K., killing over 9,000 people a year.

Women who regularly consume low to moderate amounts of alcohol have an increased risk of cancers of the upper digestive tract, rectum, liver, and breast. For both men and women, consuming two or more drinks daily increases the risk of pancreatic cancer by 22%.

Red wine contains resveratrol, which has some anti-cancer effects in laboratory cells, however, based on studies done so far, there is no strong evidence that red wine could protect against cancer in humans.


Proclivity to alcoholism is believed to be partially genetic; individuals with such propensity may have a different biochemical response to alcohol, though this is disputed. Alcohol addiction can also lead to malnutrition because it can alter digestion and metabolism of most nutrients. Severe thiamine deficiency is common due to deficiency of folate, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and selenium and can lead to Korsakoff's syndrome. Muscle cramps, nausea, appetite loss, nerve disorders and depression are some common symptoms. It can also lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures due to vitamin D deficiency (vitamin D helps in calcium absorption).


Daily consumption of a small amount of pure ethanol by older women may slow or prevent the onset of diabetes by lowering the level of blood glucose. However, the researchers caution that the study used pure ethanol, and that everyday alcoholic drinks contain additives, including sugar, which would negate the effect.

People with diabetes should avoid sugary drinks, sweet wines, and liquers.


A study found that lifelong abstainers were 2.36 times more likely to suffer a stroke than those who drank a moderate amount regularly. Heavy drinkers were 2.88 times more likely to suffer a stroke than moderate drinkers.


Alcohol consumption by the elderly results in increased longevity, almost entirely as a result of lowered coronary heart disease.

One study found that consumption of 2 units of alcohol (one regular glass of wine) daily by doctors aged 48+ years increased longevity by reducing the risk of death by ischaemic heart disease and respiratory disease. Deaths where alcohol consumption is known to increase risk accounted for only 5% of the total deaths, but this figure was increased for those who drank more than 2 units of alcohol per day.

Alcohol expectations

Alcohol expectations are beliefs that individuals hold about the effects they experience from drinking. They are largely beliefs about how the consumption of alcohol will affect a person’s emotions, abilities and behaviors. To the extent that alcohol expectancies can be changed, it may be possible to reduce a major social and health problem, that of alcohol abuse.

If people in a society generally believe that intoxication leads to aggression, sexual behavior AKA "beer goggles", or rowdy behavior, they tend to act that way when intoxicated. If the society teaches that intoxication leads to relaxation and tranquil behavior, it virtually always leads to those outcomes. Alcohol expectations vary within a population so outcomes are not uniform.

People tend to conform to social expectations and a common belief in most societies is that alcohol causes disinhibition. However, in those societies in which people don’t believe that alcohol disinhibits, intoxication virtually never leads to unacceptable behaviors because of “disinhibition”.

Alcohol expectations can operate in the absence of actual consumption of alcohol. Research in the U.S. over a period of decades has shown that men tend to become physically more sexually aroused when they think they have been drinking alcohol, even when they haven't. Women report feeling more sexually aroused when they falsely believe the beverages they have been consuming contain alcohol, although a measure of their physiological arousal shows that they are physically becoming less aroused.

Men tend to become more aggressive in laboratory studies in which they are drinking only tonic water but believe that it contains alcohol. They also become relatively less aggressive when they think they are drinking only tonic water, but are actually drinking tonic containing alcohol.

The phenomenon of alcohol expectations recognizes that intoxication has real physiological consequences affecting perceptions of space and time, reducing psychomotor skills, disrupting equilibrium and a number of other behaviors.

The manner and degree to which alcohol expectations interact with the physiological effects of intoxication to yield the behavior that results is unclear.

Alcohol and religion

Some religions—most notably Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, the Bahá'í Faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Christ, Scientist, the Theravada and most Mahayana schools of Buddhism, some Protestant sects of Fundamentalist Christianity and some sects of Hinduism—forbid, discourage, or restrict the consumption of alcoholic beverages for various reasons.

In Islam, alcoholic beverages or any intoxicants are forbidden by the Qur'an through several separate verses that were revealed at different times over a period of years. At first, it was forbidden for Muslims to attend to prayers while intoxicated ( ). Then a later verse was revealed which said, "They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit." This was the next step in turning people away from consumption of it. Finally, "intoxicants and games of chance" were called "abominations of Satan's handiwork", intended to turn people away from God and forget about prayer, and Muslims were ordered to abstain ( ). Most Muslims avoid consuming alcohol in any type of form, even in slight amounts, such as used in cooking. Only the use of alcohol for medical, scientific, industrial and automotive purposes is allowed. But, the Islamic view on heaven includes promises of "rivers of the finest wine". ( ).

