Fundamental Friday-Wine & Beer vs. Liquor

Ever wondered what is the real difference between hard liquor and a beer?  They both contain alcohol, but everyone knows that you can have a few beers before feeling the effects that one shot of straight tequila can give you. Why is that?

Next week I will cover the basics of ABV, or Alcohol By Volume, which is the percentage you see on all beverage containers. But the fundamental fact you need to be aware of first is the difference between two processes: fermentation and distillation.

First, fermentation is a natural process that yields alcohol. You start with anything organic (anything organic can be fermented, everything from wheat and potatoes to blue agave and sugarcane), add some yeast and sugar, and alcohol is produced as the yeast “eat” the sugar. There are a lot of variables that can be adjusted to change the resulting flavor, but basically this process gives us all wine and beer everywhere, period.

Distillation involves boiling something to create vapors so that the alcohol can be separated from the rest of the liquid. That means you have to start with something that already contains alcohol, which means you start with a wine or beer. Again, there are some variables that affect the flavor and quality of the resulting product, like the quality of the organic material that started the whole process.  Consider the process of distillation as an art.  The quality of an alcoholic product owes much to how well this skill is performed, so choose wisely.  There are legitimate reasons why consuming lower-quality spirits can give you a headache and a gnarly hangover.

So the next time you find yourself scanning your favorite bar’s bottle collection, remember that each spirit started as a plant that was fermented, heated, and processed to, hopefully, perfection.