Much of a Western gentleman’s socializing involves the consumption of alcoholic beverages. But very few men know the processes by which the drinks they drink derive.
Alcoholic beverages are divided into three categories: wine, beer, and spirits. Wines are produced through the process of fermentation; beers are brewed and then fermented; and spirits are first fermented and then distilled. (Liqueurs are sugar-sweetened flavored spirits; and fortified wines, such as sherry and Port, are wines to which spirit has been added as a preservative and to augment alcohol content).
Fermentation is the biological process in which sugars such as glucose and fructose are converted into energy when naturally occurring and/or added-yeast consumes those sugars, converting them into carbon dioxide and ethanol as “waste” products. Fermentation is a key component of the production of any alcoholic beverage.
In brewing, germinated grain (typically barley) is dried, milled, and steeped in heated water, thereby producing a cereal mash to which yeast and other ingredients are added. The yeast causes fermentation as it consumes the plant-sugars, converting them to carbon dioxide and ethanol (alcohol). The fermented liquid is then removed from the fermentation tank for further processing. The liquid is then aged, filtered, and prepared for consumption as beer.
Distillation is the process of separating different liquids by heating and condensation. To extract alcoholic liquids by the distillation process, fermented liquids are heated, allowing the resulting vapor to condense when subjected to a cooling mechanism. Because alcohol vaporizes before water, the heated fermented liquid first yields its alcohol content as vapor, which is then condensed, leaving behind the water content of the fermented liquid. The distilled alcohol may then be further distilled. After distilling, the product requires further processing before it is rendered a palatable spirit.