Many Christian denominations use wine in the Eucharist or Communion and permit the use of alcohol in moderation, while others use unfermented grape juice in Communion and abstain from alcohol by choice or prohibit it outright.

Judaism uses wine on Shabbat for Kiddush as well as in the Passover ceremony and in other religious ceremonies, including Purim, and allows the use of alcohol, such as kosher wine. Many ancient Jewish texts such as the Talmud even encourage moderate amounts of drinking on holidays such as Purim, in order to make the occasion more joyous.

Buddhist texts recommend refraining from drugs and alcohol, because they may inhibit mindfulness.

Some pagan religions, however, had a completely opposite view of alcohol and drunkenness; they actively promoted them as means of fostering fertility. Alcohol was thought to increase sexual desire and to lower the threshold of approaching another person for sex. For example, Norse paganism considered alcohol to be the sap of Yggdrasil, and drunkenness was an important fertility rite in this religion. Paradoxically, one of the effects of alcohol intoxication is the reduction of sexual arousal.

Government regulation

Alcohol consumption by country

Outright prohibition of alcohol

Some countries forbid the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

In the United Statesmarker, there was an attempt from 1920 to 1933 to eliminate the consumption of alcoholic beverages through national prohibition of their manufacture and sale. This period became known as the prohibition era. During this period the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States made manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages illegal throughout the United Statesmarker. However, this project led to the unintended consequences of causing widespread disrespect for the law as many people sought alcoholic beverages from illegal sources, and of creating a lucrative business for illegal purveyors of alcohol (bootleggers), which led to the development of organized crime. As a result prohibition became widely unpopular, leading to repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933. Prior to national prohibition, beginning in the late 19th century, many state and localities had enacted prohibition within their jurisdictions, and following repeal of the 18th Amendment, some communities in the United States (known as dry counties) still ban alcohol sales.

The Nordic countries (Norwaymarker and Finlandmarker) also had a period of alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century. This was the result of social democratic campaigning. Prohibition did not have popular support resulting in large-scale smuggling. Following the end of prohibition, state alcohol monopolies were established with detailed restrictions and high taxes. Some restrictions have been lifted. For example, supermarkets in Finland are allowed to sell only fermented beverages with an alcohol content up to 4.7%, but Alko, the government monopoly, is allowed to sell wine and spirits. This is also the case with the Swedish Systembolaget and the Norwegian Vinmonopolet.

  • In Iceland, beer with an alcohol percentage of 2.25% or less is sold in supermarkets. Stronger beer, wine or other spirits are sold in 'Vinbudin'.

Some Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabiamarker, prohibit alcohol for religious reasons.

Prohibition of drinking alcohol in public places

Drinking alcohol in public places, such as streets and parks, is against the law in most of the United States and in some European countries, but it is legal in others, such as Germany and the United Kingdom.

In the Netherlands, it is not banned by national law, but many cities and towns prohibit possession of an open container of an alcoholic beverage in a public place. In India, the state of Gujarat has prohibited sale and consumption of alcohol, in many other states prohibition laws were in place at different times in past.

Age restrictions

Most countries have a legal drinking age that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors. The age at which this prohibition ends, as well as the degree to which it is enforced, varies significantly from country to country.


In Argentinamarker, the minimum age required for purchasing alcohol is 18 years. It is illegal for anyone to sell alcoholic beverages to people under this age. However, there is no minimum age for its consumption.


In Australia, the minimum age for the purchase of alcohol, but not necessarily its consumption, is 18 years. In New South Walesmarker, Victoriamarker and Queenslandmarker, it is illegal for anyone to supply alcohol to a person under the age of 18.


In Canadamarker, the legal drinking age is 18 years in the provinces of Albertamarker, Manitobamarker, and Quebecmarker, and 19 years in the other provinces.


