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Overview: What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a substance that is a natural byproduct of sugar and plant fermentation. Commonly used as a disinfectant, alcohol is also a primary ingredient in fuels, paints, solvents, beauty products, and food additives. It is also distilled into a drinkable liquor or brewed (undistilled) into beers, wines, ciders, and mead.

Though there are various uses and types of alcohol, drinking can be fatal depending on the amount of alcohol you drink. Always consult a poison control center or 911 if an individual has consumed an alcohol-based substance not intended for human consumption. 

There are many methods for the treatment of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Consult a doctor or treatment center to discover available treatment options in each region.

Isopropyl vs. Methyl vs. Ethyl Alcohol

Isopropyl is a chemical compound made from water and propene in a hydration reaction or by hydrogenating acetone. Methyl is the purest form of alcohol. It is produced synthetically by a multi-step process involving natural gas and a process called “steam reforming.” 

Ethyl alcohol is a plant-based fermentation. To increase ethyl alcohol’s potency, producers distill the plant-based fermentation with high heat which evaporates extra water from the original product.

Isopropyl is commonly used as a disinfectant. Methyl is frequently sourced as a solvent in industrial or commercial instances. Ethyl or ethanol is the form of alcohol most widely produced for consumption in spirits and beers/ciders. 


Difference Between Distilled & Undistilled Alcohol 

Distilled alcohol forms from a process of heating the fermented plant matter at high temperatures to produce steam that is collected and bottled. This process creates higher-strength and higher-proof alcohol. 

In contrast, undistilled alcohol is made by fermenting sugar or plant matter and yeast with water and heat to produce ethanol as a byproduct. It is less pure and lower in strength.

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Different Types of Alcohol Beverages (By Alcohol Content)

Percent of alcohol 1

Distilled Alcoholic Drinks

Distilled alcoholic drinks, also known as spirits or hard liquor, vary in fermentation processes, ingredients, and alcohol by volume (ABV). Below is a list of popular distilled alcoholic spirits.

  • Gin is a distilled spirit made from juniper berries and often citrus peel. It is the main ingredient in a martini. It typically has 35% to 55% ABV.
  • Tequila comes from distilling the center heart of blue agave plants. Tequila gets its name from the City of Tequila, Mexico, where it is primarily harvested and produced. Agave is naturally high in natural sugar, so no additional sugar is added during the distillation process. 40% ABV.
  • Brandy is a wine that has completed full fermentation and distillation; it typically has 40% ABV. Cognac is a common type of brandy. 
  • Vermouth is an aromatized wine with herbs and spices and fortified with a distilled alcohol like brands.
  • Whiskey is made by distilling a mash made of previously fermented grain. Mixed starches like corn, barley, rye, and wheat convert to sugars and are mixed with yeast and water to ferment. Next, it is distilled at high temperatures and frequently undergoes the aging process in oak barrels or casks. It usually has 40% to 50% ABV.
  • Vodka, like whiskey, is made by distilling a fermented mash. Generally, vodka is made of potatoes. In some instances, it is made with juniper berries or even milk. 40% ABV.
  • Everclear is 60%, but Everclear can also have 75.5% and 95% ABV.
  • Rum is made by the distillation of pure sugar cane, sugarcane juice, or molasses and is usually aged in wooden barrels. It varies in ABV from approximately 40% ABV (80 proof) to 75.5% ABV (151 proof).
  • Absinthe is a distillation sourced from the fermentation of herbs and leaves. It typically has a 90% ABV.
  • A liqueur is a type of liquor that has been sweetened with various flavors, oils, or extracts.
  • Ethanol, or grain alcohol, is a twice distilled, neutral spirit derived from fermenting and distilling a type of grain that could include wheat, corn, rice, or rye.

Undistilled Alcoholic Drinks

Undistilled alcoholic beverages are a staple in many cultures and regions around the world. Examples of undistilled alcoholic drinks include fortified wines, beer, and saké.

  • Wine is a fermentation made of grapes and fruit and typically has an ABV less than 14%. Some wines can be fortified with liquor and usually have an ABV of 20%. White wine, red wine, and sparkling wine (champagne) are common types. 
  • Beer is a fermented beverage made of cereals or grains with sometimes fruit flavors and acids added after the fermentation process. Light beers only have between 2% to 4% ABV, while malt liquors or craft beers can have between 6% to 8%.
  • Mead is made of fermented honey. Producers commonly blend the concentrated mead with water. It has an ABV of 10 to 14 percent.
  • Saké is a traditional Japanese beverage made of fermented rice. This type of alcohol typically has an ABV of 16 percent.
  • Hard Ciders come from fermented fruit juices and typically have an ABV of 5 percent.

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Alcohol Types FAQ

How many types of alcohol are there?

Three. The three types of alcohol are isopropyl, methyl, and ethyl alcohol

What are the 3 types of alcohol?

The three types of alcohol are isopropyl, methyl, and ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is the only one that can be consumed by humans.

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Grønbæk, Morten, and Ulrik Becker. Type of Alcohol Consumed and Mortality from All Causes ... 2000, www.researchgate.net/publication/12346207_Type_of_alcohol_consumed_and_mortality_from_all_causes_coronary_heart_disease_and_cancer.

Libretexts. “Isopropyl Alcohol.” Chemistry LibreTexts, Libretexts, 5 June 2019, chem.libretexts.org/Under_Construction/Walker/Chemicals/Substance_I/Isopropyl_alcohol.

“Alcohol Consumption And The Perceived Situational Appropriateness Of Consuming Different Types Of Alcoholic Beverages.” Alcohol and Alcoholism, 1989, doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.alcalc.a044944., https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article-abstract/24/5/479/102084?redirectedFrom=fulltext

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