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Grain Alcohol

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What is Grain Alcohol & How is it Used in Spirits?

Grain alcohol is a distilled neutral spirit made from fermenting grain. It is the purified form of ethyl alcohol, also called ethanol, neutral grain spirit, or rectified spirit. 

Grain alcohol, a neutral spirit, can be made from corn, rye, wheat, grapes, grains, sugarcane, tubers, and beets. It is sold under different brand names, including Everclear, Alcohol-95, and Golden Grain.

Everclear

Grain alcohol is harsh in its undiluted form, so you don’t consume it straight. Instead, you should mix it with other drinks. 

Alcohol manufacturers often use it for making other alcoholic drinks like wine, vodka, homemade liqueurs, or cheap whiskey.

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How is Grain Alcohol Produced?

Grain alcohol is made from distilling fermented grain. Manufacturers produce it from a fermented mixture of corn, sugar, yeast, and water. In addition, you can also use other grains like wheat and rye.

The first step to producing grain alcohol is making ethanol. Ethanol is made by fermenting the sugars in the grain using yeast. After this, the ethanol is repeatedly distilled to produce grain alcohol.

The term “grain alcohol” also describes alcohol that is pure and high-proof. It is a clear liquid that has no additives or smell. Distillation enables the production of this pure alcohol from fermented grains.

In its pure form, grain alcohol contains a minimum of 95 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). This is equivalent to 190-proof. Grain alcohol that is 200-proof (100 percent ABV) is not for human consumption.

Aside from mixing it in drinks like gin, whisky, and rum, grain alcohol also has other uses, like industrial applications. 

Grain alcohol (ethanol) is strong and can kill bacteria, so it is used as an antiseptic or disinfectant. It is also used as a solvent and fuel. The U.S. produced the largest amount of fuel ethanol worldwide in 2020 (as much as 13.8 billion gallons).7

Can You Drink Grain Alcohol?

You shouldn’t drink pure grain alcohol. Drinking grain alcohol can lead to alcohol intoxication. 

In addition, the high alcohol content of grain alcohol can cause a rapid spike in blood alcohol levels, even in small quantities. Alcohol poisoning can lead to death.

Everclear, a popular grain alcohol brand name, noted that the liquid product has a notorious reputation because of its high alcohol content.

Most people who drink grain alcohol don’t take it straight in its pure form because even a few drops can be toxic. Instead, it is diluted and used in mixed drinks.

Also, grain alcohol leaves a burning aftertaste in your mouth, which is another reason you might not want to take it undiluted. Alternatively, most people mix it with a sweet substance to make a milder alcoholic beverage. 

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3 Types of Grain Alcohol

Grain alcohol describes fine, purified ethanol in its undiluted form (190-proof). This means distilled neutral spirits with 95 percent alcohol content are categorized under grain alcohol. 

Alcoholic beverages are generally separated into three categories: wine, beer, and distilled spirits. These classifications are not based on ethanol content but rather on methods of production (e.g., distillation) and the type of raw material used. 

Ethanol content is approximately the same for a standard drink of wine, beer, and spirits.4 

Here are some examples of grain alcohol:

1. Everclear

The American company, Luxco, produces Everclear. Everclear has a very high alcohol content and is illegal in some of the United States. 

Everclear comes in three versions: 120-proof, 151-proof, and 190-proof.

2. Alcohol-95

Kittling Ridge Ltd. is a Canadian company that manufactures Alcohol-95. Just like other examples of grain alcohol, it contains 95 percent alcohol.

3. Golden Grain

The same company that produces Everclear manufactures Golden Grain. Golden Grain is also 190-proof alcohol. However, unlike Everclear, it comes in the highly potent 95 percent alcohol variant. 

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Is Everclear Grain Alcohol Illegal?

Everclear is a 190-proof version of grain alcohol. Everclear is a popular brand name for ethyl alcohol and comprises 95 percent undiluted alcohol. Other liquor like rum, vodka, and gin typically have an alcohol content between 20 and 40 percent. 

Because Everclear is toxic, this 190-proof grain alcohol is considered illegal in many states in the United States, such as Florida, California, Iowa, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and North Carolina. 

According to an article in the New York Times, only the 120-proof variation of Everclear alcohol is legal in California. There was an increased demand for the drink in Utah. Thus, the state authorities were forced to limit the purchase of the liquor to one to two bottles at a time.1

In states like Maryland, the sale of grain alcohol is banned. However, it is not a crime to own neutral grain spirits. 

On the other hand, states like Wisconsin have recorded several failed attempts to ban the sale of grain alcohol.5

Is Drinking Grain Alcohol Dangerous?

The FDA has enlisted ethanol as a ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ (GRAS) substance.3 But does this mean it is safe for drinking?

Because of its toxic nature, neutral grain spirits, like Everclear grain alcohol, are not safe for consumption in their pure form. Everclear manufacturers suggested that the drink be considered an “unfinished ingredient” and should not be consumed undiluted. 

Below are some of the dangers of drinking grain alcohol straight from the bottle without diluting:

  • Loss of physical and mental control
  • Confusion or delirium from taking just a few drops
  • Passing out
  • Accidents while driving
  • Predisposition to liver disease
  • Damage to nerve tissues 
  • Brain damage
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Death

According to some reports, this strong liquor is being used as a date rape drug because, when mixed in drinks, it is hard to detect pure alcohol as it has no pronounced taste or added flavor. This calls for concern, especially among youths.6 

Other Uses For Grain Alcohol

It’s clear that drinking grain alcohol is dangerous and not recommended. Drinking grain alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning and even death. However, other household tasks put grain alcohol to good use.

Some of these tasks include:

Air Freshener

Making a DIY air freshener is easy with grain alcohol. Put grain alcohol into a spray bottle and add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Spray around the room when needed.

First Aid Disinfectant

Everclear and other grain alcohols are useful disinfectants. Technically, you can use any kind of alcohol to disinfect a cut. However, grain alcohol is widely known as one of the best ways to kill bacteria.

Bug Repellent and Killer

Similar to the way alcohol kills bacteria, it can also be used to kill or repel bugs. Mix alcohol and water to create a DIY substance that will stop insects in their tracks.

Household Multi-Purpose Cleaner

Alcohol is a great way to kill bacteria and leave your home feeling fresh and dust free. Grain alcohol can also clean surfaces without leaving streaks. Put grain alcohol on a cotton pad to remove dirt and fingerprints from your laptop or phone. 

Similarly, this solution works well for cleaning windows or glass. 

Since this purified form of ethanol is much stronger than hard drinks like vodka, its negative effects are worse than those of other common liquors. 

If you suspect that you have developed a high tolerance for strong grain alcohol and have developed Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), contact a healthcare provider for resources and options for treatment.

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Updated on September 12, 2022
7 sources cited
  1. Alex Williams. “How Everclear Became A Pandemic Favourite.” The New York Times, 2020.
  2. Dennis, Melinda and Thompson, Tricia. “Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol on the Gluten-Free Diet.” National Celiac Association, 2018.
  3. FDA. “CFR-Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.” US Food and Drug Administration, 2020.
  4. IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. “Alcohol Drinking.” IARC Monographs On The Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. No. 44,2, International Agency for Research on Cancer. 1988.
  5. Reference. “In Which State Is It Legal To Sell Everclear?” www.reference.com. 2020.
  6. Hub Johns Hopkin University. “JHU Expert Calls Grain Alcohol ‘Incredibly Dangerous’ as Md. Lawmakers Mull Ban.” www.hub.jhu.edu.com. 2014.
  7. N., Sonnichsen. “Ethanol Fuel Production in Top Countries 2020.” Statista, 2021.

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