Laws covering the legal drinking age and sale of alcoholic beverages in Europe vary from country to country, both in terms of legal drinking age and the age to legally purchase alcohol; the legal drinking age is usually 16 to 18. Some countries have a tiered structure restricting the sales of stronger alcoholic drinks (typically based on alcohol% w/w) to older adults. For example, in the Netherlandsmarker, Germanymarker,Switzerlandmarker, Belgiummarker, and Austriamarker, a purchaser of beer or wine must be 16, and 18 for distilled alcoholic beverages. Germany's law is directed toward sellers of alcoholic beverages, not toward minors themselves; German law vests control of the consumption of alcoholic beverage in the hands of parents and guardians. In the United Kingdommarker, the minimum age for purchasing alcohol is 18, although minors aged 16 or above may consume some types of alcohol in restaurants with a meal, if accompanied by an adult Children are able to drink in the home from the age of five. Shop workers under 18 may not legally sell alcohol. In Francemarker the purchasing age for alcohol was increased from 16 to 18 on July 23, 2009. In Portugalmarker people must be 16 to buy alcoholic beverages. The same is in Italymarker, where 16 is the legal age to either purchase alcohol and work in public places where alcohol is served, while the minimum age for the consumption of alcoholic beverages is 14; however it must be noted that the law is seldom enforced, if ever at all, and that in Italy a license is required only for those establishments dedicated to serve alcohol to the public (es. Bars, Pubs, etc.), while the sale is non-restricted and as such alcoholic beverages are normally sold in grocery stores and supermarkets, where no proof-of-age is asked for the purchase. In Irelandmarker and Polandmarker the legal drinking age is 18.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the legal age to purchase, possess and consume alcohol is 18.


In some states of India, the legal age to purchase, and consume alcohol is 25 years. Generally, Bars and Pubs in India display signs which state that entry is allowed only for persons of age 21 and above, but the rule is seldom followed as evidenced by the number of college/birthday parties held by teenagers in pubs and bars. The general drinking age in the country varies from 18 to 25.


In Japanmarker, the legal age for purchasing and consuming alcohol is 20 years.


In Koreamarker, the legal drinking age is 19 years, but it is generally acceptable to drink after graduation from high schools, even though those who graduate from high schools are usually 18. In the traditional Korean society, minors' purchasing alcoholic beverages itself did not seem illegal because there were adults who sent their children to buy some alcoholic beverage. These days, however, sellers of alcoholic beverages are required to check the age of the person who purchases them.

Nordic countries

In the Nordic countries (except for Denmark), the legal drinking age is 18 years, but these rights are limited up to the age of 20. In Icelandmarker and Swedenmarker, purchasers and possessors of alcoholic beverages must be 20, although 18- and 19-year-olds are allowed to drink alcohol. In Finlandmarker and Norwaymarker, purchase and possession of alcoholic beverages with up to 22% ABV is allowed from age 18, for stronger drinks from age 20. In Finland and Sweden (but not in Norway), stronger drinks may be ordered in a restaurant from age 18.

Denmarkmarker allows any type of alcoholic beverage (above 1.2%) to be purchased at age 16.

United States of America

Exceptions to the minimum age of 21 for consumption of alcohol in the United States, as of January 1, 2007

The legal age for purchase or possession (but not necessarily consumption) in every state has been 21 since shortly after the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, which tied federal highway funds to states' maintaining a minimum drinking age of 21.

Eighteen states (Arkansasmarker, Californiamarker, Connecticutmarker, Floridamarker, Georgiamarker, Kentuckymarker, Marylandmarker, Massachusettsmarker, Mississippimarker, Missourimarker, Nevadamarker, New Hampshiremarker, New Mexicomarker, New Yorkmarker, Oklahomamarker, Rhode Islandmarker, South Carolinamarker, and Wyomingmarker) and the District of Columbiamarker have laws against possession of alcohol by minors but do not prohibit its consumption by minors.

Thirteen states (Alaskamarker, Coloradomarker, Delawaremarker, Illinoismarker, Louisianamarker, Mainemarker, Minnesotamarker, Missourimarker, Montanamarker, Ohiomarker, Oregonmarker, Texasmarker, Washingtonmarker, and Wisconsinmarker) specifically permit minors to drink alcohol given to them by their parents or a person their parents see fit.

Many states also specifically permit consumption under the age of 21 for religious or health reasons.

Restrictions on manufacturing

In many countries, production of alcoholic beverages requires a license, and alcohol production is taxed.

In the United States, the sale of alcoholic beverages is controlled by the individual states, the counties or parishes within each state, and then by local jurisdictions within counties. For example, in most of North Carolina, beer and wine may be purchased in retail stores, but distilled spirits are only available at state ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) stores. In Maryland, distilled spirits are available in liquor stores except in Montgomery County where the county runs the ABC stores. A county that prohibits the sale of alcohol is known as a dry county.

In most states, individuals may freely produce wine and beer usually up to 100 gallons per adult per year, but no more than 200 gallons per household per year for personal consumption (but not for sale). However, in St. Mary's County, Maryland, a "bona fide" resident may sell beer and native wines from their home.

The production of distilled beverages is regulated and taxed. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (formerly one organization known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) enforce federal laws and regulations related to alcohol. Illegal manufacture of distilled liquor is often referred to as "moonshining," and the product, which is not aged and contains a high percentage of alcohol, is often called "white lightning."

All alcoholic product packaging must contain a health warning from the Surgeon General.

In the United Kingdommarker, the Customs and Excise department issues distilling licenses. New Zealandmarker is one of the few countries where it is not only legal to produce any form of alcohol for personal use, including spirits, it is neither taxed nor licensed. This has made the sale and use of home distillation equipment popular.

Restrictions on sale and possession


In most Canadian provinces, there is a government monopoly on the sale of alcohol, for example the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, or Liquor Distribution Branch of British Columbia. The idea of government control and supervision of the sale of alcohol was a compromise devised in the 1920s between "drys" and "wets" to end Prohibition in Canada. Some provinces have moved away from government control: in Alberta privately-owned liquor stores exist, while in Quebec a limited number of wines and liquors can be purchased at dépanneurs and grocery stores.

At the same time Canada has some of the highest excise taxes on alcohol in the world, referred to as a "sin tax", this is a source of income for governments and is also meant to discourage over-consumption. (see Taxation in Canada).

Other restrictions on the sale of alcohol vary from province to province. In Alberta, changes introduced in 2008 included a ban on "happy hour", minimum prices, and a limit on the number of drinks a person can purchase at one time after 1pm in bars and pubs.

Nordic countries

In each of the Nordic countries except Denmarkmarker, there is a government monopoly on the selling of hard alcohol in stores.

In Sweden, beer with a lower alcohol content, called folköl (2.25% to 3.5% alcohol by weight), can be sold in regular stores to anyone older than 18, but drinks with a high alcohol content can only be sold by government-run vendors to people older than 20, or in licensed facilities such as restaurants and bars, where the age limit is 18. The law states that alcoholic drinks bought at these licensed facilities must be consumed on the premises, and it is not allowed to consume alcoholic drinks bought elsewhere. For non-alcoholic drinks there is no such legal requirement, but individual facilities may still set their own restrictions.

In Norway, beers with an alcohol content of 4.74% by volume or less can be legally sold in grocery stores. Stronger beers, wine and spirits can only be bought at official government-run vendors. All alcoholic beverages can be bought at licensed bars and restaurants, provided they are consumed on the premises. Beers and wine can be purchased by anyone of age 18 or older, spirits by anyone 20 or over. Norway levies some of the heaviest fees in the world on alcoholic beverages, particularly spirits, on top of a 25% GST on all goods and services. For example, 700 ml of Absolut Vodka currently retails at 275 NOK, which is about US$54.

The state-run vendor is called Systembolaget in Sweden, Vinmonopolet in Norway, Alko in Finland, and Vínbúð in Iceland. The governments claim that the purpose of this system is to cut down on the consumption of alcohol in these countries where binge drinking is an ancient tradition. The first such monopoly was in Falun in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, Sweden had a brief prohibition of strong alcoholic drinks, followed by strict rationing, and then more lax regulation, including being open on Saturdays. These measures have had success in the past, but since joining the European Union it has been harder to curb importation, legal or illegal, from other EU countries, making these measures less effective. There is an ongoing debate over whether or not to maintain the state-run alcohol monopolies.

In Denmarkmarker, people can buy all kinds of alcoholic beverages from grocery stores. The legal age of purchasing alcohol is 16 in shops, and 18 in bars and restaurants. Until 1998 there was no age limit to buy alcohol in shops. It is generally legal to drink alcoholic beverages in the street, however, you have to be at least 18 years old, but restrictions are sometimes applied by local authorities in problem areas.

On public transportation, it is generally allowed to drink alcohol, but not to act heavily intoxicated, a rule enforced less strictly than in neighboring Scandinavian countries.

Home production of wine and beer is not regulated. Home distillation of spirits is legal, however not common since it is subject to the same taxation as spirits sold commercially. Bootlegging is rarely heard of, in contrast to rural Sweden and Norway. Danish alcohol taxes are significantly lower than in Sweden and Norway, but higher than in most other European countries.

United States of America

Map of open container laws in the United States by state, as of September 2007

See also: Alcohol laws of Kansas, Alcohol laws of Missouri, Alcohol laws of New York, Alcohol laws of Oklahoma

In the United States, the places where alcohol may be sold and/or possessed, like all other alcohol restrictions, varies from state to state. Some states, like Nevadamarker, Louisianamarker, Missourimarker, and Connecticutmarker, have very permissive and laissez-faire alcohol laws, whereas other states, like Kansasmarker and Oklahomamarker, have very strict alcohol laws.

Many U.S. states require that distilled liquor be sold only in dedicated liquor stores. In fourteen alcoholic beverage control states (Alabamamarker, Idahomarker, Mainemarker, Mississippimarker, Montanamarker, New Hampshiremarker, North Carolinamarker, Oregonmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, Utahmarker, Vermontmarker, Virginiamarker, Washingtonmarker, and Wyomingmarker), liquor stores are run by the state itself, ostensibly to prevent young cashiers from allowing sales to underage friends while pretending to verify their age. In Nevadamarker, Missourimarker, and Louisianamarker however, state law does not specifically enumerate the precise locations where alcohol may be sold, allowing even gas stations to sell any alcoholic beverage as if they were liquor stores. In some states, liquor sales are prohibited on Sunday by a blue law.

Most U.S. states follow a three-tier system where producers cannot sell directly to retailers, but must instead sell to distributors, who in turn sell to retailers. Exceptions often exist for brewpubs (pubs which brew their own beer) and wineries, which are allowed to sell their products directly to consumers. Although all U.S. states have laws against drunk driving (usually defined as driving with at or above 0.08% blood alcohol content), most U.S. states also do not allow open containers of alcohol inside of moving vehicles. The federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century of 1999 mandates that if a state does not prohibit open containers of alcohol inside of all moving vehicles, a percentage of its federal highway funds will be transferred instead to alcohol education programs each year. As of November, 2007, only one state (Mississippimarker) allows drivers to consume alcohol while driving (below the 0.08% limit), and only seven states (Arkansasmarker, Connecticutmarker, Delawaremarker, Mississippimarker, Missourimarker, Virginiamarker, and West Virginiamarker) allow passengers to consume alcohol while the vehicle is in motion.

Five U.S. states limit alcohol sales in grocery stores and gas stations to beer at or below 3.2% alcohol: Coloradomarker, Kansasmarker, Minnesotamarker, Oklahomamarker, and Utahmarker. In these states, stronger beverages are restricted to liquor stores. In Oklahomamarker, liquor stores may not refrigerate any beverage containing more than 3.2% alcohol. Missourimarker also has provisions for 3.2% beer, but its permissive alcohol laws (when compared to other states) make this type of beer a rarity.

Most states ban drinking alcoholic beverages in public (i.e. in the street). Moreover, even where a state, like Nevadamarker, Louisianamarker, or Missourimarker, has no laws against drinking alcoholic beverages in public, the vast majority of cities and counties in them do ban drinking alcoholic beverages in public. Still, in the French Quartermarker of New Orleans, Louisianamarker, the Power & Light Districtmarker of Kansas City, Missourimarker, and Beale Streetmarker of Memphis, Tennesseemarker, state law specifically allow persons over the age of 21 to possess alcoholic beverages in plastic cups on the street.

Often, bars serving distilled liquor are exempted from smoking bans where they exist in the United States (see list of smoking bans in the United States.)


Alcohol has been used by people around the world, in the standard diet, for hygienic/medical reasons, for its relaxant and euphoric effects, for recreational purposes, for artistic inspiration, as aphrodisiacs, and for other reasons. Some drinks have been invested with symbolic or religious significance suggesting the mystical use of alcohol, e.g. by Greco-Roman religion in the ecstatic rituals of Dionysus (also called Bacchus), god of wine and revelry; in the Christian Eucharist; and on the Jewish Shabbat and festivals (particularly Passover).

Fermented beverages

Chemical analysis of traces absorbed and preserved in pottery jars from the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province, Northern Chinamarker, have revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit was being produced as early as 9,000 years ago. This is approximately the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle East. Recipes have been found on clay tablets and art in Mesopotamia that show individuals using straws to drink beer from large vats and pots. The Hindu Ayurvedic texts describe both the beneficent uses of alcoholic beverages and the consequences of intoxication and alcoholic diseases. Most of the peoples in Indiamarker and China, have continued, throughout, to ferment a portion of their crops and nourish themselves with the alcoholic product. However, devout adherents of Buddhism, which arose in India in the 5th and 6th centuries BC and spread over southern and eastern Asia, abstain to this day, as do devout Hindus and Sikhs. In Mesopotamia and Egypt, the birthplace of beer and wine, Islam is now the predominant religion, and it also prohibits the drinking and even the handling of alcoholic beverages.

Wine was consumed in Classical Greece at breakfast or at symposia, and in the 1st century BC it was part of the diet of most Roman citizens. However, both Greeks and Romans generally consumed diluted wine (with strengths varying from 1 part wine and 1 part water to 1 part wine and 4 parts water). The transformation of water into wine at the wedding at Cana is the first of the miracles attributed to Jesus in the New Testament, and His use of wine in the Last Supper led to it becoming an essential part of the Eucharist rite in most Christian traditions (see Christianity and alcohol).

In Europe during the Middle Ages, beer was consumed by the whole family, thanks to a triple fermentation process—the men had the strongest, then women, then children. A document of the times mentions nuns having an allowance of six pints of ale a day. Cider and pomace wine were also widely available, while grape wine was the prerogative of the higher classes.

By the time the Europeans reached the Americas in the 15th century, several native civilizations had developed alcoholic beverages. According to a post-Conquest Aztec document, consumption of the local "wine" (pulque) was generally restricted to religious ceremonies, but freely allowed to those over 70 years old. The natives of South America manufactured a beer-like product from cassava or maize (cauim, chicha), which had to be chewed before fermentation in order to turn the starch into sugars. This chewing technique was also used in ancient Japanmarker to make sake from rice and other starchy crops.

The medicinal use of alcohol was mentioned in Sumerian and Egyptian texts dated from 2100 BC or earlier. The Hebrew Bible recommends giving alcoholic drinks to those who are dying or depressed, so that they can forget their misery (Proverbs 31:6-7).

Distilled beverages

The distillation of alcohol can be traced back to Chinamarker, Central Asia and the Middle East. In particular, Muslim chemists were the first to produce fully purified distilled alcohol. It later spread to Europe in the mid-12th century, and by the early 14th century it had spread throughout the continent. It also spread eastward, mainly due to the Mongols, and began in Chinamarker no later than the 14th century. Paracelsus gave alcohol its modern name, taking it from the Arabic word which means "finely divided", a reference to distillation.

Alcoholic beverages in American history

In the early 19th century, Americans had inherited a hearty drinking tradition. Many different types of alcoholic beverages were consumed. One reason for this heavy drinking was an overabundance of corn on the western frontier. This overabundance encouraged the widespread production of cheap whiskey. It was at this time that alcoholic beverages became an important part of the American diet. In the mid 1820s, Americans drank seven gallons of alcohol per capita annually.

During the 19th century, Americans drank an abundance of alcohol and drank it in two distinctive ways.

One way was to drink small amounts daily and regularly, usually at home or alone. The other way consisted of communal binges. Groups of people would gather in a public place for elections, court sessions, militia musters, holiday celebrations, or neighborly festivities. Participants would typically drink until they became intoxicated.

Chemistry and toxicology

Chemistry to:

Toxicology to:

Ethanol (CH3CH2OH), the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks, for consumption purposes is always produced by fermentation – the metabolism of carbohydrates - by certain species of yeast in the absence of oxygen. The process of culturing yeast under alcohol-producing conditions is referred to as brewing. The same process produces carbon dioxide in situ, and may be used to carbonate the drink. However, this method leaves yeast residues and on the industrial scale, carbonation is usually done separately.

Drinks with a concentration of more than 50% ethanol by volume (100 US proof) are flammable liquids and easily ignited. Some exotic drinks gain their distinctive flavors through intentional ignition, such as the Flaming Dr Pepper. Spirits with a higher ethanol content can be ignited with ease by heating slightly, e.g. adding the spirit to a warmed shot glass.

Humans can metabolize ethanol as an energy-providing nutrient. Ethanol is metabolized into acetaldehyde and then into acetic acid. Acetic acid is esterified with coenzyme A to produce acetyl CoA. Acetyl CoA carries the acetyl moiety into the citric acid cycle, which produces energy by oxidizing the acetyl moiety into carbon dioxide. Acetyl CoA can also be used for biosynthesis. Acetyl CoA is an intermediate common with the metabolism of sugars and fats, and it is the product of glycolysis, the breakdown of glucose.

When compared to other alcohols, ethanol is only slightly toxic, with a lowest known lethal dose in humans of 1400 mg/kg (about 20 shots for a 100 kg person), and a LD50 of 9000 mg/kg (oral, rat). Nevertheless, accidental overdosing of alcoholic drinks, especially those of concentrated variety, is a risk, especially for women, lightweight persons and children. These people have a smaller quantity of water in their bodies, so that alcohol is diluted less. A blood alcohol concentration of 50 to 100 mg/dL may be considered legal drunkenness (laws vary by jurisdiction). The threshold of effects is at 22 mg/dL.

Alcohol affects the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, to produce a depressant (neurochemical inhibitory) effect. Alcohol is similar to other sedative-hypnotics such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines both in its effect on the GABAA receptor although its pharmacological profile is not identical. It has anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, hypnotic and sedative actions similar to many other sedative-hypnotic drugs. Alcohol is also cross-tolerant with benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

Excessive consumption of alcohol leads to a toxication-induced delayed poisoning called hangover (in Latin, crapula refers to intoxication and hangover). Various factors contribute, including the toxication of ethanol itself to acetaldehyde, the direct toxic effects and toxication of impurities called congeners, and dehydration. The hangover starts after the euphoric effects of alcohol itself have subsided, typically in the night and morning after alcoholic drinks were consumed. However, the blood alcohol concentration may still be substantial and above the limits imposed for drivers and operators of other dangerous equipment. The effects of a hangover subside over time. Various treatments to cure hangover have been suggested, many of them pseudoscientific.

In chemistry, alcohol is a general term for any organic compound in which a hydroxyl group (-OH) is bound to a carbon atom, which in turn may be bound to other carbon atoms and further hydrogens. Other alcohols such as propylene glycol and the sugar alcohols may appear in food or beverages regularly, but these alcohols do not make them "alcoholic". Methanol (one carbon), the propanols (three carbons giving two isomers), and the butanols (four carbons, four isomers) are all commonly found alcohols, and none of these three should ever be consumed in any form. Alcohols are toxicated into the corresponding aldehydes and then into the corresponding carboxylic acids. These metabolic products cause a poisoning and acidosis. In the case of other alcohols than ethanol, the aldehydes and carboxylic acids are poisonous and the acidosis can be lethal. In contrast, fatalities from ethanol are mainly found in extreme doses and related to induction of unconsciousness or chronic addiction (alcoholism).

The raw materials of alcoholic beverages

The names of some beverages are determined by the source of the material fermented. In general, a beverage fermented from a starch-heavy source (grain or potato), in which the starch must first be broken down into sugars (by malting, for example), will be called a beer; if the mash is distilled, the end product is a spirit. Wine is made from fermented grapes.

Brandy and wine are made only from grapes. If an alcoholic beverage is made from another kind of fruit, it is distinguished as fruit brandy or fruit wine. The variety of fruit must be specified, as (for example) "cherry brandy" or "plum wine".

In the USA and Canada, cider often means unfermented apple juice (see the article on cider), while fermented cider is called hard cider. Unfermented cider is sometimes called sweet cider. In the UK, cider refers to the alcoholic drink; in Australia the term is ambiguous.

Beer is generally made from barley, but can sometimes contain a mix of other grains. Whisky (or whiskey) is sometimes made from a blend of different grains, especially Irish whiskey which may contain several different grains. The style of whisk(e)y (Scotch, rye, Bourbon, corn) generally determines the primary grain used, with additional grains usually added to the blend (most often barley, and sometimes oats). As far as American whiskey is concerned, Bourbon (corn), and rye whiskey, must be at least 51% of respective constituent at fermentation, while corn whiskey (as opposed to Bourbon) must be at least 81%—all by American law similar to the French A.O.C (Appellation d'Origine Controlée).

Two common distilled beverages are vodka and gin. Vodka can be distilled from any source of agricultural origin (grain and potatoes being the most common), but the main characteristic of vodka is that it is so thoroughly distilled as to exhibit less of the flavors derived from its source material. Some distillers and experts, however, may disagree, arguing that potato vodkas display a creamy mouthfeel, while rye vodkas will have heavy nuances of rye. Other vodkas may display citrus notes. Gin is a similar distillate which has been flavored by contact with herbs and other plant products—especially juniper berries, but also including angel root, licorice, cardamom, grains of paradise, Bulgarian rose petals, and many others.

Applejack is an example of a drink originally made by freeze distillation, which is easy to do in cold climates. Although both distillation and freeze distillation reduce the water content, they are not equivalent, because freeze distillation concentrates poisonous higher alcohols rather than reducing them like distillation.



Source Name of fermented beverage Name of distilled beverage
barley beer, ale, barley wine Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, shōchū (Japan)
rye rye beer, kvass rye whiskey, vodka (Poland), roggenkorn (Germany)
corn chicha, corn beer, tesguino Bourbon whiskey; and vodka (rarely)
sorghum burukutu (Nigeria), pito (Ghana), merisa (southern Sudan), bilibili (Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon) maotai, gaoliang, certain other types of baijiu (China).
wheat wheat beer vodka, wheat whisky, weizenkorn (Germany)
rice Ruou gao (Vietnam), huangjiu, choujiu (China), sake (Japan), sonti (India), makgeolli (Korea), tuak (Borneo Island), thwon (Nepal) rice baijiu (China), shōchū and awamori (Japan), soju (Korea)
millet millet beer (Sub-Saharan Africa), tongba (Nepal, Tibet)
buckwheat shōchū (Japan)

Juice of fruits

Source Name of fermented beverage Name of distilled beverage
juice of grapes, wine brandy, Cognac (France), Vermouth, Armagnac (France), Branntwein (Germany), pisco (Chile and Peru), Rakia (The Balkans, Turkey), singani (Bolivia), Arak (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan), törkölypálinka (Hungary)
juice of apples cider (U.S.: "hard cider"), apfelwein applejack (or apple brandy), calvados, cider
juice of pears perry, or pear cider; poire (France) Poire Williams, pear brandy, Eau-de-vie (France), pálinka (Hungary)
juice of plums plum wine slivovitz, tzuica, palinca, umeshu, pálinka
juice of pineapples tepache (Mexico)
bananas or plantains Chuoi hot (Vietnam), urgwagwa (Uganda, Rwanda), mbege (with millet malt; Tanzania), kasikisi (with sorghum malt; Democratic Republic of the Congo)
gouqi gouqi jiu (China) gouqi jiu (China)
coconut arrack, lambanog (Sri Lanka, India, Philippines) Old arrack, Special, (Sri Lanka)
ginger with sugar, ginger with raisins ginger ale, ginger beer, ginger wine
Myrica rubra yangmei jiu (China) yangmei jiu (China)
pomace pomace wine Raki/Ouzo/Pastis/Sambuca (Turkey/Greece/France/Italy), tsipouro/tsikoudia (Greece), grappa (Italy), Trester (Germany), marc (France), zivania (Cyprus), aguardente (Portugal), tescovină (Romania), Arak (Iraq)


Source Name of fermented beverage Name of distilled beverage
juice of ginger root ginger beer (Botswana)
potatoes or grain potato beer vodka: Potatoes are mostly used in Polandmarker and Germanymarker, otherwise grain or potatoes. A strong drink called akvavit, popular in Scandinavia, is made from potatoes or grain. In Irelandmarker, poitín (or poteen) is a traditional liquor made from potatoes, which was illegal from 1661 to 1997.
sweet potato shōchū (Japan), soju (Korea)
cassava/manioc/yuca nihamanchi (South America), kasiri (Sub-Saharan Africa), chicha (Ecuador)
juice of sugarcane, or molasses basi, betsa-betsa (regional) rum (Caribbean), pinga or cachaça (Brasil), aguardiente, guaro
juice of agave pulque tequila, mezcal, raicilla

Source Name of fermented beverage Name of distilled beverage
sap of palm coyol wine (Central America), tembo (Sub-Saharan Africa), toddy (Indian subcontinent)
honey mead, tej (Ethiopia) distilled mead (mead brandy or honey brandy)
milk kumis, kefir, blaand
sugar kilju (Finland) shōchū : made from brown sugar (Japan)

See also


  1. Lichine, Alexis. Alexis Lichine’s New Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits (5th edition) (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), 707–709.
  2. [1]
  4. Meyer, Jerold S. and Linda F. Quenzer. Psychopharmacology: Drugs, the Brain, and Behavior. Sinauer Associates, Inc: Sunderland, Massachusettes. 2005. Page 228.
  5. [2]
  6. Grattan, K.E. and Vogel-Sprott. Maintaining intentional control of behavior under alcohol. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research. 2001 Feb;25(2):192–197.
  7. Marlatt, G. A. and Rosenow. “The think-drink effect”. Psychology Today, 1981, 15, 60-93.
  8. MacAndrew, C. and Edgerton. Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation. Chicago: Aldine, 1969.
  9. Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004
  10. Gewalt durch Alkohol. die junge Seite der Bundesregierung, 5 December 2008 . Accessed 15 July 2009.
  11. .
  12. LBK nr 1020 af 21/10/2008 (Danish)
  13. TTBGov General Alcohol FAQs
  14. Calgary Herald. "Last call for happy hour". Calgary Herald, August 1, 2008. Accessed 15 July 2009.
  15. Ahmad Y Hassan, Technology Transfer in the Chemical Industries

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